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As a car enthusiast, certified service advisor, and licensed salesperson, I’ve driven hundreds of cars over the years. Now, I have the privilege of knowing a deal when I see one, plus help on hand to fix up something I just can’t live without. Notable mentions include a rusty 2001 Jeep Wrangler and a too-quick-for-a-high-schooler 1986 Jaguar XJ. While many of my absolute most favorite “cheap thrills” ended in expensive repairs – a few of which were, uh, “self-inflicted” – here are a few models you might try if you’re looking for the same.

Before we start, I’ll preface the list by emphasizing that I gathered them based on a combo of current prices and my experience with these and other models (that have proved to be nothing more than money pits).

Honda Civic Del Sol

A sea-green 1995 Honda Civic Del Sol parked in left front angle view green trees in background
1995 Honda Civic Del Sol | Courtesy of Bring a Trailer

Honda’s notorious little targa-topped two-seater was made from 1992 to 1997. Touting the Civic’s VTEC four-cylinder and five-speed manual transmission, the Del Sol was Honda’s answer to the Mazda Miata roadster.

While hard to find, they’re still relatively affordable to buy and super easy to maintain. My family has owned several and I’d never talk someone out of buying one.’s market watch shows several under the $8K mark. Reddit’s r/cars recently shared a Craigslist listing in New Jersey for $5,800.

4th-Gen Chevrolet Camaro

A black 1995 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 parked in a parking lot at left front angle view bare trees in background
1995 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 | Courtesy of Bring a Trailer

I used to think the low-lined, tapered jet fuselage look was less than appealing. Fast-forward 15 years, and a 4th-gen Camaro will catch my eye any old day.

The Z28 might be your best bet for a cheap Camaro thrill. Until 1998, its V8 is the C4 Corvette’s LT1 and produces 275 horsepower, so this a wide swing away from the Honda Del Sol. The 1998-2002s will have the LS1 V8 touting 305 hp.

Parts are going to be pretty widely available still. Built from 1993-2002, you’ll find them in t-top, convertible, and coupe body styles. 

You might have to overturn a few stones to find one that’s been garaged and has low miles for a decent price, but they’re there.

Five months ago, a 2002 Z28 sold in Indianapolis via Mecum for $5,500. Today, r/cars shared a Reading, PA, Craigslist listing for a ‘95 Z28 with 84,000 miles for $4,000.

Second or Third Generation Toyota 4Runner

A red 1993 Toyota 4Runner parked in left front angle view with snow-covered mountains in the background
1993 Toyota 4Runner | Courtesy of Bring a Trailer

Need I say anything particular about an old manual 4Runner?

This one’s for cheap overlanding and camping thrills, and the manual transmission makes in-town driving all the more entertaining.

While I’m in love with any gen 4Runner, my favorites are the second and third. In college, I drove a 1997 V6 with brush lights and a grille guard around Ohio State’s campus. I always felt safe in winter weather, and it never failed to start.

If you find one without rust, the 3.0L V6 engines, even from the mid-nineties 4Runners, will go long. Think hundreds of thousands of miles, so don’t fret over the odometer reading.

This week, there’s a Craigslist posting in Denver for a 1993 with 250K clocked for $5,500.

Mazda Mazda6

A silver 2004 Mazda6 Sport Wagon parked in left front angle view in front of metal garage doors storage facility
2004 Mazda Mazda6 Sport Wagon | Courtesy of Bring a Trailer

The Mazda6 was a sporty mid-size sedan made from 2003-2021. The nimble four-door was widely available as a manual and served overdrive in its automatic four- and six-cylinder options.

Any combo of engine and transmission offerings created a zippy driver experience without sacrificing interior space or blowing the budget on maintenance.

You can also find them in fun wagon versions.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, you’ll see a Craigslist post featuring a 2004 Mazda6 Sport Wagon automatic with 146,000 miles for only $3,925.

Of course, if you’re seriously considering any so-called “cheap thrill” in a used car, be sure to have it inspected by someone you trust first. Nothing worse than expecting a steal only to open a can.