Oddball they may be, but some cars can make incredible sleepers for very little work…
1. E36 BMW 325i 1991-2000
What: ‘90s Executive car that’s fast becoming a bargain banger.
Why: Huge tuning and engine swap potential; great handling too.
How: The standard engine is said to be good to well over 500bhp when turbocharged with just an uprated head gasket, and engine swaps are common and fairly easy, even big American V8s.
2. Ford Sierra 1982-1993
What: Dull as dishwater 1980s rep-mobile.
Why: A huge number of engine swaps are very easily done.
How: Cosworth engine and running gear bolts straight on, and Ford and Rover V8s fit almost as easily; they even bolt to Cosworth gearboxes with the correct bell housing.
3. Lotus Elise 1995-Present
What: Sporty, fun, but not very fast sports car.
Why: Super light car, plus an engine conversion, equals Ferrari-beating fun.
How: Audi 1.8T and supercharged Civic Type-R engine conversions are common and fairly simple, and they are so light that even with ‘just’ 450bhp it should have a better power to weight ratio than a Veyron!
4. Volvo 940 turbo 1991-1998
What: Granddad’s countryside dog carrier and scrapyard fodder.
Why: Very strong RWD transmission and a 1000bhp+ capable Redblock turbo engine.
How: Do some internet research and purchase tuning parts from the USA and Scandinavia; there are no real specialists in the UK, but plenty elsewhere!
5. Mazda MX5 1989-2005
What: Cutesy but rather slow Japanese convertible.
Why: Cheap, light, handles like a dream, and engine conversions are easy.
How: Ford and LS V8 conversion kits are available, or you could even fit an RX-7 rotary engine if you’re feeling particularly mad. Big power makes an MX-5 a Wolf, holding a machine gun, in hairdresser’s clothing!
6. Mitsubishi RVR turbo 1991-2002
What: Small 4WD turbo people carrier
Why: It’s basically a de-tuned Lancer Evo underneath! Try to find a manual gearbox version if possible, though even an auto would be hilariously fast considering it looks so awful; so bad we daren’t even show you a picture of it. Google if you dare!
How: Front mount intercooler, bigger turbo, and then the usual Evo tuning methods apply. 1,000bhp+ 200mph+ people carrier? Well, why not!
7. MK2 Golf GTi 1983-1992
What: Legendary ‘80s hot hatch that’s underpowered compared to modern cars.
Why: The handling is still top notch and engine swaps are easy.
How: Swap in a 1.8T or a turbo/supercharged VR6 lump, both easy swaps capable of 500bhp if you really want a 200mph Golf!
8. Octavia 4Wd Estate 1996-2004
What: Very ordinary 150bhp Skoda Estate with no sporting intentions.
Why: Tuneable 1.8 turbo engine and strong 4WD system.
How: Parts from other 1.8T and 4WD VAG cars are almost fully interchangeable, so get tuning up that 1.8T engine.
9. Proton Satira 2001-2006
What: Re-badged Mitsubishi Colt shopping car.
Why: Evo and FTO engines drop straight in, making a monstrous hot hatch.
How: Evo or FTO engine, suitable FWD Mitsubishi gearbox, and a few other bits of jiggery pokery, and you are pretty much there; it’s amazing it isn’t done more often.
10. Saab 9-5 Aero 1997-2009
What: Sports version of an almost forgotten four door saloon.
Why: The engine is tuneable to huge levels with surprising ease.
How: Speak to UK Saab tuners, check out Saab tuning forums on the internet, and get tuning.