Sports cars are an indulgence. Comfort, space and even reliability are all sacrificed on the altar of Handling and Speed. And if that altar is busy, then all that can be offered up to the God of Beauty and Allure instead. In most ways, sports cars are just like other cars. But it’s the ways in which they’re no like other cars that matter most.

Sure, there are a few of us who hit it big when they’re young and can afford to buy a brand-new Ferrari. After all, when your initial NHL contract includes an $4 million signing bonus, the $350,050 price of 488 Pista seems almost inconsequential. And all the guys who graduated from high school with you last year, will be envious when you drive it through downtown Saskatoon.

But a first sports car for most of us will be a used sports car. And two sports cars stand out as the greatest used sports cars of all time. One of those is better than the other, but the other one is radically more affordable.

So it’s a tie.

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While there are some excellent battery-powered vehicles like the new Chevrolet Bolt trickling into our garages, the good, old fashioned, oil pumping, octane swilling, internal combustion engine is still at the heart of the automotive experience. It has been ever since, some 130 years ago, Karl Benz bolted a one banger of his own design onto the back of a three-wheeled cart.

And it’s been a glorious run. Sure, there were low points, like the anemic power plants that wheezed through the 1970s while automakers struggled to cope with strict new emissions and fuel economy regulations. Anyone remember the 1975 Ford Granada? Its 4.1 liter inline six had a California variant that puttered out just 71 horsepower. Folks, that’s less than 20 horsepower per liter.

These days, though, your average minivan throws down 250 ponies and still gets nearly 30 highway MPG. Meanwhile, muscle cars like the Camaro ZL1 routinely deliver 600+ horses, and supercars are converging on the magic 1000 figure. These numbers would have boggled the mind not long ago — and likely would have caused poor Mr. Benz, whose motor wobbled out just two-thirds of a horse, to burst a mental gasket.

It’s clear that we’re in a golden age of engines. And that’s great news. Because who doesn’t want more power? Or more efficiency? Or both? The more great mills that are produced, the greater the chances that one will find its way into a budget-minded enthusiast’s heart… and driveway.

Which got us to thinking, what are the very best engines to be had in cars that most anyone can afford? The Klipnik brain trust gathered recently to hash it out. We gave ourselves just two simple rules: 1) keep the picks from within the last 25 years and 2) make them choices that can easily be attained for less than $25,000 — preferably much less.

Here are the ten exceptional motors that made our list (in alphabetical order by automaker).

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The ever-increasing mania and resulting skyrocketing values of air-cooled Porsche 911s have put those cars way out of reach for most buyers. Meanwhile, prices for the 996 generation, the first 911 with a water-cooled engine, have languished, in part because the prevailing wisdom among Porsche collectors is that the sun rises and sets only on the air-cooled cars.

Values are depressed, too, because of a known design flaw in the standard 996 engine that can, if not attended to, lead to a catastrophic failure, costing tens of thousands to repair. While this understandably gives most buyers pause, the truth is that a preemptive fix is readily available — and, even better, that many 996 examples on the market today have already had it applied.

This is all great news for the more practical enthusiast who wants to get in on the all-around goodness of Porsche’s iconic and entertaining sports car but without breaking the bank.

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