* It's a bleak economic climate, but like they say about every dark cloud, even this one has a silver lining, if you're a car guy, that is. There's never been a better time to capitalize on great cars turning up for hilariously little money only a few years into their lives.

Porsche 996 Turbo
In the long and storied history of the 911, the 996 represents a dark chapter for Porsche purists. The company that had relied on good old fashioned air-cooled know-how since the original 356 shirked the tradition in favor of a new water-cooled design in 1999. Instead of an evolution of the original model, the 996 was a whole new car. While that may have hurt sales from 1999 to 2005, it's good news for hoons looking to get their hands on a set of Stuttgart keys. And if you're going to join the ranks of Porsche snobs everywhere, why not do it with a 996 Turbo?

What Makes It Great
Just because Porsche left its air-cooled history to collectors doesn't mean the 996 isn't a great car. In fact, Porsche integrated a number of new technologies to make the 911 live up to the shield on its hood. With a curb weight a shave under 3,400 lbs and 420 raging German ponies on tap, the car's damn quick. One of the world's most refined suspensions and the kind of poise only a rear-engine can offer makes the 996 Turbo as close to behind-the-wheel Nirvana as most of us will ever get.

What To Look For
The 996 Turbo is pretty stout all around, but that doesn't mean the car doesn't have its weaknesses. Regular dealer service records are paramount here, especially as the 996 boasts some tech that private shops might not be aware of. The car's variable valve timing units, called VarioCam, are somewhat prone to failure, so if there's no history of replacement, be wary.

The plastic coolant tanks on the radiators are also notorious for becoming brittle and leaking over time, eventually leading to low coolant and overheating. Keep an eye out for any signs of lost coolant and resulting corrosion.

What We Found
After digging around on AutoTrader, we pulled down a number of drool-worthy cars. We laid our eyes on a smart 2001 with 46,000 miles for $39,950 and a 2002 Turbo Coupe with 56,000 miles for $42,900. Since Porsche did substantial work to stiffen the 996's chassis in 2002, we'd opt for the latter.

Easy PowerIf you've got the cash, the boys at RUF can make all of your horsepower dreams come true. The company has everything from ECU reflashes and turbo upgrade kits to fully built engines that can crank out up to 590 horsepower.

Of course, if you aren't looking to take out a second mortgage to fund your octane addiction, an exhaust and headers from a specialist like GMG Racing, combined with some software from GIAC will net an easy extra 80-100 horsepower, for a 500+ kick in the pants.

Or go the OEM route and swap those K16 turbochargers for the K24 units of the GT2, netting another 50 or so horsepower, for 550-570 total.

For The Money
It's no secret 40 large buys a lot of car these days, and we feel it's our duty to remind you of your practical side. After all, for $40,000, you could have a brand-spanking new, well-optioned 328i sedan, or a similarly outfitted C300, depending on which way your automotive antennae point you. So you be the judge. We'd pick the supercar.

By James Tate
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