10 Budget-Friendly Project Cars Under $10,000

With used car prices still soaring, the quest for affordable power may seem like an elusive endeavor. However, fear not, as we’ve meticulously scoured the automotive landscape to uncover project cars, and our list is here to guide you.

In compiling this roster, we aimed for a $10,000 price point and extended our focus to match the increasing lifespan of vehicles on the road, acknowledging a few exceptions. Let’s dive into the world of budget-friendly automotive thrills!

10. 1996 BMW 3 Series: $2,203

Engine1.9 L I4; 2.8 L I6
Displacement1.9 L; 2.8 L
Horsepower138 – 190 hp
Torque139 – 207 lb-ft
Transmission5-speed manual

BMW’s 3 Series Offers Timeless And Affordable Excellence

1996 BMW 3 Series Coupe project cars

BMW’s 3 Series lineup offers sporty and elegant vehicles that rival variants from Mercedes-Benz and Audi. For the 1996 model year, the 3 Series was part of the E36 lineup, and it offered new engines across the lineup. The new six-cylinder versions dropped the 325 designation for 328, thanks to a new 2.8-liter inline-6 engine with more horsepower and a 14% increase in torque.

These models also received vented rear disc brakes, helping minimize brake fade. The 318 models retained the name despite getting a larger 1.9-liter engine with a slight torque increase. BMW’s 1996 3 Series still benefits from a vast availability of replacement parts, making it ideal for anyone looking to customize a vehicle without breaking the bank.

9. 2001 GMC Jimmy: $4,274

Engine4.3 L V6
Displacement4.3 L
Horsepower190 hp
Torque250 lb-ft
Transmission4-speed automatic

2001 GMC Jimmy Is A Budget Friendly Off-Roader

2001 GMC Jimmy

The GMC Jimmy was a compact SUV available in two body styles, a two-door and a four-door. For the 2001 model year, the Jimmy had a mighty 4.3-liter V6 engine with 190 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. The engine paired with a 4-speed automatic, sending power to a 4WD system. Compared to rivals like the Ford Explorer, the Jimmy was more maneuverable, helping drivers navigate tight trails with finesse.

In addition, the 2001 GMC Jimmy had advanced safety features compared to its predecessors. This variant added standard side impact airbags and was also available with a stability control system. Thanks to used 2001 Jimmy models ranging from $2,000 to $6,000, the Jimmy is an ideal option for DIY enthusiasts seeking a versatile platform for customization.

8. 1998 Nissan 240SX: $4,612

Engine2.4 L I4
Displacement2.4 L
Horsepower155 hp
Torque160 lb-ft
Transmission5-speed manual

Nissan’s 240SX Is An Affordable Drifting Legend

1998 Nissan 240SX

Nissan’s 240SX distinguished itself from rivals like the Toyota Celica with its RWD layout, which delivered a purer driving experience. Under the hood of the 1998 Nissan 240SX sat a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with 155 hp and 160 lb-ft of torque. The engine paired with a 5-speed manual transmission, sending power to the rear wheels.

The 1998 240SX was part of the S14 generation, which featured updated styling and improved aerodynamics. This marked a progression of Nissan’s aesthetics and performance. Nowadays, the 240SX is one of the best budget-friendly project cars on the market, especially with its popularity in the drifting community.

7. 2004 Chevrolet S-10: $6,096

Engine4.3 L V6
Displacement4.3 L
Horsepower190 hp
Torque250 lb-ft
Transmission4-speed automatic

Chevy S-10 Allows For Affordable Pickup Customization

2004 Chevrolet S-10

The 2004 Chevrolet S-10 was a compact pickup truck that edged out rivals like the Ford Ranger with its more powerful V6 engine offering superior towing capacity in its class. The Chevrolet S-10 was a cousin to GMC’s Sonoma, and it was only available as a 4×4 crew cab in 2004. Under its hood sat a mighty 4.3-liter V6 engine with 190 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque.

Nowadays, the Tacoma is one of the most capable midsize pickup trucks on offer. However, the TRD badged variants command a steeper price of $48,035. With less than $10,000, enthusiasts can get a capable truck like the 2004 Chevrolet S-10, fit some readily available aftermarket parts, and turn it into a capable off-roader without spending a fortune.

6. 2016 Ford Fiesta: $6,116

Engine1.6 L I4
Displacement1.6 L
Horsepower120 – 197 hp
Torque112 – 202 lb-ft
Transmission5/6-speed manual

2016 Ford Fiesta Offers Affordable Performance

2016 Ford Fiesta ST

The Ford Fiesta was one of the best-selling cars in the world and an impressive compact car that surpassed rivals like the Honda Fit with a more engaging and spirited driving experience. For the 2016 model year, Ford fitted the Fiesta with a new optional infotainment system called Sync 3. This system simplified the touchscreen interface and replaced the predecessor’s MyFord Touch system.

