According to You: The most fun you’ve had with cars on a budget

Courtesy Gambler 500

Last week, we asked members of the Hagerty Community about the most fun they’ve had with cars on a budget. Some of the answers might not surprise you, but I have a feeling at least one of the responses below might be something you’ve never considered before. So have a look, and tell us what we might have missed.

Gambler 500

Cars line the sand during the Gambler 500
Courtesy Gambler 500

Hagerty Community member @Eric participated in the Gambler 500, which is one of the most affordable ways to get out there and have fun. Especially with others, as I suspect Eric’s story below isn’t unique:

“I did the Gambler 500 for actually $500, at the peak of the used car market recently. My friends and I found a ’95 Honda Passport for $500 that had no brakes, a bent tie rod, a cracked valve cover that literally spit oil, and many other smaller problems. We fixed it up with exclusively junkyard parts (total parts cost under $400, so we spent the last hundred of our parts budget on stickers and paint) and got some used (nearly dead) 35″ tires for free, cut the fenders to make them fit, and ran the Gambler in it!

One of my crew’s daily driver broke down and he’s been dailying our Gambler car ever since, which is a testament to how well we fixed it up for so little money. This is a great way to spend a season’s weekends with your friends.”

Random adventures in a field

FJ Company Toyota FJ40 restomod
FJ Company

While @TG reminds us that “local back roads in one of my toys” is a great way to get a thrill for cheap, @Wayne has an entertaining story to go with this notion:

“I once found and bought a Volvo P544 from a field. I was able to get engine unseized without pulling the head off. Then one day when on a date, we drove some rough trails around Hamilton, Ontario. Someone must have reported the “joy-riders” to the police, and we subsequently met them on the way out.

They said, ‘Oh, you’ve got a girlfriend with you’ and didn’t say anything else. Luckily we drove off (on the road), and my now-wife never lets me forget this run-in with the police (who are real fun-loving people too).”

The 24 Hours of Lemons

24 Hours of Lemons
24 Hours of Lemons

I have spent a fair bit of time talking about The 24 Hours of Lemons, but @Steve has a fantastic first-hand account of the Lemons experience in a particularly affordable example of the genre:

“For me it’s racing at Thunderhill in the 24 Hours of Lemons series in a 4-door 1963 Plymouth Valiant. The Valiant was sporting a stock slant 6 and push-button A904 automatic. And trust me, duking it out in a bunch of hoopties on a racetrack while shifting with your left hand is insane fun.”

Exotic Car rentals

Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Renting an exotic definitely checks off a lot of affordable boxes for our question, at least compared to buying leasing one of these for a longer period of time. So @Darwin sets up a great reason to rent an exotic instead of a boring family sedan or SUV from the airport.

“I had a reservation for an exotic car in Las Vegas, which I was planning to drive to Zion National Park with a best friend. The rental outlet couldn’t come through with the Aston-Martin that I had requested so I was given a new 911 for a significant discount. We drove to Zion (very quickly) and then the next day received record, unexpected snowfall once we were deep in the park. Was a harrowing, yet exciting drive getting out. Lots of fun, lots of memories, for a fraction of the price of the Aston.”

Any rental car?

Rob Siegel - The very annoying rental car - IMG_1087_enhanced
Rob Siegel

But, by the same extension, isn’t any rental vehicle a cheap way to have fun? Or as @TG put it:

“I went from Denver to Montrose in a company rental. It’s cheaper and I generally arrive sooner than the flight!”

Ice Racing


Provided you live in the right location, racing on ice is an affordable and thrilling way to enjoy a vehicle. Here’s what @Mike experienced in a very interesting vehicle:

“Participating in an “icecross” (autocross on a snow/ice-covered course laid out on a kinda plowed out dirt field), upstate New York in the dead of winter. I was driving my $50, pulled-out-of-the-junkyard Renault 4CV, which actually has amazing traction (31-69% weight distribution front to back) even on regular tires. Glad I was wearing a helmet…the course was so rough the helmet smashed the dome light on the driver’s side. The car was pretty rusty so I wasn’t sure it would hold together, but it did. No trophy, but a lot of fun sliding around and cornering on the snowbanks.”


2022 NSRA Street Rod Nationals autocross

Regional autocross events near you are not hard to find in most parts of the country, and @Tim is proof positive of this being both approachable and affordable:

“Autocross your daily. Our local club charges only $35 per day. And while it’s not budget, my next suggestion is definitely high value per dollar: get your friends together and race with The 24 Hours of Lemons.”

Track Days

National Auto Sport Association

I am a big fan of HPDEs put on by local enthusiast organizations, as they are pretty cheap for all the track time and professional instruction you receive. But @TG takes it a step further, suggesting a “track day in an Indy (style) car” would be the most bang for the buck. Hard to argue with that!

Off-road Parks

As I mentioned last week with my suggestion for rallycross events, @Dean rightly reminds us all that these events are often held in offroad parks that are open for more than just competitive rallycross.

“I’ve taken a 1947 Willys CJ2A at the new Holly Oaks Off Road Park. Sure it only has 60 horsepower, but there’s that 40:1 gear reduction drivetrain. If you want to go sometime, you let me know.”




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    That picture of that 70s Torino wagon with apparently stock suspension exhibiting all the body roll the 70s had to offer gave me a chuckle

    Autocross, if it’s good enough to go to work in and isn’t an SUV or high pickup your good to go. After you clean it out and put air in the tires. I did it for years and really wish I had the time to do it still. I once showed up with a car that had less than 500 miles on it, that was the only time I was asked if I was sure I wanted to use that car.

