Pontiac Fiero

Pontiac Fiero
Pontiac Fiero
Pontiac Fiero
Pontiac Fiero
Pontiac Fiero

Total Production: 370,168 1984 - 1988
The Pontiac Fiero was produced for only a short time, lasting from 1984 through 1988. It was based on the Pontiac Banshee Concept inspired by John DeLorean. The design was courtesy of Hulki Aldikacti, from an outside firm called Entech, who created a small, two-door coupe with a mid-engine layout. It was dubbed the 'Fiero' which is an Italian word meaning 'proud'. This name was chosen because it was one of the first mid-engine production vehicle to be produced by Detroit's big-three. An example of an earlier attempt was the Chevrolet Corvair.

The mid-engine design is always a radical and exotic configuration; it was given this setup to improve the vehicles aerodynamics and give it proper weight distribution. The results were impressive, with the car having excellent handing and performance. Mounted transversely in the engine bay was a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine which provided fuel economy that could rival other cars of its day. With the proper setup and four-speed manual gearbox, the car could achieve 40 mpg on the highway. With the 3-speed THM-125 automatic gearbox the MPG dropped to 32, which is still very impressive. The vehicles weighed just under 2600 pounds and had a wheelbase that measured a short 93.4 inches. Length was just 160.3-inches, meaning there was little room for cargo. It was a sports car that had performance characteristics, impressive fuel economy, and styling that resembled other exotic sports cars of the day, all at a fraction of the cost.

Much of the vehicles suspension, powertrain, and drivetrain were shared with other GM production vehicles, such as the Citation and Chevette. The chassis was a space-frame setup with Chevrolet Chevette steering, suspension and brakes. The body was created from Enduraflex plastic body panels with only four paint colors offered at any one time.

In 1984, the Fiero was given the honor of pacing the Indy 500.

By using components from other production vehicles, it could be produced more efficiently and at a lower cost. It also meant that its performance was only slightly better than other GM cars. Enthusiasts expected more, due to its mid-engine layout and exotic styling. As requests for an improved version of the Fiero began pouring in, and the oil embargo was a thing of the past, GM granted their request by introduced the GT model in 1985. It was a vastly improved vehicle, with a port-injected V6 engine and nearly 45 more horsepower, an increase of over 50-percent, than its four-cylinder counterpart. In the proceeding years, other aspects of the Fiero GT were upgraded, including the suspension and brakes in 1988, and the addition of a rear spoiler and ground affects.

When production ended after 1988, sales were still strong. GM was worried about sales declining sharply in the years to come and the mid-engined, two-seater sports car market to come to a close, so production ceased. During the five-years of production, 370,168 examples were produced.
By Daniel Vaughan | Sep 2007The first two-seater Pontiac since the 1926-1938 coupes, the Fiero was a sports car designed by George Milidrag and Hulki Aldikacti. The sleek Fiero sported hidden headlamps and was the first and only mass-produced mid-engined sports car produced by a U.S. manufacturer. Incredibly radical in its design, the Fiero was made up of plastic body panels that were very creative for the time. The budget to design the Fiero was 400 million dollars, just a fraction of what GM typically spent on a typical prototype car. Pontiac assigned the Fiero project to Hulki Aldikacti, a Turkish émigré with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Michigan with 22 years of experience. Manufactured by the Pontiac division of General Motors, the Fiero was introduced in 1984 and ran for five years with a total of 370,168 models produced.

With planning beginning in the late 1970s for the new model, project engineers proposed a two-seat, mid-engine design that no other US manufacturer had ever designed before. With the intent to develop a high-volume commuter car with sports car looks, GM launched 'Project Pegasus'. 'Fierce' and 'wild' in Spanish, or 'proud' in Italian, the Fiero was almost given one of the names Fiamma, Sunfire, Sprint or Firebird XP. In 1984 the Fiero 2M4 was placed on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list and it was also the Official Pace Car of the Indianapolis 500.

