Car Spot: Pontiac Fiero

A fun two-seater that died way before its time

The more of these car spots I do and looking at the history of each vehicle I’m finding a common theme with those built by General Motors, great idea and crappy execution. This 1988 Fiero GT I recently spotted is another example.

The Fiero was conceived as a small, two-seat sports car with an all-new suspension and a V6 engine. Keep in mind that at GM the Corvette was sacred and reluctant to invest into a second two-seater so the Fiero was pitched as a fuel-efficient four-cylinder commuter car that just happened to have two seats, rather than a muscle car. Think oil crisis. This car was fast-tracked by engineers and they brought back a running prototype in less than six months.

But that was the easy part. Think big, over-bloated, don’t pee in my sandbox corporate GM. It was given a 400 million budget, small by GM standards, but how that money got spent was where the roadblocks began. Engineers were split into two categories, the car guys who would create blueprints for the car, and manufacturing guys who would work out the fabrication and assembly issues. Blueprints traveled back and forth between the two engineering branches, resulting in a waste of time and money. The project manager had to literally sit the two teams of engineers down next to one another, allowing for no excuses as to why nothing was getting done. Here’s an idea. How about building a car like American Motors did creating a platform team where everybody is all on the same team. Chrysler started doing that when they bought AMC in 1987 and it works great.

Love the rear spoiler and Corvette tail lights.

As the car started coming together it was looking pretty cool, sort of like a Ferrari or Porsche. Nothing like a typical GM car. The plan was for a, high-performance, aluminum-block V6, but the cost of developing a new engine would be more than the production of the whole car itself. In typical GM style they were forced to settle for the already manufactured four-cylinder engine, the “Iron Duke,” nicknamed for its heavy iron block. It didn’t fit so they put a smaller oil pan making the engine run on less oil. This was just one of many issues. Another was weak connecting rods that would shatter, blowing pieces through the engine block and dumping oil on hot exhaust components. There were several Fieros that caught fire because of this. Like other GM cars, to save costs, it shared components. Here’s a great example. The front suspension was derived from the Chevette. The automotive media’s response was “meh” but the car sold well and initially GM couldn’t keep up with demand when it debuted in 1984

The word Fiero means “very proud”, “fierce”, “bold”, “haughty” “cruel”, “severe” in Italian, and “wild”, “fierce”, or “ferocious” in Spanish.

But it took four years for the car to look like its original design. Finally, in 1988, numerous changes were made to the Fiero to bring it in line with its original design. The suspension was completely redesigned suspension to finally click with the mid-engine layout and included new two-piece brake calipers and upgraded brake rotors, items cut originally by GM. While the engines saw improvements, the planned turbochargers never came, sales were declining, and the years of mismanagement led to the cancellation of the car after the 1988 model year.

The car is cheap fun. The later years with the V-6 cost the most but are still very affordable. According to Hagerty one in Fair condition is under two grand. The four cylinders should be avoided. One in Concours condition goes for under nine grand. They are not trending up much at all. Too bad. This is one of those GM stories that could have been.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots and have a great weekend.

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