    I had a 2 year old 1976 Dodge Ramcharger SE 4X4 with a Frink plow frame attached still running on Snows when the first “slalom” (parking lot gymkhanna) of the season came up in May?. My brother had a lightly prepared Plymouth Cricket (Mitsubishi Colt Gallant) he was running and I went along to watch – and got talked into competing. Due to wheelbase and displacement I ended up running against a C4 Corvette – – – – . Needless to say it was a HOOT – and to everyone’s surprise – including my own, the Vette’s best run was only 1/100 second faster than the best run of the Ramcharger – – – best run was accomplished in 4 wheel low range.

    I’ve done ice racing a couple of times, and it’s a blast. I did it in my daily driver, which was an Accord (stick) at the time, and ice racing has the advantage of not being hard on the car. Unfortunately, probably due to global warming, the lake we ice raced on, about an hour and a half north of where I live, hasn’t frozen sufficiently for a decade (the rule is the ice has to be three feet thick).

    Cool story bro, but last year’s winter in SD was the worst in many years. There’s plenty of ice if you look for it. Ice racing is great, and I did it in the past.

    Great. But overall, much less 3-feet thick ice than in years past. Climate change is definitely the reason, as David pointed out.

    A day at Performance Driving School with on-track instruction in skidpad, threshold braking, emergency avoidance manoeuvres and much more is an inexpensive way to have a great time with your favourite car. You can pick up some amazing new driving skills at the same time.

    In Central California we have engaged in a little fun with an event called Pond Racing. There’s a small oval track graded into an open dry ponding basin (this year full of water). Rules: max car investment $200 and no four wheel drive. My favorite was a Bonneville SSE. On board compressors come in handy when tire beads let loose. Rubbin is Racin. 🙂 Drive them until they die, then call the scrap yard.

    Ahh, auto cross…
    Back in the 70s when my now wife of 43 yrs were dating,
    I had traded my 71 Vega wagon for a 914/4
    I was divorced and the buyer was getting married
    His future father in law approved the loan for the “ boot” on the sale
    It was in C/S and it seemed the only other C/S was a Sunbeam Tiger.
    I only beat him once,..
    When it was wet
    But it was great fun.

    Rallyed the Ontario Regional Navigation Rallye Series for 3 years in a clapped out R12 in the late 70s and early 80s. It was the lowest powered car in the series (made a stock Civic look like an indy-car) In order to finish first, first you have to finish!! In 3 years we never had a DNF and placed in the top 3 in the province each year – I think I paid $300 for the car and about $150 for an engine rebuild kit (new sleeves, pistons, bearings, valves, and gaskets – – – ) we never broke the car on a rally running pretty much every weekend from mid-May to mid October

    Just out of high school, we had an old Datsun B210 5 speed. We would drive it into areas of town where we probably shouldn’t be, and as we drove by groups of loiterers the driver turned off the key, pumped the gas and let the engine pump plenty of gas through the engine into the exhaust. When he turned the key back on the explosion and flame through the tailpipe would send them ducking for cover. Hilarious? YES! …of course don’t do it today cuz they will shoot back.

    You can attend a local cars & coffee for free. Bring your daily driver if you don’t have a collector car, park it off to the side, and mingle with the other enthusiasts. It may take some effort to break in to the established social networks, but certainly in my area, “walk ins” who are genuinely interested in weird old cars are always welcome.

    I used to pick up donated cars from the local Charity. I got a few nice Volvo wagons, a nice PV 544 and a 1976 914, 2.0. All the cars I bought were about $275 to $600. I drove evry one of them home and even Autocrossed the 914 for a few years. Really inexpensive way to get your car fix. I’m in northern California so never had to deal with rust. Mostly changed oil and “nut and bolted” the cars and go play.

    “Back in the Day” driving thru fields, hedges, etc in my brothers (unrestored) late 40’s CJ2A – no roof, no doors, one seat, no windshield, no muffler or tailpipe (lost it in the woods somewhere), “iffy brakes” (use the handbreak and downshift!) with the “gas tank” a 1 gallon turpentine can bolted to the dash. We had a blast – and our old german shephard loved to ride in it. He never should have sold it but he got more than he paid for it in “very rough” condition.

    Back when I was a senior in High School (2004), our shop teacher still daily drove his first car from when he got his license as a kid, an old VW Beetle. The thing was more rust than car, the doors were held closed with bungee cords, and it consumed oil about as fast as you could add it, but he basically kept it around as a car for kids in shop class to wrench on to learn (and make mistakes) with, as he had nicer cars for his family. It finally got to the point that he was ready for it to finally go to the scrapyard as it wasn’t safe or reliable to drive, and he had a truck scheduled to pick it up the next day, so after school he got a bunch of us shop class kids together, we trailered it to a local dirt bike track, and we just sent the thing around the track until it no longer ran (and the doors fell off along the way). A great final memory for the lot of us to have of that car. Cost us nothing but our time.

    Back in the days when my wife and I were newly wed 24 year old kids we bought a used sports car. Joined the local University’s (UNH) sports-car club. Went on all of their TSD rallies even though I was not attending the University. The fun part was when you realized you were off track and most likely lost. Back tracking and making up time was a blast and you usually had someone with you that also took the same wrong turn. Never did develop a talent for skillfully taking sharp turns. I did learn to live with fear and prayed a lot. Now we are 80 years old and my used Porsche 356, that I bought for $ 2,650.00, and still have, is worth more than $ 175,000.00 Now what could be more fun than that?

    I can have 9/10 of the fun on the back roads, at about 2/10 of the cost, with a humble driver-quality Miata or 944, as I can with some expensive modern road rocket. And have less $ at stake, in case trouble happens.

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