The initial prototype first resembled a Ferrari or Porsche instead of a typical GM car, but the limited budget took its toll on the design, particularly Aldikacti's dream of a high performance, V6 engine, which would take the entire budget. So instead Aldikacti was forced to settle for the already manufactured four-cylinder engine GM produced 'iron Duke' heavy iron block. Since this engine was too blocky for the tiny car, it was equipped with a smaller oil pan since the engine would always run a quart low.

Though it was designed with the hope of being an affordable mid-engine sports vehicle full of exciting new design techniques, the Fiero instead proved to be one of GM's great disasters with little power and too much weight. The public had high hopes for the exotic mid-engine sports car, but the Fiero was quickly criticized for its safety, reliability and performance. Despite the criticism though, the Fiero sold well and Pontiac couldn't keep up with the initial demand even though they operated three shifts at the factory in 1984. Total production peaked at 136,840 models.

The Fiero was first introduced in August of 1983 as a small, two-seater sports car with a V6 engine and all new suspension. Though GM management didn't want a second two-seater sports car that would compete with the Corvette, the current oil crisis made this a popular option for the small commuter car segment. Gm sold the Fiero as a commuter car. The car was uncomfortable for some drivers because of the lack of power steering.

The Fiero was re-designed with a fuel-efficient version of GM's 2.5-liter four-cylinder 'Iron Duke' engine capable of 27 mpg in the city and 40 mph highway with the economy-ratio transmission option. This mileage was quite impressive for the period for a 2.5 L engine, but the three-speed automatic reduced highway mpg to just 32 mpg. The Fiero was intended to attract the market segment where the Corvette with its V8 was unsuitable.

To reduce aerodynamic drag, keep the vehicle weight low and keep fuel efficiency at the top of its list, the mid-engine layout was originally chosen for the Fiero for its traction, handling and braking benefits. When the Fiero first debuted the sports car potential of the mid-engine layout wasn't first realized. The tires, brakes, and suspension were borrowed from other GM economy cars like the Chevette and Citation, in a budget saving measure used often by GM. Unfortunately these cost saving measures put the Fiero at a disadvantage when buyers purchased the Fiero hoping for a quick, high-revving motor in keeping with the sporty design of the car. Reliability issues and breakdowns soon followed when drivers tried to run the engine at a higher RPM than it was designed for.

The rear suspension and powertrain of the Fiero were basically identical to the Pontiac Phoenix and Citation and even included rear tie rod ends attached to a 'steering knuckle', though these could only be used for maintaining the rear tire alignment and were hard-mounted to the engine cradle. Chevette enthusiasts were excited to find out that since the front suspension was inspired by the Chevette they could upgrade their smaller front brakes and rotors with Fiero components.

A limited edition 'Indy Pace Car' was introduced in 1984 with an Indianapolis 500-themed option package on SE-model cars. 2,000 of these models were sold and all had aero body cladding and new front and rear dashboards that would also be used on the 1985 GT. Though a few rare models had a special periscope-style inlet sprouting from the engine and curving up into the roof, the Indy Pace car was only sold with the underpowered four-cylinder engine. This style inlet was used on the actual Indy Pace Car Fiero but was not available on the production model pace car replicas, along with the 2.5 L Super duty engine.

When 1985 rolled around the oil crisis was a thing of the past and the demand for an impressively powered Fiero with sports car performance was on the rise. Pontiacs answer to this demand was the GT model with upgraded suspension tuning, wider tires and a V6 engine with 43 hp more than the base four-cylinder engine. Rated at 140 hp the Chevrolet 2.8 L V6 engine produced 160 lb/ft of torque, which was highly received by the general public. The High Output V6 engine was mated with an updated Muncie 4-speed transmission while the four-cylinder engine was now paired with the Japanese-designed Isuzu five-speed transmission. Fiero sales in 1985 fell to 76,371 units sold.

The following year was the first for the fastback roofline. Sometimes referred to as a '1986½', the model had the 5-speed Muncie-built Getrag transmission, coupled only to the V6 engines. Models with the four-cylinder engine remained basically the same. New master and slave cylinders were redesigned in the clutch hydraulic systems. In 1986 the GT model underwent a restyle by famed Italian automaker Bertone. Some who were there for the unveiling of the new style thought it was a new Corvette at first. This new body style became the GT model for '86 and the old 1985 GT body style became the SE model. Unfortunately despite the modifications the performance and reliability continued to be an issue. Total Fiero production in 1986 rose slightly to 83,974 models.

