Thanks for posting these! Very interesting reads. One of the few outlets which predict certain Fieros will actually increase in value..I have been a fan of Hemmings since the 70's when I would bug my older car-guy friends for their used copies of the magazine/catalog, and teach myself 'car stuff' by reading the whole thing! Had my own subscription in the 90's, all the way down in Florida. Their writers always seem to capture the real personality of a car model and its followers. The Hemmings Garage in VT is on my list of cruise events for next summer!
------------------ 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula, Yellow, original. (CJB #118) 1977 Pontiac Le Mans Can-Am W72, original, unrestored. 2003 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP L67/MN7 (Parts Car)
This week’s 1986 Pontiac Fiero Find of the Day generated quite a bit of discussion, proving that people remain passionate about GM’s mid-engine two-seater nearly three decades after production ended. Like many automobiles with a tarnished reputation (Ford’s Pinto and Chevy’s Corvair come to mind), the Pontiac Fiero became a victim of popular opinion. Like the others, it was engineered to a price point, meaning that corners were cut in development to satisfy corporate accountants. As sold to GM executives, the Fiero wasn’t meant to be a sports car; instead, it was pitched as an economical commuter car with aggressive styling and revolutionary, dent-resistant composite body panels. Those who’ve experienced the car know it the best, and despite its early flaws, the Fiero continues to enjoy a healthy following today. Below are comments, both good and bad, from past Fiero owners or shop owners who wrenched on the car. Do you have a story to add to the discussion?
Ross W. Lovell: There were problems with the first Fieros and GM glacial slow in addressing issues like cooling, primarily engine bay heat which was the cause of premature alternator and ignition wire failure. Heat shields and insulation solved those problems but more were to come and as an owner of several of these cars, GM’s response to problems was ALWAYS lacking. Bad handbrake cable design made the recall list but only for the standard transmission cars, the automatics didn’t qualify in GM’s mind because owners had Park even though both cable assemblies were the same. Had three of these, a first year 4 cylinder manual car with AC, Still have it, can’t kill it. The second was an ’86 V6 auto with all the options. Great car until a drunk driver in a Cadillac hit me head on in my lane, though I had no where to go, I scrubbed off enough speed to keep my injuries to a minimum. Amazing what that car took for damage and I walked away. The last one is a ’88 with the Lotus designed suspension. Bought the car and the engine smoked, talked the price down as the plan was to swap out the V6 for another powerplant. Replaced the stock engine with a 4.1 GM/Olds block mated to modified Buick Grand National induction with a modified ceramic impellor in the turbo and intercooler and a pre-oiler circuit on a timer to pressurize the lower end and cool the turbo bearings. GM learned a lot from the plastic panel construction that carried over onto other models.
Roy L: While this (low oil causing catastrophic engine failures and fires) may have happened, according to the project leader, that was not the reason for the recall to”correct” the issue. It was that the oil pan gasket was not designed for the high temperature caused by the location of the catalytic converter so close to the oil pan. My source of information came from a reunion of Fiero owners and enthusiast (I’ve owned several and still own an ’87 GT) in 2005 in Pontiac Michigan. During a question and answer session he confirmed many of our suspicions about the origins of the Fiero. The ’84-’87 Fiero used many old or overstocked parts from existing GM cars to stay withing budget. Front suspension was from a Chevette. Rear suspension (mostly) and cradle from a Citation relocated from the front wheel drive configuration and slid back behind the cab. Because the engine was ahead of the rear wheels, it became a mid-engine car. Unlike a Volkwagon Beetle or Corvair where the engine is behind the rear wheels and therefore designated a rear-engine car. And so begins the source of the fires… In the front wheel drive configuration, the exhaust was long enough to move the catalytic converter away from the engine. In the mid-engine configuration the exhaust was routed around the front or cabin side then around the engine to the muffler that was located behind the engine just in front of the rear trunk. Basically a 270-360-degree route. The catalytic converter was placed between the engine and the cab, next to the oil pan. Now, because Fiero division was given no budget for a model-designated engine, they were forced to use the “iron Duke” four cylinder already warehoused. This motor was intended to be used in front-wheel drive models with a conventional exhaust and therefore a lower oil pan gasket heat range. In early ’84 models, some of the gaskets failed and in doing so, would allow oil to be splashed onto the very hot catalytic converter and catch fire. It made a lot of sense what he explained it.
