Remember, you can bracket race anything! Take that Caterra out to a local track and see what it will do! I've seen a guy put an old Ford Fiesta on the track -- the announcer said he thought he broke a track record at 22 seconds for a 1/4 mile, but he did it!! 16s are quicker than you think! If nothing else you'll have something to go by. The Caterra will be costly to modify much for speed, about the only things you can reasonably do is add a cold air intake and a cat-back exhaust system without upsetting the computer, but those two will help a bit.
I'm an AMC man, but for costs and performance cheap I'd go with a 79-80s Mustang. Lighter and less cramped under the hood than the same year F cars. Second choice would be the G-body. No heavier than a 3rd gen F-body GM, more room under the hood and easier to work on. The earlier Malibu is basically the same body, but a different letter designation... I forget it now! Ask me an AMC question....
If you run across a Gremlin, Spirit, or Hornet with a straight six, and especially if it has a stick shift, you can't get much more bang for the buck and cheap to fix and drive! They weren't very popular as used cars, and were generally cheap for the 2nd/3rd/4th/etc. owners, so were beat to death with little or no maintenance -- used as "throw-away" cars after they were 6-10 years old and more. That's why people seem to remember them as POS cars -- they'd already been beat to death by the time they got them! From the factory they were generally a cut above Pintos and Vegas, at the worst they were no worse than the US competition.