Five cars you never knew you could afford

You know the brands: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley — the exotics that are usually the province of pro athletes, rappers, movie stars and Internet gazillionaires. But when those guys lose interest in their shiny new toys and the miracle of depreciation sets in, ordinary folks with Camry budgets eventually can get in on the fun (that is until the first big shop bill shows up). Anyone looking to play in this market needs to get a thorough pre-purchase inspection by an expert and budget accordingly for maintenance. Here are five of our favorites:

  1. 1997-98 Aston Martin DB7: The DB7 was the car that saved Aston Martin and 007’s vehicle of choice. Aston’s then-parent Ford retained the brilliant Ian Callum to design a gorgeous new Aston that took advantage of Ford’s production expertise and the economies of scale presented by Ford’s parallel ownership of Jaguar. The earliest supercharged six-cylinder cars are now more than 15 years old, and the once six-figure English beauties can be found for $35,000 or less. Convertibles tend to be a little pricier than coupes and will probably never be any cheaper.
  2. 1977-85 Ferrari 308 GTS: Those who can remember the 1980s will know this as the car of Thomas Magnum of Magnum P.I. fame. While no great powerhouse by today’s standards, the noises are pure thoroughbred Ferrari. And so are maintenance expenses. A major service can require removing the entire engine and cost upwards of $3,000. It’s best to buy one where this has been done recently. On the plus side, a good 308 can be reasonably reliable. Your choice: $25,000 gets you the keys to a decent Ferrari 308 or a loaded Corolla.
  3. 1981-88 Lamborghini Jalpa: Conventional wisdom holds that there is no such thing as a cheap Lamborghini (and once upkeep is figured in this is likely true), but the Lamborghini Jalpa from the mid-1980s is our pick for an entry-level Lambo. While it lacks the V-12 punch of big brothers like the Diablo and Countach, its 3.5-liter quad cam V-8 is no slouch and its looks are suitably exotic. About $30,000 buys your first Lamborghini.
  4. 1985-97 Bentley Turbo R: The Bentley Turbo R is a linebacker in a bespoke suite. Weighing in at more than 5,000 lbs. the Turbo R still managed to go like stink and handle reasonably well for a car of its size. Bentley was owned by Rolls-Royce at the time these cars were produced, and in keeping with its traditional practice, it didn’t release horsepower figures (quoting simply “adequate”), but it was estimated that the Turbo R put out in the neighborhood of 300 hp. Shockingly, nice ones can be had for well under 20 grand.
  5. 1996-04 Lotus Esprit V8: The Esprit V8 is the sprinter on the list. While the other exotics were quick in their day, the Esprit remains a car not to be trifled with by kids in Mustang GTs. With a 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds and classic mid-engine supercar looks, the Esprit V8 at under $40,000 may be the steal of the century.

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