Great Track Cars

I’ve always said, “Need to get out to the track,” or “Gotta go to one of those high performance driving schools the Club does.”  Yeah, yeah.  Well, I did it.  Now I’m addicted.  Here’s the problem, however.  I have a car that cost almost fifty grand, and it would be the only thing in my current sparse stable I could take out to the track that could “hang.” I really don’t want to replace the brakes, the brake fluid, the tires, possibly the rear floor (Mike?), my bank account, my ego, my engine (hey look, anyone is at risk of money-shifting).  So I’ve been looking for a track car.  Something that can be modified with a proper roll cage if I get that that far into it; something that I won’t care if I ding up.  My results are set forth below, and they are just off the top of my head.  Feel free to add more cars via “comments”:

BMW E46 M3 (if you have some money to burn)

Well, if you want the Ultimate Track Weapon, here’s your car, with some modifications.  Now I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a “purist” when it comes to shifting with a real live clutch pedal.  But the SMGII in the E46 M3 blew me away in its most sporting modes.  Whether you use the paddles or use the console shifter, this unit is meant for the track.  And, man is it easy to make this car go fast.  And say what you will about its performance on the street–it’s not an automatic!  Learn how to drive it as a manual without the clutch–find the optimum combination (S4 works well) and modulate the gas every time you shift; downshift through the gears as if it was a real manual.  It works well, and you CAN drive smooth.  Back to the track car.  You will need to reinforce the chassis, and Dinan and Turner Motorsport have just the bits to do it.  Stiffer antiroll bars and possibly a spring and shock or even a coilover setup are needed depending on how intense you want to get.  If you haven’t driven one, try an E46 M3, it has the handling (with a little too much understeer) and the engine–yeah, the S54 six calls you a wuss, begs for more, and keeps delivering more, and more, and more.  Early E46 M3’s are in the 20’s now.  Watch out for cars that do not have the 100,000 mile engine warranty or that haven’t had the rod bearings replaced.  The rod bearings were an early problem that led to failures. 

www.turnermotorsport.com
www.dinancars.com

BMW E30/E30 M3

The supply of these little gems seems to be shrinking.  This was the original M3, designed at and for the track.  It has the E30’s already robust chassis, which is reinforced and upgraded with stiffer springs, anti-roll bars, and shocks.  BMW put a cool (if boy-racerish) looking body kit and rear wing on the car to mimic the cars it was running in various Eurpoean racing series.  The M3 handles very neutrally with some tendency toward oversteer, which makes for tons of fun.  The E30 is hard-wired to the road so you’ll know what it’s doing at all times.  The S14 dual-cam four is short on low-end torque but revs quickly and is smooth (for a 4-banger), so it is a joy to use in spirited driving, as are the Getrag 5-speed and pre-self-adjusting-delay-valved clutch.  If you can find one, the E30 M3 is a great choice.  Prices are all over the place, but you can pick a decent on up with 100K+ miles for around $14K.  The regular E30’s (325 and 318) are also great track cars, and can be bought for a song.  Just get a set of Bilstein Sports, H&R Sport Springs, some Turner Bars, and you have a great start on a track car. 

http://www.turnermotorsport.com/html/show_category.asp?txtsearchParamCat=E30325

http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/Rare-Original-Collectible-Classic-1988-BMW-E30-M3_W0QQitemZ200208334827QQihZ010QQcategoryZ6131QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

1994-2000 CHEVY CAMARO/PONTIAC FIREBIRD

You can get ’em cheap, you can upgrade ’em cheap, and they offer loads of tail-happy fun.  The newer Ls1 350 V8 breathes better and thus has more power at higher revs, but the old LT1 works well, too.  You can torque your way out of corners easily with either motor, though.  The Firebirds have more body add-ons and better seats, but are otherwise identical.  You’ll need to bolt on a set of subframe connectors for chassis rigidity, because normally these cars have the structrual integrity of a boiled parsnip.  Add a set of Bilstein Coilovers, some stiff bars, big brakes and race seats and a roll cage and you’ll have a decent race car. 

PORSCHE 944/968

These Prosches are among the most neutral-handling cars in the world.  They are solid and strong without modifications, and parts abound for race mods, from mild upgrades to full-bore race car setups.  The 968 is still a bit dear pricewise, but it has a gem of an engine (3.0 liter four with 236 hp).  The 944 Turbos can be modified to produce huge power.   There are plenty of mods out there for these cars, from full competition equipment to weekend driving school warrior-grade. 

MAZDA MIATA

I see tons of these at the track, and for good reason–they are relatively light and handle superbly.  They are convertibles, so they will need roll hoops.  By the same token, you can find all kinds of suspension upgrades to make these little cars handle even better.  They aren’t very fast, but they more than make up for it in sheer cornering ability; so if you’re good at keeping up the momentum, this may be the car for you.

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