Pontiac Fieros
Pontiac Fieros. Click image to enlarge

By Jeff Burry; photos courtesy General Motors

Photo Gallery:
Pontiac Fiero, 1984-1988

Mid-engine sports cars are not generally associated with General Motors. People are more likely to associate them with exotic carmakers such as Ferrari and Lamborghini. However, the Pontiac division of General Motors produced such a car in the mid-1980s. The car was badged Pontiac Fiero, Italian for “proud.”

Conceived by John Delorean, and designed by Hulki Aldikacti, the car’s chief design engineer, the Fiero was a two-seater, mid-engine sports car built for the masses. It was Aldikacti’s belief that this vehicle would inject new life into the Pontiac image which at the time was somewhat “less than exciting.”

It was the first mass-produced mid-engine sports car produced by a U.S. manufacturer. The actual production of the Fiero started in August 1983 and was available for purchase in 1984. The very first models sported a transversely mounted 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine producing 92 horsepower. Overall weight was just under 2600 lbs (1179 kg).

Pontiac Fiero
Pontiac Fiero. Click image to enlarge

The production of this two-seater sports car came about as a result of the on-going oil crisis, and the need for Pontiac to reclaim its performance image. Pontiac management saw an opportunity to produce a fuel efficient, low cost sporty commuter car. General Motors was still producing the Chevrolet Corvette, another two-seater sports car, but other than the seating accommodation, the cars were vastly different and built for different market segments.

There were high expectations for the Fiero with its advanced mid-engine layout, space frame construction, impact-resistant plastic body and futuristic styling. It was a sports car that had performance characteristics and cool styling, all for a relatively low cost.

In 1984, it beat out the newly designed Chevrolet Corvette as that year’s choice to pace the Indy 500. A total of 136,840 units were sold across North America in its inaugural year, so the future was looking very promising for the new car. Models available included a base Fiero, Fiero Sport, SE or Indy versions.

The high expectations soon lead to disappointment as automotive critics expected better performance and handling from the Fiero. In order to keep the costs down, a number of suspension and brake components had been used from other GM cars such as the Chevy Chevette and the Chevrolet Citation, which were not known to be “sporty” vehicles. Other noticeable negatives included a stiff ride, noisy cockpit, and poor rear visibility.

Pontiac Fiero V6 engine
Pontiac Fiero V6 engine. Click image to enlarge

But the biggest blow to the 1984 Fiero was the propensity for the engine to catch fire. In the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported a total of 148 complaints regarding Fieros that experienced engine fires. Apparently, low levels of engine oil coupled with aggressive driving led to the possibility of connecting rods breaking. The fires almost exclusively affected 1984 Fiero models with the 2.5-litre engine, but they weren’t good for the car’s image.

Requests for an improved Fiero started to pour in and with the oil crisis of the mid-eighties receding, GM listened. Available for the 1985 model year was a GT version powered by a Chevrolet 2.8-litre port-injected V6 engine, rated at 140 horsepower.

The V6 engine was matched to a modified Muncie four-speed transmission while the four-cylinder engine received a Japanese-designed five-speed transmission. For the 1985 model year, 76,371 Pontiac Fieros rolled off the assembly line in Pontiac, Michigan.

The 1985 GT body style was used by the SE model, and late in the production year, GT and SE V6 models could be purchased with a five-speed Muncie transmission. Production increased slightly over the previous model year with a total of 83,974 units produced. In 1986, a fastback roofline was offered for the first time on all GT models.

Pontiac Fiero
Pontiac Fiero. Click image to enlarge

The front and rear fascias on the 1987 model were much improved, losing the unsightly black bumper inserts seen on the earlier models. The SE and GT versions maintained the clean, “aero-like” nose. Some modifications to the engine included a redesigned intake manifold, distributorless ignition system, open combustion chamber cylinder head and upgraded fuel injection system.

Perhaps responding to backyard mechanics attempting to glamourize their Fiero, a special Ferrari-type body kit titled “Mera” was available for the 1987 model. It was produced by Corporate Concepts in Capac, Michigan. At the time Magnum PI was a popular television series featuring Tom Selleck. He played a private investigator whose mode of transportation was the often-borrowed red Ferrari 308. Why not produce a “body” that resembled that vehicle?

The Fiero Mera kit was made available through Pontiac dealerships sold only as a new car. No kits were ever sold separately. A total of 88 1987 Fiero GTs were converted into Meras. Another 159 Fiero Meras were produced and sold for the 1988 model year bringing the final production number to 247. Corporate Concepts were eventually sued by Ferrari and ordered to stop.

If one were ever in the market to purchase a Pontiac Fiero, the 1988 model would be the one to get. It is considered by most Fiero enthusiasts to be the best model year. Only 26,402 of these gems were produced.

Pontiac Fiero
Pontiac Fiero. Click image to enlarge

For that year, a brand new suspension built solely for the Fiero was fitted to the car. At the time Lotus was about to be acquired by General Motors, and it has been rumoured that this company had a hand in tuning the new Fiero suspension. Handling was much improved with the revised control arm and knuckles, which greatly reduced steering effort and scrub radius.

At the rear, the old Citation parts were replaced with a real tri-link suspension and new knuckles. This new suspension came with 15 x 6 inch wide wheels up front and 15 x 7 inch wheels on the rear. These improvements greatly assisted the handling and balance of the vehicle. New vented disc brakes were also added on each corner to bring the vehicle to a quick but firm stop.

Without a doubt, the Fiero brought some excitement to the Pontiac brand and today the car still has a strong cult following. There are numerous special interest clubs and forums that exist for people wishing to exchange information about the vehicle or search for a Fiero to purchase.

For those of us who perhaps owned one of these vehicles in the past, seeing one on the street today still revokes many fond memories of 80’s culture and warm sunny days when the price at the tank wouldn’t empty your pocket book.

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