How to buy your first rally car

DirtFish's lead instructor Nate Tennis offers his tips on selecting the best first ride


So the rally bug has sufficiently entrenched itself in your psyche, and you want to fully commit to it and pull the trigger. Excellent!

Welcome to the exclusive club of true rally addicts, where all manner of judgement concerning the value of a vehicle goes right out the side window or polycarbonate, if the rules allow (so much lighter, and you get those nifty slider things!). The next question is: how to acquire one?

There are two diversions in the path at this point: buy or build. Since the latter requires a literal book to cover, we’ll focus instead on the buying topic.

A major benefit to buying is that, aside from the initial outlay of cash, the investment is typically much lower considering the costs required to purchase and install (or pay to have installed) all the parts required to compete.


Photo: DirtFish Media

A rollcage, suspension and safety equipment are all expensive to purchase new and add up to a large sum at the end of the build. The previous owner(s) will have shouldered the majority of these, and the parts are already installed.

Although one of the appealing features is that the car is complete, keep in mind that it’s rarely “actually” ready to rally, and still may require a fair amount of updating prior to being legal or reliable for competition.

Prior to hitting the classifieds, check the rules! Make sure the vehicle you are looking at is currently legal for the sanctioning body under which you plan to run it (or what it would take to get it legal). Also, make sure you are legal to compete in such a vehicle.

Most sanctioning bodies require new rally drivers compete in restricted classes until they build more experience. It would be very disappointing to buy your dream rally car only to discover you can’t drive it.

Find something readily available. Individuality is always important, but the vehicle you choose may determine your path within rallying. A vehicle that is fantastically beautiful but is unreliable or has difficult-to-find parts may cause you to wrench more than drive, which may not align with your rally goals.

There are several go-to brand choices in the rally world, and the simple reasons are largely parts availability and experience with a known brand. A Stutz Bearcat will no doubt be a fantastic rally car, but will require a lot of effort to make competitive… (apologies to the Bearcat readers in the audience, all of us in the rally world thoroughly support your efforts!).

Also, hate to say it, but your first rally car will have a rough life. Like all things used for learning, they will acquire scars. So keep in mind that simple, reliable, and affordable should be the mantra when searching the want ads.


Think about what a fender, side mirror, or turn signal costs, and if they are readily available and therefore affordable. These are the un-cool items often overlooked when drooling over fancy carbon bits, but become important after your first visit with a ditch.

There is a middle choice between buying and building as well, which is buying a half-finished project. This can save a few steps along the way, just be aware of what it will actually take to get the project on stage, as there might be hidden reasons as to why the project wasn’t completed.

In the end the correct answer is what is right for you, and what your budget will allow.

Words:Nate Tennis

Photos:DirtFish Media, David Cosseboom