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PATERSON, N.J. — A visit with Onix Taveras and his Pontiac Fieros begins with a basement tour in his neat Cape Cod style home — and a chat about television. Displays of action figures, wall posters and scale models from the various “Star Trek” series give away his favorite show.
The topic quickly changes to his favorite car and its screen roles. Mr. Taveras looks for TV shows and movies that feature the Fiero, a small, plastic-body two-seat sporty car that Pontiac offered in 1984-88. (The name is Italian for “proud.”) He especially likes an episode of the TV sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” in which the character Marshall Eriksen (played by Jason Segel) mourns his Fiero’s engine failure just as the car is about to crest 200,000 miles.
Mr. Taveras said he identified with the story line, which recounted how the Fiero touched the lives of several friends.
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A Fiero from 1984, the model’s inaugural year.Fixes Came Too LateNOV. 26, 2014
“Everywhere I go with my car, people tell me their stories of a Fiero, one that they owned or rode in as a kid,” he said.
It was a TV series from three decades ago, “Miami Vice,” that put Mr. Taveras on the path to owning a Fiero. “I wasn’t really interested in cars until I saw that show,” he said. “Then, I was hooked.”
In the series, which depicted a glamorized version of South Florida’s violent illicit narcotics trade, fashion-forward detectives battled nefarious crime lords from the bucket seats of Ferraris — unlikely undercover police cars. The exotic sports cars liberally featured on the show kept Mr. Taveras, now 46, tuning in — and he still watches episodes on DVD.
“I love Ferraris, but I didn’t think I’d be buying one anytime soon,” he said.
Mr. Taveras grew up in Manhattan and the Bronx, where his first car, a Pontiac Firebird, was stolen. While shopping for a new one, something else caught his eye at the Pontiac dealership.
“I saw the Fiero GT on a brochure and knew that was my car,” he said. “To me, it was like a semiexotic.”
The Fiero shared its midengine layout, with the motor between the rear wheels and the cabin, with exotic cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis. But it was closer in stature to the Toyota MR2 and Bertone X1/9 — originally known as the Fiat X1/9 — two other relatively affordable midengine runabouts.
The Fiero was in its final year in 1988, and with inventory scarce Mr. Taveras had to settle for an automatic transmission rather than the 5-speed manual he wanted. He paid about $17,000 for a red GT, the top-of-line model with a V6 and a fastback roofline distinct from the standard car’s notchback design. It was his first new car.
When his Fiero was stolen six years later, Mr. Taveras replaced it with a 4-cylinder version, but that car proved unsatisfying. “It was slow, and the transmission was horrendous,” he said.
He then bought a 1988 Fiero Formula, a model that packaged the GT’s V6 engine and performance upgrades in the standard body. The last-year versions are the most desirable Fieros, he explained, because they gained a new suspension that addressed criticisms of the car’s clunky handling and harsh ride.
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“Pontiac designed that suspension for the first year, but G.M. wouldn’t give them the money to build it,” said Mr. Taveras, who is immersed in Fiero history.
In his view, General Motors’ internal politics blocked Pontiac from making the Fiero a more capable sports car. As Mr. Tavares tells it, Chevrolet lobbied to preserve its Corvette as G.M.’s performance-image leader, and those efforts kept Pontiac from giving the Fiero anything more powerful than a Chevy-designed 140-horsepower 2.8-liter V6. The standard engine, a coarse 4-cylinder known as the Iron Duke, made some 45 fewer horses.
Mr. Taveras next showed off his large two-car garage. He called it a main selling point for the house that he and his wife, Noemi Galloza, a nurse, bought five years ago in a quiet suburban pocket of this city. The couple spent spare time over three years converting it into a workshop for the Fiero — or Fieros. Mr. Taveras owns two.
Parked next to his red Fiero Formula, which is undergoing a restoration, is a red 1988 GT nearly identical to the one stolen from him two decades ago. This one, too, has an automatic transmission, but also the bonus of the optional T-top roof with removable panels. He bought the GT eight years ago and restored it, doing all the mechanical work himself.
Such endeavors come easily for Mr. Taveras, a certified Mercedes Master Technician employed by Prestige Mercedes-Benz in Paramus. Becoming an auto technician was a career change after years running a dry-cleaning store.
“That was a nightmare,” he said. “So I went to technical school. That opened the door for me to get into Prestige.”
He’s in his 11th year with the dealership, where he specializes in interior electronics. “I love the technology in Mercedes cars,” he said. “I love gadgets.”
Indeed, Mr. Taveras has equipped his Fiero GT with the latest infotainment features, including satellite radio, an iPod connection and Bluetooth wireless for his smartphone, which also provides navigation. He is especially proud that he installed everything without splicing any of the car’s wires or cutting interior panels.
“I could remove everything and put it back to original easily,” he said.
He added similar equipment to his daily driver, a 14-year-old Oldsmobile Intrigue.
Mr. Taveras puts the electronics to good use. Last year, he drove his GT to Indianapolis for the 30th Anniversary Fiero Reunion, a three-day event that included high-speed driving on the famous racetrack. His devotion to the sporty Pontiac extends to managing a Facebook page on which he posts the work he does on his Fieros as tutorials for other enthusiasts.
Projects have included removing and replacing the engine. It’s an operation that requires a full-car lift — Mr. Taveras’s garage has a small one — because the engine comes out from below. He said that many owners today replace the original power plant with something more potent.
“They designed the Fiero with a big engine compartment,” he said. “Almost anything will fit.”
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A 3.8-liter Buick V6, an engine used in millions of G.M. cars until 2008, is the most popular swap, Mr. Taveras said. Corvette and Cadillac V8s are also used. He has considered installing a turbocharged Mitsubishi 4-cylinder in his Fiero Formula, modified to make about 400 horsepower.
“I want to do something that’s not been done with the Fiero,” he said.
His Fiero GT, however, will remain in factory-stock condition. The cabin, though restored, shows its age in the design, particularly the modular-look instrument panel trimmed with fake screw heads. The driving, Mr. Taveras promises, compensates for any of the car’s crimes of style.
The little V6 growls pleasingly under acceleration, then fades politely into the background when cruising. Its raspy, burbling exhaust note, broadcast through four chrome tailpipes, is an entertaining consolation for any perceived power deficit. Yet the engine delivers a noticeable kick in the 2,800-pound car.
He heads to his favorite local road, Riverview Drive, a lightly trafficked and unexpectedly pastoral route that winds along the Passaic River in the neighboring town of Totowa. Taking sweeping curves and traversing patches of rough pavement reveals admirable composure in the nearly 30-year-old car. The earlier Fieros, whose suspension was derived from the Chevrolet Chevette and Citation economy cars, do not handle as well.
Passing a cemetery, he mentions another attraction of Riverview Drive: Locals say it’s haunted.
“This is ‘Annie’s Road’ — it’s been written up in Weird New Jersey,” Mr. Taveras said, referring to a magazine that chronicles unusual places and incidents in the Garden State.
Mark Sceurman, the publisher of Weird N.J., confirmed in an email that the magazine had featured Annie’s Road in a dozen issues over 20 years. The legend is based on tales of a high school girl supposedly killed on the road on prom night. The stories, naturally, include claims of ghost sightings. “I’ve never seen her,” Mr. Taveras said with a chuckle as he zoomed his Fiero beneath the Interstate 80 overpass.