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Dreaming of Owning a Supercar? Buy Used.

Marco R. della Cava
August 5, 2011
Klaus Nahr / Flickr
Klaus Nahr / Flickr


These are heady times for some used cars. With the economy still teetering and credit hard to come by, car shoppers looking for used car deals — particularly on gas-sipping economy machines and small SUVs — are finding prices are up some 20% since January, according to Kelly Blue Book.

But there’s another side of the used-car coin that’s decidedly in the buyer’s favor: The high-end side. So-called supercars were once by definition built in small numbers; an extreme example would be the 39 GTOs Ferrari made by hand in the early ‘60s, which today trade for double-digit millions. But the advent of the high-tech factory and computer age has meant that in the past 10 to 15 years very powerful cars were built in comparatively large numbers. Translation: your dream machine likely has plummeted in price.

“There’s no question that amazing cars like the Ferrari 360 Modena (1999 to 2005) are in the, shall we say, more affordable range now, around $75,000 when they were twice that,” says Keith Martin, publisher of Sports Car Market magazine and host/appraiser of Discovery HD Theater’s What’s My Car Worth? “But there’s a caveat. You’re not getting a free lunch, even if the price is way less than the original sticker. Buying a used supercar means being super sure maintenance was done right. Or else things get pricey very fast.”

Martin says that German-made sports cars tend to wear better than their competitors to the south, but that’s assuming the cars’ original owners were meticulous about their machines.

One smart buy is Porsche’s iconic 911, especially the somewhat maligned model known as the 996 (1999-2005), says Sam Cameron, salesman with sports car broker Cars Dawydiak in San Francisco. “Some Porsche purists don’t like the look of that model, or the fact that it was the first water-cooled 911 to come along,” he says. “But if you don’t mind those things, you can find them for $25,000 well preserved, and even some rough ones as low as the teens.”

Here are half a dozen more once-pricey supercars whose values — though perhaps not their appeal — have sunk in recent years:

Dodge Viper
(1991-2010; buy a solid used example for $25,000; when new around $80,000)

You have to smile when you see a Viper rumbling down the street. It’s just that outrageous, a bit like a cartoonish star of Pixar’s Cars franchise come to life. Designer Tom Gale’s creation was always aimed squarely at the high-test(osterone) set, with its massive V-10 and a mandatory manual transmission. The meek need not apply.

“It’s just a monster, and a lot of car for the money,” says Martin. “If it’s been well taken care of, you’re good to go. There are no huge electrical issues or complicated engine servicing issues with this car. Just straight ahead American muscle.”

Acura NSX
(1990-2005; $30,000; when new around $90,000)

The NSX has always been polarizing. Is it the nicest-looking Japanese coupe ever built, or merely the homeliest wanna-be Italian racer ever made? Take your pick, but what’s not up for debate is that the car offers bulletproof reliability, a low-slung seating position, and a parent company that does have some claim to racing (Indy and F1) fame.

“The NSX is definitely one way into ownership of an exotic car, but having said that, it’s never gotten anyone excited visually,” says Martin. “The buyers of these cars are saying ‘Look how well I spent my money,’ which is fine. But supercar ownership isn’t really about being a good deal.”

(E46 model, 2001-2006; $20,000; brand new, $55,900)

Ever since its introduction in 1988, BMW’s M3 sports coupe (and occasionally its four-door brother) has stood for the Munich company’s racing heritage and track victories. The E46 was a watershed in the evolution of the M3 species, known for its 333-hp, six-cylinder, non-turbo engine that got those ponies from a mere three liters of displacement.

“Whenever I go to BMW events, I see people racing them around and I want one,” jokes Martin. “But I wouldn’t buy one with more that 50,000 miles on it, and I’d be very sure it’s been properly serviced, as those cars can get very expensive to repair.”

Bentley Continental GT
(2003— ; $65,000; brand new, $189,900)

This is a hulking two-door, four-seat coupe in the grandest of European GT traditions—GT meaning “gran turismo,” a car meant to be packed with belongings and driven across the continent very quickly. The secret is that it’s essentially a re-bodied version of parent company VW’s 12-cylinder Phaeton sedan. But there’s no shame in that when you feel it blast off.

“This is an elegant machine that hasn’t changed its look since it was introduced, and a good used one is a far cry from what a new GT will set you back,” says Martin. “That it’s a Volkswagen means good things for the used-car shopper.”

Chevrolet Corvette
(Z06 model, 2005— ; $50,000; brand new, $74,375)

Everything about this iteration of the venerable Corvette is meant to impress, from its scandalous 7-liter engine pumping out 505 hp to its weight-saving aluminum frame (replacing steel in other models). What’s more, though this Indy 500 pace car delivered blinding 0-60 mph sprints of 3.6 seconds, it managed to do so while delivering respectable mileage (15/24 mpg; city/highway).

“This is really an amazing value for a car with 500 horsepower,” says Martin. “But perhaps what’s even better is that the biggest price is the car itself. Compared with other exotics, there really shouldn’t be many hidden gotchas with the cost of ownership.”

Lamborghini Gallardo
(2003— ; $100,000; brand new, $212,000)

Italian automakers have made huge strides with reliability in recent years, including Lamborghini. Of course, that may be because it’s owned by Audi and part of the Volkswagen Group. The Gallardo has been a huge hit for the company — some 10,000 have been built to date — due in large part to a blend of well-built German mechanicals and rakish Italian-inspired styling. The best of both worlds.

“Germans tend to like having their cars work. But a Porsche, say, will never have the sex appeal as a Ferrari. The Gallardo is a wonderful mix of the two,” says Martin. “I’m very high on this car. If I had to go out a buy a used supercar today, that’d be the one.

Robin Corps / Flickr
Robin Corps / Flickr

Cook24v / Flickr
Cook24v / Flickr

Maik-T. Š. / Flickr
Maik-T. Š. / Flickr

reggie b / Flickr
reggie b / Flickr

KlausNahr / Flickr
KlausNahr / Flickr