I Need 8-Cylinder Power at a Reasonable Price! What Car Should I Buy?

This week's reader is looking for a secondary car with a V8 at under $20,000.

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Image: Ford

Joe lives in Texas and has a trusty Honda Civic as his daily driver. However, his heart says he needs something with V8 power to compliment the 4-cylinder Honda. He’s looking for a fun secondary car for about $20,000. What should he buy?

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Here is the scenario:

I’ve got a daily driver that I’m happy with (2015 Civic) and am looking for a second car with more power that’s more fun to drive. I’ve never had anything but standard, practical sedans. I’ve got my heart set on something with an NA V8. This car doesn’t have to practical at all. I’m not going to race it or do anything like that, but I want something powerful and responsive.

I want at least a V8, I’ve always had 4-cylinder engines (long history of Civics and Camrys here), so I want an engine that means business for once. I haven’t driven a stick shift in a good 15-20 years, but there was a time when I could do it, so a manual wouldn’t be a problem. Other than that, this won’t be a daily driver so fuel efficiency isn’t a concern. Also not planning any outrageous road trips (I’d think 2 hours would be pushing it), so comfort also doesn’t have a lot of musts. Except for air conditioning. I will literally die without it in the summer.

I have a budget of up to $20,000

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $20,000

Location: Houston, TX

Daily Driver: No

Wants: V8 power, A/C

Doesn’t want: A truck or SUV

Expert 1 - Tom McParland: Just Get the ‘Vette

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Image: Autotrader.com

Joe, there seems to be a number of folks wanting to check that V8 box off their bucket list before everything becomes electrified, so now is a good time to act while inventory is still decent. Of course, there are any number of used Challengers, Mustangs, and Camaros sub $20,000, but you should probably just get a Corvette.

The way most owners treat their Vettes, it won’t be too difficult to find one that was barely driven and in good shape for its age. At under $20,000, you are looking at something in the C5 generation, which offered plenty of power in a manageable package. The interior is going to feel a bit dated, but you will forget all that when you mash the gas. I would definitely encourage you to get a manual, but that will make the search a bit harder. If you’re fine with two pedals, here’s a sharp-looking car from a private seller with only 30,000 miles.


Expert 2 - Bob Sorokanich: Run to the Vanishing Point

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Photo: Cars.com

Joe, if you’re gonna go V8, you might as well skip the pony cars. The Camaro and Mustang have basically spent their entire existence trying to prove that they’re not just straight-line behemoths, that they offer more than the simple pleasure of eight cylinders and overworked rear tires.

You know what car has never attempted to make that argument? The Dodge goddamn Challenger.


Think about it: The Mustang and Camaro have morphed and changed with each era of car design. They’ve tried to stay modern, current, cutting-edge. Yes, the current editions of both pony cars have relatively blatant retro styling, but talk to any owner and they’ll chew your ear off about how, actually, the car handles great, it does such-and-such on track, the suspension is blah-blah and the engineering is X, Y, Z.

Challenger owners can’t hear you over the sound of their own V8s.

And you know what? Good for them. There’s something refreshing about a car that only tries to be exactly what it is. You told us you want a V8, you’re only gonna drive it for fun, and you might dust off your long-dormant clutch foot for the right vehicle. Here’s a 2014 Challenger R/T in nearby Alvin, TX, with a hair under 70,000 miles on the clock. At $18,500, it’ll leave enough room in your budget for a new set of tires, and with a six-speed manual you’ll be rippin’ and not-always-grippin’ with the best of them. You can live out your Vanishing Point fantasies — just come back to reality before you enact the final scene.


Expert 3 - José Rodríguez Jr.: They Say Ford Is the Best in Texas

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Howdy, neighbor! Joe, you may be in Houston, but 350 miles is a day trip in Texas, as I’m sure you know. The answer to your question is easy although it comes with a disclaimer: you should buy an SVT F-150 Lightning right now, before they become unobtanium. There are one or two SVT Lightnings listed for sale under $20,000 in Houston currently on Facebook Marketplace.

I know you’re after a naturally-aspirated V8, and normally I’d be right there in the NA trenches with you. But don’t discount the SVT Lightning’s 5.4-liter V8 just because of its Eaton supercharger. Or if you really hate the idea, then maybe try for a Chevy 454 SS, as a viable naturally-aspirated V8 alternative.


You’re in Texas, so you need a truck. Not the faux-work trucks standing in as family vehicles we see so often on the interstate, but a truck that still looked like a truck — not humongous, with a single cab and decent size bed. The twist is you need a performance truck, which is sure to stand out among all the Heavy Duty models and King Ranch Ford trucks with “Salt Life” stickers on them.

I wanted to recommend a car, maybe even the Foxbody Mustang Tom referenced above, which is sure to be a future classic. Bonus points if you go with the coupe rather than convertible or hatch. A former SVT engineer said the coupe is the one to get as it sheds a little bit of weight compared to the others.


But you already own a practical small car with your Honda Civic, so I think you ought to branch out. That doesn’t mean you have to get something impractical; the SVT F-150 Lightning has a bed that’s easy to load and unload, after all.

Expert 4 - Andy Kalmowitz: Just Get This Vette


Joe, Tom is right. You should get a C5 Corvette. It’s exactly what you’re looking for. However, he isn’t completely right. What you need, my Texan friend, is a C5 Corvette Convertible. I know what you’re thinking: it’s not going to be as rigid or engaging as its hardtop counterpart. But let me tell you something: That literally does not matter.

You said it yourself. This isn’t a car for track days or anything like that. It’s for cruising down the highway with a beautiful LS V8 exhaust rumble behind you. You know what’ll make that rumble even better? No roof to get in the way. As a convertible evangelist, I must tell you that this is the only way to get a sports car. Sure, it gets hot in Texas, but that isn’t going to be an issue. Even with the top down, you can crank the air conditioning to ice you out. I do it all the time in my Z4. It’s the only way to live.


Luckily, since you’re in Texas, you’ve got a pretty good number of C5 Corvette Convertibles to choose from. But, since I’m sure a great guy I did the work for you and found the perfect ‘Vette. You can get this 2000 C5 with just 75,000 miles on the clock and a clean CarFax for well (read: $1,000) under your $20,000 budget. It’s beautiful, Joe. If you don’t buy it, I just might.