If holding onto whatever savings you've got left is important to you, then you know right now is about the worst time ever to get yourself a used NSX. There's never been an affordable time in history for you to own a MkIV Supra. And while something like Mitsubishi's 3000GT VR4 might seem affordable, the economic aftermath of you owning one is just as expensive as that NSX. So what's a minimum wage-earning chump like yourself supposed to do? The next best thing, of course. Behold, the JDM supercar alternatives for the rest of us.
ACURA NSX (NA1/NA2)
Why you can't have one: It's the second-generation NSX with its complicated hybrid motors and its turbochargers that say you can no longer afford Honda's original supercar. The NSX of the '90s (and early '00s) was simplicity personified. Its modest, naturally aspirated V-6 paired perfectly with the car's lightweight, aluminum structure for something that, even today, makes it one of the best-handling cars ever made. Unfortunately, everybody else knows this, and the introduction of the second-gen NSX only drove NA1 and NA2 prices up even higher, well into the $50K range.
Get this instead: Honda S2000. Just about everybody agrees a new Honda roadster is impending, which means now's the time to get yourself a 240hp AP1 or AP2 that won't just remind you of the company's original S600 roadster but stands for one of the most exciting periods for people who liked Hondas that weren't overly complex and didn't look like they came right out of your PlayStation. Find yourself one that's been well taken care of and with lower mileage for $15K and up.
TOYOTA SUPRA TURBO (MkIV)
Why you can't have one: Unlike every other Japanese supercar, Toyota's MkIV Supra was never something you could afford. It hasn't depreciated like the RX-7 has, and its resale values haven't fluctuated like the NSX's. Blame it on its timeless design that was never something over the top, as well as its cast-iron block that can take a lickin' well into quadruple-digit horsepower territory.
Get this instead: Lexus SC300. Stick the MKIV's 2JZ-GTE underneath the hood of a mid-'90s SC300 for a few grand and you've just gotten yourself about as close as possible to owning a MkIV Supra for the poor side of the Supra's 40 grand. You'll need that 2JZ for the SC300 to be anything at all like the MKIV Supra, but it doesn't end there. Today, five grand'll get you an SC300 that doesn't look like it's two decades old.
MITSUBISHI 3000GT VR-4
Why you can't have one: It turns out not even your bank account's stopping you from getting a 3000GT VR-4. They aren't expensive, and finding one isn't terribly hard. Instead, regret lies in you owning one and the first time you've got to do something simple like, oh, say, change those spark plugs on that V-6 that's practically form-fitted to its engine bay. And, at 3,800 pounds, the VR-4 is as heavy as it is overly complex with its electronically adjustable suspension, four-wheel steering, and active aero that you won't know what in the world to do with when any of that stops working.
Get this instead: '90-'94 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX. It's the car that isn't a Honda that helped establish the sport compact performance car movement you love. It's also the car that's got one of the most durable and already-turbocharged cast-iron blocks around and is as simple to work on as it is stout. Like the VR-4, it's got an AWD layout and, despite its smaller engine, has more high-horsepower examples than the VR-4 ever did. Finding a GSX that hasn't been mangled up won't be easy; you'll need at least $2,500 to go shopping and bring home something that runs.
MAZDA RX-7 (FD3S)
Why you can't have one: Like the VR-4, you finding an FD RX-7 that you can afford isn't the problem. You bungling up that temperamental 13B of a rotary engine and not knowing how to put it all back together is your biggest concern. Modifying the FD isn't cheap, either. Pick one up for less than $20K but spend the same amount just on the sort of aero bits Japan says you ought to have.
Get this instead: FD Mazda RX-7. It turns out there's really no acceptable alternative to Mazda's third-generation sports car. Do things right and it's possible for you to own one with little trouble. It's true that Mazda's 1.3L, sequentially turbocharged, rotary engine's gotten a bad rap, but that's mostly because of ham-fisted pubescents and their hardware store boost controllers. The truth is, the RX-7's suspension and chassis epitomize finesse, and there's just no other alternative that'll do it justice. Big-time power increases mean ditching the twin-turbo setup but, for most, complementing the two Hitachi turbos with more boost and more fuel often yield more than any rational person would know what to do with on the street. You'll be spending at least $18K for an FD RX-7 that isn't a total turd.
NISSAN 300ZX TWIN TURBO (Z32)
Why you can't have one: Like the MkIV Supra, nobody ever told the 300ZX it shouldn't cost as much as it did 20 years ago. Its twin-turbo VG30DETT is why you wanted one in the first place, which was good for 300 hp and that, in '90, was a pretty big deal.
Get this instead: Nissan 350Z. The Z33 isn't turbocharged but it still gets its pedigree from the 300ZX you wish you could have. Like the Z32 before it, it's still powered by its rear wheels, it's got only two seats, and it'll handle even better. Better yet, like the 300ZX, the Z isn't a refined sports car made for weenies in loafers; its V-6 isn't silky smooth, it'll gargle as you hit redline, and its six-speed manual gearbox sends all the right vibrations right up your forearm. It'll even flick, slide, and drift in ways no weenie in loafers could ever handle. $6K and a decent specimen of a 350Z can be yours.
NISSAN SKYLINE GT-R (R32)
Why you can't have one: The federal government says you can own an R32 now that it's more than 25 years old, but your wallet says you importing one isn't gonna happen. And that's too bad, because things don't get much better than the GT-R's RB26DETT engine with its individual throttle bodies and its ATTESA AWD layout.
Get this instead: Nissan 240SX (S14). It's no GT-R and it'll never be AWD unless you force it to be, but with the right engine swap, the S14 can be just as capable. And by right engine swap we're talking about Nissan's SR20DET. Yep, nowadays there's potential for the S14's KA24DE, but nothing will get you as close to the GT-R experience than the factory-turbocharged 2.0L that Nissan's people had its way with. Finding an S14 that doesn't look like it's been through a war zone won't be easy; set aside at least $7K for something worth buying.
3 MORE WORTH CONSIDERING
Toyota MR2 Turbo (SW20): The Internet machine says a Toyota's second-generation, turbocharged MR2 can be yours for around $5K. It's a steal for something that made 200 hp 26 years ago and with a 3S-GTE engine good enough for JGTC Supras to make use out of, and it represents '90s Japanese-car performance better than just about anything else.
Nissan Sentra SE-R (B13): It looked outdated, even in '91 through '94, and you'd be a loon to let that stand in between you and the SR20DET engine swap that it's so ready for.
Honda Civic (EG): The Civic's held its value better than just about anything else on the road, but it's still an affordable alternative, even after the fully built and turbocharged B- or K-series swap you know it needs to deliver JDM supercar kind of heat.