The Staff of Motorsport Marketing
The Staff of Motorsport Marketing Writer
9/10/19 9:28 a.m.

This article first appeared in the May 2015 issue of Classic Motorsports. Some prices and information may have changed. 

Looking to make the jump from spectator to vintage racer? Who better to offer some car shopping advice than one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject? Meet E. Paul Dickinson, professional racer turned longtime driver coach.

By E. Paul Dickinson • Photography by Chuck Andersen

Initially I thought answering this question would be a rather easy task. It was not. While I often respond to “What’s the best vintage race car for me?” by counseling, “Choose the car that lit the fire of desire when you were younger, and still does,” this exercise came with an additional challenge: Name five fun and affordable vintage race cars that also efficiently promote learning driving skills.

So for this challenge I combed several decades of history and only considered cars:

• that maximize time on track as the primary goal–not time at the track, in the paddock, with wrench in hand. Maximize the on-track experience in a given timeframe, and the more and faster you can learn.

• that are reliable.

• that are better than you.

• that you can grow into.

• that compete in a class with a large base of competitors with costs that will not break a well-thought-out racing budget.

Read the rest of the story

ebwolf New Reader
9/10/19 4:42 p.m.

Now that SVRA allows the first generation (and there is NASA SSM in some regions), the answer is always Miata. Because 1.6l early first generation Miatas are not very competitive in "real" Spec Miata, their prices have been dropping like a rock. You can find a reasonable car for $8000 and a great car for $10K-$12K. Parts availability? Try AutoZone and Pep Boys (as well as dozens of mail order specialty vendors like Miata Cage and Good-Win-Racing). Sure, it has disc brakes and EFI but those are now "vintage" technologies, just as much as drums and carbs.

Another budget extreme, which I've recently switched to, is Formula Vee. A "needs work" car can be had for $6K with a really well-done car coming in around $10K. Parts are harder to find than they used to be but there is a great community. Vintage Series get reasonbly good turnouts and SCCA still has an FV class (that now allows disc brakes!).

sfisher71 New Reader
9/10/19 6:17 p.m.

I started my SCCA Production-category road racing career (such as it was) in an E Prod MGB. I had a tight network of Britcar-loving friends, including one who went through SCCA driver's school with me in his Bugeye Sprite.

I never finished last in a race, and I occasionally had a good dice in the MGB, but when I ran out of money and put the project on hold for a while, I kept the buzz going with SCCA Solo II in a friend's then-brand-new 1990 Mazda Miata.

My first time on course in the Miata, I took second in class by about half a second to the guy who went on to win the national CS (if memory serves...) championship in Salina.

My second time on course, I was stunned to see my times were about three seconds below anybody else in my class.

Naturally, it took me 17 years to buy my own Miata.

In the past few years, I've been jonesing seriously to buy a clean Spec Miata with logbook and two sets of tires, etc., and set it up for Vintage. 

Why? I'm okay with mechanical work but not so hot with bodywork, and there's a much lower chance of having to bang out a fender in Vintage. Plus the scenery is gorgeous.

I'd paint it red, put on a white roof with a flip-up vent, run it on daisy wheels, and make it look like a BMC competition car of the SIxties -- maybe even have a British vanity plate made reading GRX 307 D just for the sake of solidarity with the Sacred Octagon of yore. 

But seriously, in any class in which there's a sliding window for vintage eligibility that makes them legal, Miata is always the... you know.

RMVR53 New Reader
9/10/19 7:55 p.m.


you've missed the MOST cost effective entry into the sport...Formula Vee. 

frenchyd UberDork
9/10/19 7:59 p.m.

In reply to The Staff of Motorsport Marketing :

Don’t start with a really fast car.  You’ll spend too much time getting up to speed.  Likely never really learn the art and beauty of racing.  

A slow car that you shove to the front of the pack through your skill will teach you so much more than just hanging on and stepping on the loud pedal.  

Swallow a little pride and learn.  The lessons  you learn back in the slow group will allow you to beat those with really fast cars.  That will repay your ego many times.  Along the way the really fast guys will guide you help you teach you things you will never know how to do if you show up with a big fast thing and drive it as poorly as a newbie always does.  

The  fellowship   you get when you dice with someone of similar performance and skill just isn’t there at the front end of the field when you’re all alone.  

The car is fast, gee  

Compared  to the backslapping and whooping it up  after a race long dice for one more position. Your face will be sore from smiling and laughing.  Real friendship occurs  when you’re both on the ragged edge and still almost in control.  

The respect you earn is reward enough but it’s also something you can pass down.  



9/10/19 8:10 p.m.

A thought, I raced sail boats, when  u start finishing regular, say 3-5 then u need new  sails,  boat,  etc. 

CARS, buy in at your price point,  relax, consentrate on small things, car or driver, both, have a consistent finish.  For a period.  Time to move up??






frenchyd UberDork
9/10/19 8:40 p.m.

In reply to Billbagley :

 My best times were with friends in the MG. T   class. Racing at 50-60 mph where energy  is guarded like gold because that’s all you’ve got.  That little edge earned over many laps from you friend. Shave a bit here and a bit there give up a little bit but recover. 

