Not so many years ago, cars that produced 300 horsepower or more were considered rather rare and desirable things. Generally only the top tier of sports car or the very most posh boulevardiers had engines that could muster such prodigious output, and the price tags of the vehicles reflected it.
These days though, thanks to depreciation, a decade-long power race, and newly changing customer tastes, 300 horsepower cars can be had for much more reasonable rates—often less than $10,000. Those power and dollar figures are exciting starting places for those second-hand shoppers who may be looking for a deal on a performance machine, which is why we picked them as our two markers for making this list.
We’ve gotten our pricing estimates from the good folks at Kelley Blue Book, though we understand that in some cases much better deals can be had. Unless otherwise noted, the prices we’ve listed represent the private party value of a car in “excellent” condition with about 80,000 miles on the clock. We’ve also strived to get the best combination of power and newness when selecting between discrete model years, all while keeping a close eye on the budget. Click through our gallery above to read about our 300 horsepower/$10,000 picks, and then be sure to let us know which gems we may have missed, in comments.
1991 BMW 850i, 300 horsepower, $9425 (fair condition)
You’ll have to search a bit to find an 850i that comes in under our budget, but you’ll likely be plenty happy once you do. Those efforts can net you one of BMW’s most singular designs, 5.0-liter V-12 power, and a car that stickered for six-digit prices when new. Looks really good in black, too.
1996 Nissan 300ZX Turbo, 300 horsepower, $9795
We still believe that the twin-turbo 300ZX is one of the most beautifully designed sports cars to ever come out of Japan, as well as being one of the most lauded. This Fairlady carried on the Z tradition in fine fashion, winning award after award from the motoring press, and high praise from the buying public. Two of the Nissan’s main competitors made our list as well (Corvette, Stealth, we’re looking at you), but we know where we’d spend our ten gees.
1999 Lexus GS400, 300 horsepower, $9675
The Lexus attraction has always relied heavily on parent-company Toyota’s reputation for building with quality, a huge plus when looking at a second-buy. The GS400 may only just make the cuts for both pricing and power, but the Lexus is liable to be a sound and stately cruiser for many more years.
1996 Corvette, 300 horsepower, $9975
While the last year of the C4 Corvette could actually be had with the badder, 5.7-liter 335 horsepower LT4 V-8 with a six-speed manual transmission; estimates for the pricing of that package go slightly north of ten grand. Still, there’s a lot of love out there for both the venerable LT1 engine and the C4 body style—especially at this price.
1988 Porsche 928 S4, 315 horsepower, $9450 (fair condition)
As beautiful and high performance a car as any on this list, the stellar 928 also offers more in the way of badge cachet as well. You’ll have to search more in the “fixer-upper” segment of the market to keep the price below the $10K cutoff, but you’ll still be spending half as much as you’d need for a 911 of the same era.
1996 Dodge Stealth R/T Turbo, 320 horsepower, $6875
When Dodge put its logo (and little else) on the twin-turbo Mitsubishi 3000GT during the 1990’s, it inadvertently created a performance bargain for the used car shopper of today. At less than $7000 the Stealth is far and away the cheapest car on our list, even though its Mitsubishi twin would almost always command five-figure cash. You’d have to be a huge fan of the triple diamond to pass on the Stealth then, an all-wheel driving tour de force, yours for just chump change.
2002 Chevrolet Camaro SS 35th Anniversary Edition, 325 horsepower, $9695
Another depreciation special, this is the top-of-the-line, all the bells and whistles Camaro was new just six-years ago. Now the unsubtle Camaro can be had for a veritable song. Muscle car lovers will dig the tail-happy SS power, and the stripy 35th Anniversary paint job, though they'll pay a bit more if they want the convertible version.
1993 Mercedes-Benz 600SEC, 389 horsepower, $8540
Maybe the only car we could offer on a list of near-400 horsepower cars for under $10,000, the V-12 engined big Mercedes coupe is one of the best power buys out there. Whether is because of the faintly unlovely, brick shithouse styling or the drug dealer overtones, the 600SEC can be had for well under our five-figure price limit. Potentially monumental servicing costs notwithstanding, these big-body Benz’s were built pretty well too, meaning your eight or nine thousand dollars will buy you a car that’s likely to continue to age well.
1995 Jaguar XJR, 326 horsepower, $6715
Stunning Jaguar depreciation helps to make the supercharged XJR one of this list’s horsepower/dollar leaders, with 326 ponies on tap for less than $7K. A dogged adherence to classic Jag styling means that this XJ doesn’t look much different than the model that’s on sale today, at least on the outside.
1999 Ford SVT Lightning, 360 horsepower, $9190
Heroically fast, brutally styled, and wonderfully silly, the second generation SVT Lightning was a product that could only happen in the US of A (yeah yeah, it was built in Canada, you know what we mean.) The only pickup truck on our list, the supercharged, F-150 based Lightning also happens to be one of the most powerful, with its 360 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque. Giddyup.