Keith: Looks like I’m one of the few on here who’s had not one, but 2 of these. First was an 86 SE (the model with the front air dam and rear spoiler). Had it a couple years drove it cross country. 2.8L V6 automatic. No issues, nice car. Developed an annoying vacuum leak towards the end of it’s time with me and parked it for awhile then sold it. Then had the one all the people want: the 88 Formula. Lotus suspension, 2.8L V6, stick shift. Put a ton of money into the car upgrading it. To use an over-used phrase: the thing drove like it was on rails. Put Eibach suspension on to lower it about 1″. Pretty nice little ride until the engine blew and I sold it for parts. If one is so inclined to get a Fiero, get an 86-88 model, SE, GT or Formula. 2.8L only (forget the I-4). Look for super rare optional T-tops or leather seats with lumbar. Fun little cars to drive, kinda hard to work on though.
John Luma: My ’86 Fiero was one of the best, most reliable, least expensive cars I’ve ever owned. 186,000 trouble free miles.
jack roeber: Back in the days when I was still in the auto repair business, I had a customer with a car identical to the feature car. It was even the same color. It was a fun car to drive and I really liked it. Not being a fan of GM cars from that era, that was probably my best experience with one. We performed all the maintenance and repairs that were done on the car for several years. Some things were more difficult to get to than on some other vehicles, but nothing was impossible to accomplish with a little time and patience.
Jack Tracy Liston: When going thru OCS in the US Army (being an E-6 & driving used junk cars since enlisting as a private) I bought a silver V-6 Fiero GT once commissioned & LOVED it! So fun to drive, much better than the Fiat X19 I owned prior to going on active duty & superior in all ways. Was a GREAT car & GREAT memory for me in that part of my life. Until a baby & then divorce forced the sale, wish I could have kept it!
Dean Hobart: I had an early model (4 cyl) in the 90’s, and loved driving it. It handled well and performed exactly as advertised ( those of you who commented on how they handle should actually drive one!) Shortly after i got the car, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the engine fires. I sold that car. Last year, i found 6 of them for sale at Carlisle ranging in price from around 3 grand to around 9 grand. . I purchased a1985 with 7000 miles (automatic). I still find it fun to drive given what it is and what it is meant to be. It is not a corvette or a euro sports car. it was meant to be an inexpensive commuter car. it still is, and i am glad to see it highlighted as an entry level car. we need more of these to bring in the younger enthusiasts.
Chris: I had the first year 1984, 4cyl. It wasn’t fast but it was fun and it was unique. with all the negativity about them, mine drove fantastic and was very reliable. i did 125K on mine w/o problems and just regular maintenance.
Feature Article from Hemmings Classic Car March, 2015 - Thomas A. DeMauro
The latter part of the 1970s ushered in a second energy crisis and high inflation. What better time, then, to propose a lightweight, two-seat commuter car with a sporty appearance, miserly fuel consumption and a relatively low price tag?
Those were the attributes presented to GM management regarding what became the 1984 Pontiac Fiero. With no obvious threat to the Corvette's performance reputation, and having a concept that was in line with the times, the "P-car" (P-body) was approved. Of course, Pontiac neglected to mention the fact that the original intent of the entire project was a lot more sports car than commuter car.
Though high fuel mileage figures, spine-compressing acceleration and glue-like stick in the curves are not always mutually exclusive goals--especially when considering the lightweight yet stiff P-car chassis, drag-cheating wedge-shaped body and mid-engine layout (a first for a U.S. production car)--in the 1984 Fiero's case, Pontiac was trying to play both sides of the equation by attempting to market it as an economy car and a sports car at the same time.
Evidence of this tactic is revealed in Pontiac's 1984 dealer brochure: "Fiero can be described as an economy car. It can also be considered a practical and durable car. And by its technical specifications alone, Fiero may legitimately be called a sports car." Problem is, some sports car people don't want to own a vehicle that is also referred to as an economy car, and to others who are trying to squeeze every possible mile from a gallon of gas, the term "sports car" has a wasteful connotation attached to it.
