Currently reading: How to get 500bhp for £15,000 - buying guide
Once, 500bhp used to be supercar power. Now you can get that muscle in a bargain used barge

Our headline stat is mouth-watering – and true. You can buy a car with 500 horsepower for the price of a decently kitted Ford Fiesta. That’s full-fat old-fashioned bhp, too, not your semi-skimmed German Pferdestarke, of which you need 507PS to make a real 500. 

Not long ago, you needed to buy a supercar to score this kind of horsepower, and a pretty serious one at that. The first wave of 500bhp-plus supercars arrived during the 1990s. But the new century brought 500bhp closer to less voluminous pockets, Mercedes-Benz progressively unleashing a whole series of AMG-tuned versions of E, SL, CL and S-class.

BMW wasn’t far behind with its V10-engined M5 and M6, Audi eventually following with its V10 RS6 and Jaguar with its XKR and XFR. And these cars are the most affordable path to 500bhp today. 

At a push, you might find a tired and leggy 500bhp AMG Merc for about £10,000, but £15,000 lets you fish in a pool of better-kept cars that are astonishing value, given their seismic go, bubblegum grip (until torque overwhelms traction), bountiful equipment and business class comfort. Very obvious, though, is that these cars can cost, with their thirst, maintenance bills, high VED rates and insurance premiums.

But the choice is big and getting bigger; Pistonheads alone lists several hundred 500bhp cars for under £50k. So here are some tempters.

Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG (2002)

Price £15,995; Power 507bhp; 0-62mph 4.5sec; Top speed 155mph

Your archetypal thunderous AMG V8 saloon and the first Benz built entirely by AMG. You get the legendary 507bhp handbuilt V8 coupled to a seven-speed paddle-shift auto. A 2006 ‘W211’ E63 can be acquired with 70,000 miles, shedding over £52,000 doing it. The model we found has a full history, two keys, a warranty, sat-nav, surround-sound and the usual executive extras.

Mercedes was stumbling through its sub-standard quality era at this point, although the post-facelift E63 was better. Check for rust, transmission issues and equipment integrity. This example looks promisingly sharp.

Chevrolet Corvette C6 Z06 7.0 V8 (2007)

Price £30,000; Power 505bhp; 0-62mph 3.9sec; Top speed 198mph

Sub-four seconds to 62mph and a 198mph top speed for £30,000 looks like value, especially when the mileage can be as low as 13,500 miles. This money will get you a genuine European-spec model, too.

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Corvettes have always edged towards the crude, but this sixth-generation version came closer to European capabilities, the 7.0-litre V8 Z06 version providing real grunt. You’ll have the challenge of left-hand drive and relatively few repair specialists, but reliability is good and you’ll rarely see another example.

Jaguar XKR coupé (2009)

Price £30,900; Power 501bhp; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 155mph

A supercharged V8 in one of the best-looking 500bhp-plus cars that you can buy for £30k and one that’s more advanced than many, with its aluminium bodywork. Better still, the XK is a reliable car that has few high-mileage issues.

It’s not quite as raw with its potency as a BMW M5, M6 or Mercedes AMG 63, but it’s very liveable and is deft on meandering roads. We found an XKR that has travelled 32,000 miles and is on sale with a franchised Jaguar dealer, so a full service history and a decent warranty can be expected. There’s plenty of XKR choice beyond £31k.

Audi RS6 V10 Avant (2009) 

Price £29,900; Power 572bhp; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 174mph

Audi’s RS6 isn’t as accomplished as a BMW M5 or a Mercedes E63, but it’s a pretty beguiling device nonetheless and has the best-furnished interior of the trio. The suspension strut seals of these cars are prone to leaking, although some will have been reworked under a recall. The RS6 hasn’t fared well for reliability, though, according to Warranty Direct. Still, RS6s were more than £80k new, making five-year-old versions with full history and an Audi warranty very tempting. 

BMW M5 V10 (2006)

Price £15,995; Power 500bhp; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 155mph

Just under £16,000 will get you a 2005 BMW M5 with less than 70,000 miles on the clock and a warranty. This price will include a high specification with a head-up display, a high-end sound system, electric sports seats, navigation and heaps of lesser kit. Check for the engine-health-critical first service and evidence of diligent sating of the V10’s usual appetite for oil.

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The slightly cumbersome SMG transmission occasionally needs software rebootings (shift quality improves post-2007 facelift) but the ‘E60’ M5 is sensational, especially at this price. Given its powertrain complexity, this is a car you’ll want a warranty for.

Bentley Continental GT (2004)

Price £26,950; Power 552bhp; 0-62mph 4.7sec; Top speed 155mph

Despite these handsome coupés being beautifully crafted, prodigiously fast and pretty reliable, plentiful supply has depressed their prices. You need only £25k for a car originally costing £110,000 – spectacular value. Early GTs are very capable but rather inert handlers, although this disappointment was consistently chipped away at as the car developed.

Younger is better, then, but obviously costs more. The mechanically similar four-door Flying Spur can be had for similar money. A 10-year-old GT with a relatively low 70,000 miles and a full service history can be had for less than £27,000.

BMW M6 V10 (2006)

Price £16,000; Power 500bhp; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 155mph

This is a lot of speedily sleek glamour for the cash. It’s mechanically identical to the M5 so the same cautions apply. We found a 71,000-mile M6 with a full BMW service history, refurbished alloy wheels and a relacquered carbonfibre roof for £16,000. This car also included new discs and pads and “excellent” tyres, so it should need nothing.

Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG (2008)

Price £27,995; Power 503bhp; 0-62mph 5.0 sec; Top speed 155mph

It won’t be as rewarding to drive as other 6.2 V8 AMGs, but a high-riding 4x4 that can vault to 62mph in 5.0sec is still a pretty compelling device, and it will certainly tow effortlessly. You can get them with a rear-seat entertainment system in case the kids aren’t rendered speechless by its battering-ram acceleration, with a fabulously malevolent soundtrack to match. It’s not very green, obviously, and not always trouble-free, either, but it has its appeal. A 47,000-miler can be had with a full history for this money. 

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Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG (2007)

Price £27,950; Power 518bhp; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 155mph

A real weapon of a coupé, luxurious and rich with technology that may or may not turn worrisome with age. Night-view assist, dynamic multi-contour heated and chilled seats and a TV tuner are equipment highlights. If you need something in which to stylishly scud across Europe, this is the car. The ultra-rare previous-generation CL63 is still more of a tempter, a recent example selling for less than £17,000. Back in the day, this was a Bentley GT beater. 

Ferrari 612 Scaglietti (2005)

Price £47,995; Power 532bhp; 0-62mph 4.2sec; Top speed 199mph

A 39,000-miler that we found with full history and recent belt change is described as “pristine”. There’s probably more significant depreciation still to come and you’ll certainly notice the servicing bill on your bank statement, but you’ll forget that every time you drive the car because it blends semi-practical 2+2 and supercar brilliantly. 

Jaguar XFR (2009)

Price £20,950; Power 503bhp; 0-60mph 4.7sec; Top speed 155mph

Although ageing, the Jaguar XFR is still rated highly by us for its superb handling, which is significantly enhanced by the standard-fit e-diff. It’s more comfortable than the BMW ‘E60’ M5, too. Reliability seems strong, although small issues with gear selector mechanisms, electric windows and rattling sunroofs affected early cars. Otherwise, these potent Jags make relatively untroubled used buys. You can get an XFR with 70,000 miles showing, a full service history and a spec that includes 440 watts’ worth of Bowers & Wilkins sound for just over £20,000. 

...And the first car in the 500 club

The first road-going production car to break 500bhp? That was the Jaguar XJ220, which appeared in concept form at the 1988 Birmingham show, flaunting a V12 and four-wheel drive. It took three years to produce the first customer cars, these shorn of six cylinders and drive to the front wheels, but the Jag just beat the 543bhp Bugatti EB110 and 1992’s McLaren F1

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The threshold broken, it wasn’t long before there were more. It was mostly supercars at first, including the 520bhp Lamborghini Diablo SE, the 513bhp Ferrari F50, the 557bhp Aston Martin Vantage and the obscure but brilliant 612bhp Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR. 

In the middle of the last decade came a fattening wave of 507bhp AMG-engined V8 Benzes, and Bentley’s Continental GT. Once Benz entered the 500bhp club, it wasn’t long before BMW, Audi and Jaguar felt compelled to join it, too.

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bowsersheepdog 30 September 2014

tip of the budgeting iceberg

as richard bremner states in the article and previous posters have observed, buying these cars can be the easy bit. in truth you probably need to be able to afford to spend at least thirty grand to be able to sensibly spend fifteen on such a vehicle. never mind a warranty, the costs of even the consumables which are an unavoidable result of driving any car will be on a scale far beyond the allowances you'd need to make for a new clio, a nearly new golf, or a slightly older low-to-middle-range 3-series, to give three typical examples of the type of cars a buyer with fifteen thousand pounds may consider. but there is an inescapable parallel here with the future of the banger market. too many run of the mill family cars are rolling out of factories with nineteen and twenty inch wheels, and unnecessarily complex components which fifth and sixth owners will not be able to afford to replace. we could end up with a situation where many are being driven on unroadworthy tyres, or with faulty parts, because of the prohibitive cost of replacements, and many more will be unsaleable as the potential buyers shy away from the threat of unmanageable bills, with the disastrous environmental repercussions that follow. too many of the simpler generations of big, old cars were lost during the scrappage scheme, cars which had plenty of life left in them and would be affordable to those on the tightest budgets due to that simplicity. over the last decade we've come to a point where 1.3l superminis are running on tyre sizes which would have been found on three litre large saloons with twice the power and weight in the eighties. it's untenable. we are heading for a mess with stockpiles of serviceable cars that nearly new buyers don't want and banger buyers can't afford to run.
jason_recliner 30 September 2014

And running costs?

It would be equally interesting and informative to report on the standard servicing costs of these 15,000 pound (probably AUD$50k+) monsters. Or the costs to have basic repairs, such as replacement power windows or entertainment systems (almost all of the older Euro cars over here in the classifieds suffer a range of electrical maladies).

That will be 15k to buy, 2k for a basic service, 1k to replace a broken electric window switch, and 5k to replace an auto gearbox...

It would also be interesting to see the condition of the interiors on these 'bargains'. For some reason, the Euro interiors that are praised for quality on release (think Audi, VW, Benz, BMW) age terribly and generally are just shoddy, with paint flaking off switches, panels falling out, etc, whereas the more 'basic' Japanese cars still look good after 10 - 15 years.

averageman 29 September 2014

Not sure why the heading

Not sure why the heading states 'How to get 500bhp for £15,000' when it list cars up to £50,000. Like going into show room with said 15K and being shown cars way outside of your price bracket
Leslie Brook 29 September 2014

averageman wrote:Not sure why

averageman wrote:

Not sure why the heading states 'How to get 500bhp for £15,000' when it list cars up to £50,000. Like going into show room with said 15K and being shown cars way outside of your price bracket

Exactly, even the cheapest 2 examples are only a fiver shy of 16k, not 15.