So: Where do you find good (or, you know, “good”) $500 cars? Turns out they’re kinda all over the place. In no special order, here are some time-proven sources:
YOUR/YOUR BUDDY’S BACKYARD
Remember that “parts car” or “restoration project” that’s been sitting there since 1994? That’s a race car, fool! Fulfill its destiny.
Of course the Lemons Forum has classifieds–we’re all cheapskates. At any given time you may find stuff from blank-canvas projects to recently raced, totally tech-ready machines. This is a great place to start since the sellers know what you’re trying to achieve; just make sure that you’re fully up to speed on current tech rules, in case someone’s selling a car that hasn’t been upgraded for a while.
While your ultimate goal is a $500 car, you can set your Craigslist search cap higher. Some cars, especially those with an enthusiast following, will have valuable parts (interior, trim, accessories) that you don’t need for racing but that can be sold to bring the car down to Lemons pricing. Found a $1500 Mercedes with $1000 worth of miscellaneous stuff? You’re golden. Also, Craigslist flakes are rampant–a guy trying to sell a car for $1000 may be so burned out by flaky buyers that he’ll jump at your $400 cash offer.
It also helps to have a good list of search terms. Some of our favorites: Runs… Runs but… Rust… Back fees… Won’t smog… Salvage title… Ugly… Sell ASAP… Wife wants it gone…
When you’re ready to buy, search often and have the cash on hand and a tow setup ready to go; you can cut pretty good deals when you’re ready to solve a guy’s problem immediately.
There are various Craigslist-multi-region aggregator sites. They come and go all the time, so Google “search all Craigslist” or similar when you’re ready to sample the current batch.
RacingJunk is one of a handful of racing-specific classified sites. Some of these even have Lemons subcategories.
GOVERNMENT / CHARITY / INSURANCE AUCTIONS
These can be great places to score future Lemons cars, especially auctions of confiscated and abandoned cars by government agencies. Most big cities have monthly or weekly auctions of cars glommed from busted drunk drivers, unpaid tickets, and illegal parkers. Their loss can be your gain. Regional auctions often list their inventories online in advance, so keep an eye open for that perfect Datsun F-10, Olds Troféo, or VW Phaeton. Typically, you’ll only get a few minutes to examine the inventory on the morning of the auction, and often the cars come without keys or history. But you can score some tremendous deals, with running stuff sometimes as low as a couple of hundred bucks. (Insurance- and dealer-trade-in auctions can have good deals as well, and most of the time you’ll know if the car is a runner or not before you throw up your hand. However, nearly all of these auctions require bidders to have a dealer license.)
WHERE NOT TO LOOK FOR LEMONS CARS
This isn’t a universal rule, but be very careful when considering a car that was built for another racing series. It’s obviously tempting to think some of the hard stuff like rollcage, seat, harness, etc. will already be handled that way, but often that’s wrong–because every race series has specific and quite-different safety rules, what passes in one quite often won’t pass in another. If you do go this route, you need to make 100% sure that any pre-existing safety equipment will actually be legal for Lemons–otherwise, you could easily end up worse off than starting from scratch. Familiarize yourself with the full Lemons Rulebook and the How Not to Fail Tech guide, and don’t be shy about asking the “Lemons Tech & Safety Questions” official(s) listed on the Contact Page.