This two-pronged approach led to high expectations on both sides and inevitably resulted in some compromises. Budget constraints ultimately ended up combining a sports car appearance and technological, design and assembly innovation with a commuter car heart and chassis. The space-frame body structure, mill-and-drill construction and dent-resistant and no-rust Enduraflex body panels were state of the art, but the 92hp, 2.5-liter, 151-cu.in. Tech IV "Iron Duke" four-cylinder engine and chassis were derivative of existing economy car platforms to save money.
None of this was lost on road testers, many of whom applauded the build and styling attributes, but pointed out the acceleration and handling shortcomings to potential buyers. Regardless, the Fiero sold 136,840 units in its first year, well above its initial estimates.
Over the following four model years, Pontiac would continue to tip the scales in favor of the sports car side. In 1985, the new GT employed the smooth front and rear fascias and the side aero-skirts from the previous year's Indy Pace Car; it had WS6 suspension and offered the Pace Car's rear spoiler optionally. More important, it gained a 140hp 2.8-liter (173-cu.in.) V-6 engine (also optional on the SE). Additionally, suspension revisions were made to improve handling. In 1986, the late-introduction restyled GT featured fastback-type sail panels and other visual upgrades. It also received a Getrag five-speed gearbox late in the model year for its V-6 engine, since the five-speed that had become available with the 2.5-liter engine in 1985 didn't have the torque capacity for the larger powerplant. Sports car leanings were becoming more obvious with each revision.
Mostly a carryover year, 1987's notable changes included an increase in fuel tank capacity to 11.9 gallons, from 10.2, in order to extend the driving range between fill-ups, and the ignition system was upgraded for the four-cylinder standard in the lower models.
For 1988, the Fiero's suspension was completely redesigned, ultimately delivering the sports car handling and braking that had been anticipated since the 1984 model. The street fighter notchback Formula was also introduced and featured the WS6 suspension and V-6 of the GT, but fewer standard creature comforts in order to keep the price down and performance up.
Mitchell Bell, a teacher from Winter Park, Florida, knows the history of the Fiero all too well. Back when he was preparing for college in the summer of 1998, his girlfriend, Samantha (now his wife), drove a 1988 Fiero GT. That led to meeting a fellow Fiero owner and the purchase of our feature car.
One afternoon, when Mitchell and Samantha were out, the driver of a C5 Corvette noticed her car parked in front of the house. He stopped and spoke with Mitchell's father, Michael, about Samantha's Fiero GT and explained that he had a Bright Red 17,000-mile 1988 Fiero GT for sale, which was in new condition. Coincidentally, Mitchell had been looking for a car to serve double-duty as a spirited daily driver for work and school, yet be interesting and clean enough to participate in shows with his dad. He had been considering the Buick Grand National, but decided that this Pontiac would be an excellent choice.
The following list of standard GT features leaves little doubt that the Fiero had grown into a real sports car by 1988. They include the 135hp multi-port fuel-injected 2.8-liter V-6 engine with 165-lb.ft. of torque; five-speed manual transaxle; Eagle GT+4 tires on aluminum wheels; four-wheel disc brakes; monotone Aero Package; tinted glass; body side moldings; reclining bucket seats; convex rearview mirrors, left-hand remote; lamp group; Delco AM/FM stereo with seek and scan features, a clock and a cassette deck with auto reverse; tilt wheel with leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel; controlled-cycle wipers; instrument panel gauges with a tach; power windows; remote deck lid release; remote-release fuel-filler door; dual map lights and tuned dual twin-port polished exhaust.
Purchased from Courtesy Pontiac in Longwood, Florida, this particular Fiero GT included the three-speed automatic transaxle, sunroof, rear deck lid spoiler, floor mats and an option group that was comprised of A/C, cruise control, power mirrors and door locks, and visor vanity mirror. Said three-speed automatic featured a lock-up converter and a 3.33:1 final drive ratio. Base price for the 1988 Fiero GT was $13,999. With options and destination charges, this one cost $16,558. "It was the first really cool sports car that I ever owned," Mitchell confides. "My parents helped with the down payment. I had to keep a job to make payments on it, as well as stay in college, to keep the car." He also cites his Pontiac as being a major force behind his completion of college, as knowing that he was responsible for paying for it kept him focused.