I sailed a bit with Hobbie catamarans but once ahead that was it.  I might see him loading the trailer or pulling down the sails. A polite nod was all that was shared, if that. 

Tom1200 Dork
9/10/19 8:43 p.m.

If you want a bargain single seat car Formula Vee for sure is a great class. Plus many vintage Vees use the cooling fan so the motors last a long time.

As for a Miata it has been a while since I did the math but I estimated I could put together a legal Spec Miata for $4500, this includes the car. Naturally this is with me doing all the work. The motor would be probably down 10hp on a properly prepped motor. So yes they are a great pick as well. Additionally you could drive the car to the track if you wanted.

There are lots of ways to go vintage racing cheaply. Get a reliable car with a motor that isn't tuned to the enth degree, you won't need race fuel and it won't need freshening up after 5 races. Additionally running used tires will cut the tire bill by 2/3rds.

wilkmanracing New Reader
9/11/19 1:06 a.m.

Too many of the cars suggested in this article are simply too bloomin' expensive for the average bloke just starting out.  That said, there are cheap options to explore.  There is nothing cheaper, nor more fun to race than a Formula Vee.  For about 5-6 grand, you can get a decent car,  No other race car will offer up a pure racing experience for so little money.  Once you've mastered FV, you will be ready for too many of the cars covered in this article.  The attached "Anatomy of a Formula Vee" photo shows just how simple, yet genius these cars are. An FV consists of a 1200 cc VW engine with limited modifications allowed, a stock VW transmission, a largely stock VW front beam , and VW steel wheels,  All of this is tied together with a tube chassis and enclosed in a fiberglass body..

frenchyd UberDork
9/11/19 6:35 a.m.

In reply to wilkmanracing :

Formula V is a great low cost way to go racing, IF. !! IF there are other active formula V cars running.  If not you might get stuck with all sorts of other open wheel cars.  Much, much, faster cars.  Even old Front engine Formula Junior  cars will be faster and if not sufficiently different in driving technique that there will be few lessons transferred.  

Formula Ford is another low cost way to race, again if and only if. There are other formula Fords of about the same era.  Later Formula Ford’s have a significantly faster potential. 

The good thing about Formula Fords is more than a few got retired simply because the owner gained too much weight over the winter.  Some can be very small in the cockpit.  

Formula 5000 may be another affordable class.  ( if de-tuned) , the small block Chevy if de-tuned to run on pump fuel will last decades. One racer I know buys a new crate engine for about $1500 every decade or so. Again used tires are your budgets friend.  Brake pads will need to be bulk bought otherwise can become a serious budget issue.  

One issue with any formula car is the open wheels. They add a serious risk that needs to be considered.  

frenchyd UberDork
9/11/19 6:45 a.m.
RMVR53 said:


you've missed the MOST cost effective entry into the sport...Formula Vee. 

You can race virtually any car on a modest budget  or the same car can quickly become a money pit.  

I bought a used Corvette race car for $300!  Yes $300 and it wasn’t a particular bargain. ( use your imagination, you are probably right).  But I had it on the race track and took 2nd place in class for a little over $1000 and a winters worth of scrounging and work, hard dirty work. 

The chief advantage of Corvettes is most Corvette drivers discard stuff long before its completely used up if there is new faster stuff available.  OK so 6 pistons came from one engine and 2 from another.  Yes, I mixed used lifters on a used camshaft. Etc etc. 

alfadriver MegaDork
9/11/19 6:57 a.m.

Two things for a beginner:

KISS- whatever car you get, it should be as reliable as possible, and simple to maintain- so that you spend more time racing than you do fixing (unless the car work is what really interests you vs the racing- some people are like that).

Make sure you love it- if you don't like the car much, you are not going to spend a lot of time with it- either keeping up with it or even wanting to drive it.  Unless you are trying to go for the top spot of every single race you are going to, getting the fastest of the fastest cars is not the priority.  You should LOVE the car.  If you don't have that, it does not really matter that it's the cheapest thing of all time to race, because you will not be enjoying yourself.

This is a hobby of fun and competition.  Because of the lack of fun, I stopped racing 7 years ago.

frenchyd UberDork
9/11/19 7:57 a.m.

In reply to alfadriver :

Definitely, it’s about fun. It will also tell you about yourself.  

First, it’s not easy. A lot of hoops to jump through. Some are for your own good,  while some just exist.

Second, pushing a car to it’s full potential should be restricted.  And thus there are rules to follow to make it safe for everyone.  

Third, Money; “Speed costs, how fast do you want to go”.If you want to be at the front and stay there,  it will cost all you have and more.  It really doesn’t matter how fast the car is, winning is expensive!!! 

Just participating  isn’t cheap. A typical Vintage race won’t leave much if any change from a grand.  That doesn’t count the cost of the car, it’s preparation,personal costs, or any repairs to the car following the event. While there are ways to cut costs, participation has its cost.  You can participate as a racer or as a track worker. ( tech, corner, flagging, timing&scoring, registration, medical, etc) 



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