Good fast glass will most often be more expensive then the body depending on what you choose. Your best bet is to go to KEH.com and shop your glass prices under any manufacturer. As an example, in 50mm lenses which are usually some of the best glass, prices in Nikon AF excellent condition used is around $286 and in AIS $235. Nikon will be higher priced and Canon FD less then 1/2 that.
Bodies for me are all about features and ergonomics. I like DOF at least and mirror lockup if I can get it. I pay attention to VF readouts, longer shutter speeds and batteries. If I can get my hands on a body all to the better, cause that really tells the story.
Having just been window shopping around in a few different brands I can say that sometimes it is best to frequent forums that center around one manufacturer such as Pentax, Minolta etc. They often have excellent reviews of bodies and glass in the brand. The two I mentioned have very in-depth sites.
To me it's generally 90% about the glass. I appreciate good bokeh, high resolution, size and especially cost in this day and age. While I have seen phenomenal pictures across brands which tells you that it's about the photographer more then the equipment, good equipment goes a long way, especially if you work wet. While I have not researched or tested as much as I would like to, my general opinion is I generally prefer SMC Pentax over what little else I know, but bad & good glass comes in every brand and it's an Easter egg hunt to find good stuff at the right prices especially if quantities of manufacture were lower. Do not forget the accessories as most times they are over looked.
Cla's as you may well know can be cheap or expensive, so really, if you can buy something with a short warranty your better off. Watch out for particular problems with specific bodies. They all have them. The Canon A1 has shutter squeak, but is a easily fixed problem. Canon rangefinders can have bad curtains and many brands have lcd's that go bad or body parts that break such as pop up flashes.
Some top picks would include Canon EOS for the adapters that can utilize other manufacturers glass, Nikon for good manual bodies and contrasty glass, Pentax for bokeh, resolution and color, Minolta the generally ignored stepchild that delights their users.
My 4 tops picks all with 50mm F1.4 lenses in the $400 to $500 range would be:
1. Nikon manual focus. Pick the features you can afford. Quantities are large and everyone fixes them but you'll be a lemming.
2. AF Maxxum 7. It's cool to be different. A real sleeper brand with forward thinking in many respects.
3. Pentax manual focus K2 or KX. Again the glass. They should re-release some of it.
4. Canon FD the low price leader. The 50mm F3.5 is a fantastic alternative. On a F model you can have it all. Crushes nuts you find on the trail and drives tent stakes.