All 2016 variants used a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine with 120 hp and 112 lb-ft of torque. Fortunately, Ford also offered a turbocharged ST variant with the same engine producing 197 hp and 202 lb-ft of torque. In its standard form, the Fiesta used a 5-speed manual, while the ST used a 6-speed manual. Both vehicles had a front-wheel drive system, making them ideal hot hatches for anyone looking for a project car.

5. 2011 Subaru Impreza: $6,628

Engine2.5 L H4
Displacement2.5 L
Horsepower170 – 305 hp
Torque170 – 290 lb-ft
Transmission5/6-speed manual; 4-speed automatic

Perfect Blend Of AWD Performance And Budget Friendly Customization

2011 Subaru Impreza

For the 2011 model year, the Subaru Impreza offered something for everyone, ranging from the base Impreza 2.5i hatchback to the ludicrously fast WRX STI sedan. The Subaru Impreza differentiated itself from rivals like the Mitsubishi Lancer with its signature symmetrical all-wheel drive system, which offered superior traction and stability.

For the 2011 model year, all Subaru Impreza models had a 2.5 liter flat-4 engine producing an impressive 170 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. The WRX STI added a turbocharger, boasting 305 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. The 2011 model year marked the beginning of the fourth generation, introducing a sedan version of the WRX STI and dropping the 2.5 GT trim.

4. 2000 Toyota MR2: $8,157

Engine1.8 L I4
Displacement1.8 L
Horsepower138 hp
Torque127 lb-ft
Transmission5-speed manual

2000 Toyota MR2 Offers Affordable Mid-Engine Thrills

2000 Toyota MR2

Toyota’s MR2 was a mid-engine sports car that outshone its main rival, the Mazda MX-5, with its mid-engine layout, which boosted its overall balance and handling. Toyota reintroduced the MR2 in 2000, offering it in a Spyder layout and departing from the “forward-look” and wedge-shaped configuration of its predecessors.

For the 2000 model year, MR2 shared its engine with the Celica GT, a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine with 138 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. Weighing in at 2,200 pounds, the 2000 Toyota MR2 had plenty of vroom from the get-go. Despite having reasonable performance, the MR2 had a wide track, long wheelbase, and different-sized front and rear tires, keeping drivers planted on the asphalt.

3. 2012 Mitsubishi Eclipse: $9,493

Engine2.4 L I4; 3.8 L V6
Displacement2.4 L; 3.8 L
Horsepower162 – 265 hp
Torque162 – 262 lb-ft
Transmission5-speed manual; 4/6-speed automatic

Affordable Style And Customization Potential

2010 Mitsubishi Eclipse Side

2012 marked the final year for the Mitsubishi Eclipse, both darlings in the sports compact scene. While the base version had mediocre performance from a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, the GT trim had a 3.8-liter V6 with 265 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. Nowadays, there are plenty of budget-friendly mods even for the base engine, helping make it faster and more fun to drive.

For the 2012 model year, Mitsubishi introduced a new special edition, the Eclipse SE, which had a number of appearance upgrades. The base Mitsubishi Eclipse was available as standard with a 5-speed manual transmission; however, Mitsubishi also offered an optional 4-speed automatic. The V6-powered Eclipse had a 5-speed automatic as standard.

2. 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata: $9,716

Engine2.0 L I4
Displacement2.0 L
Horsepower167 hp
Torque140 lb-ft
Transmission5-speed manual

Agile, Stylish, And Affordable Roadster

2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata

For decades, the MX-5 Miata wowed enthusiasts with its elegant simplicity, budget-friendly price, and grin-inducing performance. Despite Mazda upgrading the Miata over the years, it still retained its core principles with dogged determination. For the 2010 model year, the Mazda competed with most rivals, including the Pontiac Solstice.

However, while the Pontiac had a larger engine, the MX-5 had a reasonably powerful 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 167 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque. The engine paired with a 5-speed manual transmission, sending power to the rear wheels. Mazda introduced a power retractable MX-5 in 2010, offering a versatile solution for enthusiasts desiring open-air motoring and a weather-sealed cabin.

1. 1992 Chevrolet Corvette C4: $9,786

Engine5.7 L V8
Displacement5.7 L
Horsepower300 hp
Torque330 lb-ft
Transmission4-speed automatic; 6-speed manual

Sleek And Affordable American Performance

1992 Chevrolet Corvette

The Corvette has been a performance icon for decades thanks to its impressive powertrain. For the 1992 model year, Chevrolet introduced a base V8 engine with 300 hp. The ZR1 trim also got fender badging, helping it distinguish itself from lesser ‘Vettes. The base LT1 engine was a 5.7-liter V8 with 300 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque.

While rivals like the Dodge Viper had larger engines and more performance, the Corvette was lighter, offered a more accessible price point, and boasted a refined driving experience. The 1992 Chevy Corvette was part of the fourth generation, boasting a sleeker and more aerodynamic design.