Working on a project car is almost a rite of passage for everyone to be considered a true gearbox. Few things can give a gearbox more fun and satisfaction than taking an old beater and adding the necessary tweaks to make it look cooler and nicer.
If you’re in the market for a project car and you only have $10,000 to work with, look no further than a Japanese car. JDM cars are excellent project cars because they are solidly built, reliable and most importantly, affordable. Let’s take a look at ten fantastic Japanese project cars that don’t cost a cent more than $10,000.
10 Subaru Impreza WRX – $9,000
Over the past half century, Subaru has built some of the best rally cars. So in 1992 Subaru introduced the WRX as a high-performance version of the Impreza to showcase some of its rally-inspired technologies, including turbocharged four-cylinder engines, reinforced suspensions and four-wheel drive.
The second-generation Impreza WRX was produced from 2000 to 2007. It was sold with a range of engines, including a turbocharged 2.0-litre boxer engine that produced 230 hp.
9 Mazda RX-7 FC – $9,600
The RX-7 has gained significant cult following worldwide over the past three decades, thanks in large part to its outstanding third-generation (FD) model. The RX-7 FD has a beautiful design, excellent driving dynamics and a lot of power, which explains why it currently costs more than $40,000.
Although the RX-7 FD is too expensive for most gearboxes, the second generation (FC) version is still affordable. Sure, the FC isn’t as pretty as its successor, but it’s still a stylish 90s Japanese car with a turbocharger Wankel rotary motor developing more than 200 ponies.
8 Datsun 280Z – $8,700
The Z-car series has been a huge success for Nissan since its introduction in the 1960s. The first Z car – the 240Z – is currently seeing a significant price increase, but the 280Z that came after is still affordable.
The 280Z looks just like the 240Z and comes with a larger 2.8-liter six-cylinder engine with a Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system. With 170 horsepower, the 280Z is more powerful than the 240Z, despite costing less these days.
7 Toyota MR2 – $8,000
In the mid-1980s, Toyota wanted to take over the affordable sports car market, so it developed the MR2. When it debuted in 1984, the MR2 was a huge hit, thanks in large part to its looks, price and the fact that it was Japan’s first-ever mid-engined rear-engine sports car.
Toyota produced three generations of the MR2 from 1984 to 2007, and they are all still affordable to this day. However, we recommend getting one of the first two generations as they look better.
6 1989 Mitsubishi Starion – $8,500
Japanese sports cars were all the rage in the 1980s. Everyone wanted one, which is why we have cars like the Toyota MR2, Mazda RX-7 and Subaru XT. Mitsubishi didn’t want to miss the action, so it introduced the Starion in 1982.
The Starion received high praise upon its introduction, largely due to its attractive wedge-shaped design and flip-out headlights. Mitsubishi also outfitted it with a 2.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that pumped out over 200 horsepower, making it a blast to drive.
5 1998-2004 Lexus IS300 – $10,000
When Toyota founded Lexus in the late 1980s, it wanted to build fantastic luxury cars that could rival anything from Europe. The IS shows that Toyota’s goal has been achieved, as it has been one of the most popular Lexus models since its introduction in 1998.
While the current IS is just as expensive as the BMWs and Audis, the first-generation model is still within reach. The IS300 trim, which debuted in 2000, is equipped with a 3.0-liter inline six that produces about 220 horsepower, giving it great performance.
4 Suzuki Cappuccino – $9,000
If you’re familiar with the Japanese car industry, you’ve probably heard of it the Kei car segment† Kei cars are small, fuel-efficient city cars with strict size and displacement restrictions. The Suzuki Cappuccino is one of the best Kei cars ever made.
Despite being small, the Cappuccino has a sporty design and comes with a 657cc turbocharged engine with enough power to make the 1,588lb car fun.
3 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse – $7,700
In the late 1980s, Mitsubishi and Chrysler came together and developed a new entry-level sports car to compete against the Mazda MX-5, among others. The result was the Eclipse, which shared its platform with the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser.
The first-generation Eclipse looked great, but we have a soft spot for the more rounded styling of the second-generation model. The second generation Eclipse had several engine options, the best being a 2.0-liter turbocharged, intercooled four-cylinder with 210 horsepower on tap.
2 Nissan 350Z – $9,500
The 21st century started well for Nissan when it introduced a new Z car to the market: the 350Z. The 350Z was a huge hit when it debuted in the early 2000s, largely because of its new, eye-catching design.
Gearheads also fell in love with the 350Z’s engine—a bulletproof 3.5-liter V6 with 306 horses and 268 lb-ft of torque. The 350Z has gained huge cult following since its introduction thanks to its punchy engine, excellent ride feel and easy adjustment.
1 Mazda Miata (NB) – $8,800
We love the RX-7, but the Miata is arguably the best Mazda of all time. Since its debut in 1989, the Miata has shown that sports cars don’t have to be expensive to be fun, which is why it has achieved such commercial success for Mazda.
The second generation Miata debuted in 1997 and although it didn’t have pop-up headlights, it was just as stylish as its predecessor. A 142 horsepower four-cylinder engine also made it a joy to drive. With so many Miatas built over the past three decades, there is a huge aftermarket, multiple owner’s clubs and online resources to help make your project a success.