More satisfying than paying it off, was, of course, spending time behind the wheel. The Pontiac had a way of even making the daily commute pleasurable. "I love the way my Fiero GT drives. With the sound of the engine running behind you and the complete connection to the road, there is nothing like it. I liken it to a large go-kart with A/C and a radio," Mitchell quips. "It has no power steering, so at slow speeds it's hard to turn, but it handles like a dream. I have participated in Run For the Hills, which is a weekend of driving switchback roads at a high rate of speed in the mountains. My GT showed me what its capabilities really were." Undoubtedly, Pontiac chassis engineers would be pleased with Mitchell's sentiments, as the suspension revisions for 1988 were extensive and expensive--to the tune of about $30 million. According to Pontiac, it began with combining "reduced spring rates with higher damping control shocks and struts...[to increase] wheel control, while maintaining ride quality...."
In front, overall suspension travel was increased. Wheel spindles were 30-percent shorter: scrub radius was 30-percent smaller; anti-dive was increased by 40 percent; upper control arms were 20-percent longer and lower control arms were 25-percent longer. Revised pivot points improved steering, and the turning radius was cut by 12 percent. In the rear was a new tri-link layout with struts that improved anti-lift and anti-squat qualities, and the rear wheel travel was increased to better absorb road imperfections.
Additionally, the GT was enhanced with the WS6 Special Performance Suspension, featuring a 16:1 quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering rack; added 22mm rear anti-roll bar to complement the existing 23mm front bar, reducing understeer and body lean in cornering; specific springs, shocks/struts and bushings; 15x6 front and 15x7 rear Diamond Spoke aluminum wheels; and 205/60R15 front and 215/60R15 rear Eagle GT+4 tires enhancing all-weather performance. The four-wheel disc brake system was improved by using upgraded calipers and vented rotors.
While driving his GT has provided years of satisfaction, Mitchell has also enjoyed showing it since 1999, and it continues to win awards today. "I like the fact that every time I go to car shows or cruises, I am the only one with a Fiero," he says. "It seems like everyone once owned one or knew someone who did. I always have a great time talking with people about the car and how different it really is."
The problem with exclusivity is that parts can be difficult to source. Because 1988 was the only year of production for the suspension, stock replacement parts for it and other one-year-only items can be a challenge to find. A member of the Central Florida Fieros club, Mitchell relates, "My wife and I have done so much over the years in this car, including participating in large Fiero shows all over the country and in local events, that it has become a part of our history together as well. The 1988 model was the Fiero that GM should have built in the first place, and like most people say, GM got it right and then killed it." For that final model year, approximately 26,400 1988 Fieros were built, and a mere 6,848 (or 6,849, depending upon the source) GTs were produced. The sales slide from 1985 through 1988 was likely precipitated by a combination of issues, not the least of which was the fact that earlier models were more commuters than performers. And then there was the highly publicized recall related to some engine fires in earlier four-cylinder models. Nevertheless, the Fiero did not return for 1989, despite the existence of a stunning 1989-'90 prototype.
Regardless of the reasons for its ultimate demise, generally the Fiero improved in some ways with each successive model year. Today, they enjoy very active and loyal owner and club support, and they are a favorite for modifications, which means that the attributes of this 1988 model won't soon be forgotten by those who appreciate Pontiac's precious P-car.
Notice that they reference the popular myth of a "Lotus designed suspension" on the 88.
------------------ " THE BLACK PARALYZER" -87GT 3800SC Series III engine, custom ZZP /Frozen Boost Intercooler setup, 3.4" Pulley, Northstar TB, LS1 MAF, 3" Spintech/Hedman Exhaust, Autolite 104's, MSD wires, Custom CAI, 4T65eHD w. custom axles, HP Tuners VCM Suite. "THE COLUSSUS" 87GT - ALL OUT 3.4L Turbocharged engine, Garrett Hybrid Turbo, MSD ign., modified TH125H " ON THE LOOSE WITHOUT THE JUICE "