The cost of the the average American wedding is rapidly rising, and is around $30,000 now [source]. It seems extreme, but once you factor in the cost of the venue, music, photographer and feeding 150-200 people it adds up, as my fiancee and I have discovered in our preliminary planning.

The other day, as we were driving to the grocery store, we ended up behind a lovely BRG Lotus Elise. Jokingly, I pointed out that we could probably buy one for the cost of our wedding. She told me that we're now getting married at the courthouse and buying the car. While not serious (her mom would have a fit, though I think her dad might be more okay with it) it goes to show that you can get some pretty fantastic cars for the same price as the average wedding.

I've compiled a list of 10 cars that I particularly like that can be found for $25-30,000. My sources included and in the DC area. Since I'm limiting the list to 10, I'm neglecting to list all the Dodge Challengers, Nissan 370Zs or Chevy Camaros one could buy. I'm also sticking mainly to used cars, because a lot of fun cars came up in my search and I need to limit myself in some way. Also, these are in no particular order, except the last, because it's my favorite.

1. 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLS550


(not the one in the ad, just a random picture from the web)

It's a massive, fancy Merc. How could I not include it? Bonus features include more costly maintenance than your first mortgage and child, combined, adjustable suspension (Carmax really emphasizes this), and a 5.5L V8! Yes, this is the automatic version (and I don't feel like doing the research to see if there's a manual version), but again, it's a massive executive Mercedes-Benz with a V8. What could go wrong?

2. 2008 Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG


This may be too similar to the previous car for some, but I'm a fan. You give up 2 doors and a solid roof for a convertible! Features are similar to above, with the same engine, an automatic transmission and a whole host of other fun, likely to break things.

3. 2005 Cadillac XLR


Again, I keep finding automatics. While a bit depressing, I'm sure with enough hunting you could find a manual. Plus, no matter how hard you look, it'll still be simpler than planning a wedding.

This could be the car for you if you prefer your convertible V8-engined sports cars to be of the American persuasion. Though the engine is a bit smaller than the above Mercs, the Caddy comes with a hard top, and better MPG. Carmax also doesn't advertise that is has adjustable suspension, but it does come with a heads up display, so you can feel like Maverick or Iceman!

4. 2008 Porsche Cayman/Boxster


I found many examples of both in the desired price range. It's up to you to make sure they've had the IMS bearing replaced.

While the CLS may be a bit more practical and imposing on the road, and both the SLK and the XLR are V8 convertibles, this is a Porsche! Your dentist can't look down on you anymore, because you drive a Porsche! Also, it's a RWD mid-engine flat six. C'mon, who wouldn't want that? While this is again an automatic, curse my car finding skills, at least Porsche makes a pretty good automatic.

5. 2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500


I wasn't originally planning on including a Mustang in this list. Yes, I know you can find one in the price range, and they have a rabid fan base, but they don't tug on my heartstrings in the way a Porsche or Lotus does.

In this case, you can get a supercharged 5.4L V8 for less than $30,000. Plus at that price they give you the rest of the car for free! I personally think this example is particularly fetching as it is the first car I've presented that comes with a manual transmission and racing stripes. Everyone knows they add +10% hp, bumping this one up to a healthy 550hp!

6. 2009 Jaguar XF


At this point, V8 engines are starting to feel a bit pedestrian. This Jag has one, as well as the automatic transmission and a whole host of comfy features. You and your spouse deserve to ride in unbridled British luxury, even if it won't start when you return from your honeymoon or are trying to drive to the hospital for the birth of a child.

7. 2007 BMW 650Ci


Another V8 contestant, this time from BMW. I didn't mean to pick so many V8 engined cars, especially considering this started off due to an I4 Lotus, but wow.

According to Carmax, the one I found has the SMG transmission, so you might want to look elsewhere, but hey! it's another big comfy German cruiser. You can now take your pick of 4-door sedan, 2-door convertible, or 2-door coupe!

8. 2004 Chevorlet Corvette Z06


This is the last of the V8s, I promise. There were actually a surprising number of Corvettes available, but this is the first Z06 I saw. I'm still amazed you can get a 5.7L V8 RWD sports car that gets decent-ish gas mileage for less than $30,000. Like most of the others on the list, this may not be great for holding you, your new spouse and a horde of smelly children, so you should probably definitely skip having kids. Plus, then you could afford to start your racing career!

9. 2005 Lotus Elise


The car that started this post! I'm not actually sure I could fit in one, but they still sound like mighty fun cars. Plus, if you're into Mr. Torchinsky's posts about activities that could take place in cars, you'll want to note the removable roof, which opens into a whole new world of possibilities, all enabled by the sanctity of marriage.

10. 1979 Porsche 911SC


My personal favorite. With the price of these always rising, they're not a terrible investment, they can hold kids in the back, they're not too expensive to run and you'll look way cooler than all the other parents as you drop your kid off at daycare. Plus, it's simple enough that you could work on it yourself, or with your future offspring, so they develop mechanical aptitude and become the engineer you'll want them to be.

Bonus: 1969 Lotus Europa

Really, these are just 10 cars that I think are pretty swell and/or are backed by a Carmax warranty. Feel free to add more in the comments, as I'm sure I've missed a bunch. No, not all of them make sense as family cars, and yes, they'll probably cost an arm and a leg in maintenance, but hey! they cost less than the average wedding!


If you really want to be vitriolic and spout abuse, you can find me on Twitter @MattHardigree. If you're feeling complimentary and nice, feel free to tweet at @bert_emerson.

Also, ignore the random SLK55 AMG image at the end, because Kinja.