In 1987 Pontiac made updates to the front and rear fascias on the base coupe model. The SE and GT Fiero models retained the 'Aero' nose. The new models without the aero nose lost the black bumper pads of the earlier models and had a much smoother visage. Power increased to 98 hp in the four-cylinder engine while major modifications that included a roller cam, redesigned intake manifold, distributor-less ignition system (DIS), open combustion chamber cylinder head and upgraded throttle-body fuel injection system were made. This would be the final year for the spin-on oil filter on the four-cylinder engine. This model was sold in Bright Metallic Blue with the round style from GT models instead of the ribbed black molding. SE models kept the ribbed molding and added the aero nose from the GT.

New this year was redesigned headlight motors. Also new this year was an upgrade in the form of an 'option' called the Fiero Mera, which changed the original body to a Pininfarina Ferrari-type body. The 'Mera' transformation was made by Corporate Concepts and none were sold as kit form. This body change was only available on new Pontiac Fiero's and was sold through Pontiac dealers and was considered a class of car in its own right. Only 247 Mera's were produced before production was interrupted by Ferrari's lawsuit. The Pontiac Mera is one of the most rare American made vehicles due to its limited number produced. Sales numbers dropped quite drastically in 1987 to 46,581 units.

In 1988 a variety of changes were made to the Fiero to make it similar to its original design included a completely redesigned suspension to utilize the potential of the mid-engine layout. The suspension was unique and included brand new two-piece brake calipers and modified brake rotors. Though the available I4 and V6 engines were improved by the modifications, the turbochargers and newer DOHC engines weren't available before production ceased.

Many thought the new suspension design was strikingly similar to those designed by Lotus, which was about to be acquired by GM. The suspension was never Lotus in design though instead it was the suspension that Pontiac engineers had designed from the beginning, in addition to what they learned from the racing program. The control arms and knuckles were in front where updated to reduce steering effort and improve the scrub radius. At the back real tri-link suspension with all new knuckles replaced the old Citation parts. This new suspension came with 15 inch by 6-inch wide wheels up front and 15 inch by 7-inch wide wheels in the back for improved handling balance and to offset the slightly increased front track that resulted from the modifications.

All four corners now featured new vented disc brakes which address braking issues from road testers. A late edition to the package was a variable effort electro-hydraulic power steering unit, which was the same design later found on the GM EV1. This option didn't make it to the final production unit, possibly because it was too loud. An in-pan oil filter and balance shaft was given to the four-cylinder engine. Also added was a 'Formula' option that offered many of the GT features with the base coupe body, including the 120 mph speedometer, WS6 suspension and the rear spoiler.

Unfortunately GM chose to end the production of the Fiero after the 1988 model year following years of mismanagements and declining sales. 1988 was considered to be the best Fiero ever produced. Modifications to suspension, steering, brakes, and improvements to both the four-cylinder and V6 engines were made this year. This was the first year that a yellow paint job was available as a factory option. On September 1, 1988 the final Fiero rolled off the Pontiac, Michigan plant line. A total of 26,402 Pontiac Fieros were produced in 1988.

The heavy media coverage of Fiero engine fires equated negatively with the Fiero's production history. According to the NHTSA, 135 of the 370,168 Pontiac Fieros were reported to have experienced engine fires, 122 of these while driving. The majority of these fires occurred in the 1984 Pontiac model, while later model years featured upgraded equipment making them less susceptible to engine fire.

Today the Pontiac Fiero has quite the cult following and is well collected by variety of owners and customizers. While all Fiero models are highly collectible, the 1988 model year is the best year for enthusiasts due to its rare production numbers and modified underpinnings. General Motors had an abundance of replacement parts that made it easy to upgrade and improve performance and reliability of the Fiero.

A 1984 Fiero 2M4 was released by Hot Wheels under a variety of paint schemes that are very rare today.


By Jessica Donaldson