Editor’s Note: We love scouring the internet for reasons to spend money we don’t have on cars we daydream about owning, and these are our picks this week. All prices listed are bid amounts at the time of publishing.
When you play the numbers game on paper, the high-performance top trim model is always going to look the best. In reality, that’s not always the case. For instance, the base 911 won’t let you down if you decide to save the money over the turbo or GT3 RS. Want the BMW M2? Spring for the MW M240i instead — it’s nearly identical and is a few grand cheaper.
Sportier isn’t always better, but there are a few cars out there that are miles ahead of the next model down — they’re worth the splurge. Here are five sports cars you should spend the extra money because they are that much better than their standard stablemates.
2001 Pontiac Trans Am WS6
Location: Dearborn, Michigan
What we like: I’ve always been a fan of the Trans Am WS6 (and I’m not alone). The Trans Am took up GM’s muscle car duties when the Camaro took a hiatus in the early-aughts, but it was more than just a drag strip regular. GM gave the top-of-the-line Firebird a genuine suspension package to match the 305 horsepower Corvette engine under the hood. You could say it was the forebear to today’s generation of track day-bound Amercian sports cars from Ford and Chevy.
From the seller: “Not only did they do a ton of styling to the car but the WS6 model packs a punch under its hood and translates power courtesy the WS6 suspension package. Under the hood of this beast is a 5.7-liter LS1 V8 pushing out a bold 325 horsepower.”
What to look out for: Common consensus on this generation Trans Am is that the electricals suffer failures more often, especially the headlight motors and window motors. On higher mileage examples fluid leaks can be common as well.
Second opinion: “The Trans Am is a heavy hot rod that’s easy to manage in corners. The latest WS6 handling package features three-valve shocks for greater bounce control and better high-speed stability on course pavement. It’s Corvette performance for a minivan price.” — Motor Week
2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R
Location: Los Angeles, California
What we like: The standard Mustang is, of course, an icon. It’s a wonderful car to experience, but to own one every day takes a lot of patience and compromise. More plainly, it may not be worth it. The GT350/R on the other hand, with its high revving Voodoo V8 and incredible sound and driving dynamics changes that. The GT350R sits next to the Mazda MX-5 on my list of cars that are wonderfully entertaining to drive close to or at their limit.
From the seller: “Factory options include a racing stripe and the Electronics Package, which consists of dual-zone air conditioning, navigation and CD player. The 5.2-liter DOHC V8 is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and features a flat-plane crankshaft. As an R model, this car features 19-inch carbon fiber wheels, track-oriented suspension and aerodynamic enhancements.”
What to look out for: There was a major problem with faulty transmissions and overheating diffs on 2016. Before diving into a GT350/R make sure this is rectified.
Second opinion: “The GT350R comes standard with all the Track pack items, plus a functional front splitter, taller rear wing, underbody belly pans with a real diffuser and side skirts, all said to produce twice the downforce of a Porsche 911 GT3. Of course, the model-specific carbon-fiber wheels and tires add their benefits to the mix. The corner speeds that felt a little dicey and dancing and on the limit in the base GT350 could be taken 10-15 mph faster.” — Chris Walton, Motor Trend
2016 Porsche Cayman GT4
Location: Atherton, California
What we like: Between the sound, the way it drives and the way the driver interacts with the car so directly, almost organically, the GT4 is a what a car looks like inches away from perfection. The base-level Cayman is a mesmerizing and an incredibly capable car in its own right, but that just shows how stellar the hot-rodded GT4 is.
From the seller: “Finished in GT Silver Metallic over black leather, the car is equipped with over $26k in options, including carbon ceramic brakes, the Sport Chrono package, Porsche Communication Management (PCM), lightweight bucket seats, carbon fiber interior trim and more. Power is provided by a 3.8-liter flat-six that was derived from the contemporary 991 Carrera S engine and mated to a six-speed manual transmission. An Akrapovic titanium exhaust was added along with a lightweight flywheel, clutch, pressure plate, release bearing, and a custom transmission gear set from Sharkwerks.”
What to look out for: No major maintenance problems have been reported yet.
Second opinion: “The Cayman GT4 manages the neat trick of being both reassuringly familiar and radically different. Nobody with prior experience of any GT-badged 911 is going to be either offended or surprised by the way the über-ized Cayman drives, or the clinical competence with which it deals with the all-important business of being thrashed around a racetrack” — Mike Duff, Car and Driver
2012 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Wagon
Location: Wayzata, Minnesota
What we like: Wagons are a rare sight as it is, but seeing muscle wagon is a joy few get to experience. Any time the the practicality of a wagon is combined with raw power, it shows everyone that wagons are> cool. And wagons that can do massive burnouts inbetween school runs are even cooler.
From the seller: “Since purchasing the car the seller had the Renntech R1 package fitted by their Mercedes dealer. The package includes an ECU tune, Renntech sports muffler, BMC air cleaner and an intercooler pump. The modifications reportedly increase the 5.5-liter V8’s output to 696 horsepower and 801 lb-ft of torque.”
What to look out for: The E63 wagon’s transmission can develop a “jerkiness” over time that can easily be fixed with a plug-in computer reset at the dealer. Spark plugs may cause a misfire, though Mercedes issued a recall to fix the problem.
Second opinion: “So complete is the joy of ripping off 12.1-second quarter-mile times in a wagon with room for five and the family dog that you’ll actually look forward to long excursions. It’s as if ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits had a drag car purpose-built for Take Your Children to Work Day.” — Andrew Wendler, Car and Driver
1999 BMW M3 Convertible
Location: New Fairfield, Connecticut
What we like: The E36-era 3-Series and M3 are the black sheep of BMW’s mid-sized sedan family. They came across as an exercise in cost-cutting, and the overall refinement of the E36 suffered because of it. But, if anything, that makes picking up an E36 a little bit easier these days because they’re less desirable. Driving wise, the base 325i was okay, but in M3 trim you got a whopping 92 more horsepower, an extra 44 lb-ft of torque and dialed in suspension.
From the seller: “It is powered by a 3.2L inline-six paired to a five-speed manual transmission and modifications include clear turn signals and side markers, HID headlamps, an M50 manifold, and an aftermarket stereo system.”
What to look out for: “Problematic items include the water pump used on ’95, ’96 and some ’97s. It had a plastic impeller that tended to fail after 60,000 miles. Replacement pumps with metal impellers are available, however. All M3s should be checked for cylinder compression, and a cooling system pressure check performed to ensure the radiator neck isn’t cracked. Check that there are no overrev codes on the computer. Automatic car washes should be avoided, as the engine-management computer is susceptible to flooding.” — Motor Trend
Second opinion: “The M3 has always been a well-balanced convergence of performance hardware, such as a high-revving engine, stiff sports suspension, vicelike brakes, tasteful body modifications and discrete badging. BMW‘s motorsport background was evident in the M models, and the M3 was the most affordable of the bunch.” — David Newhardt, Motor Trend