The cars we loved.
As internal pressure would have it, the Fiero was pushed as a small economical commuter car. In that role it excelled, with it’s 2.5 L “Iron Duke” 4 cylinder, it got 40 mpg on the highway with a manual 4 speed transmission. In an effort to cut costs in its production and keepthe price low, Pontaic raided the parts bin for components from the Chevorlet Chevette and Citation. Three models were eventually offered, a base, GT and later Formula. The GT and Formula used a transversely mounted V6. All cars featured a fully independent suspension and rack and pinion steering. One of the cars biggest innovations was it’s endo panel unibody construction, a feature that would be used on Saturn cars a decade later. A slightly modified Fiero was chosen to pace the 1984 Indianapolis 500, ironically over Chevorlet’s new Corvette. The pace car featured a front end that eventually became standard on the GT model the following year.
Despite the humble parts lineage, the Fiero had aspirations for more. It’s mid engine platform was chosen to reduce aerodynamic drag and weight while improving handling. Fueled by the runaway sales success of the original “2M4” (2 seat mid engine 4 cylinder), Pontaic introduced a GT model in 1985. The GT model’s styling came directly from the 1984 Indy 500 pace Car, the first mid-engine car to ever pace the race. It’s Trans-Am like ground effects and new front fascia screamed Italian exotic, but the production car would not have the pace car’s 2.7 L Superduty 4 cylinder engine (with 232 hp). The sleek styling of the Fiero with it’s wire lace styled 15 in rims had captured the public’s imagination if not any SCCA titles. Many saw it as a poor mans Ferrari. The press received the car well initially, but when pushed, its shortcomings became apparent. Still, the public still went crazy for the Fiero, as sales increased steadily, now bolstered by a V6 that moved the Fiero closer to the promise of performance suggested by its sleek shape.
By 1986, a restyling of the GT added a flying buttress design that made it’s C pillars look even more like a Ferrari than ever. Aftermarket kits were available at some dealers that made the Fiero resemble the Ferrari 328. After pressure from a certain Italian car maker, the kit was no longer offered officially by Pontaic dealers. The top performing Fiero was the Formula, using the GT’s 135 hp 2.8 L V6, but in a lighter coupe shape that resembled a cross between the old GT sans ground effects and the base car. Straight line performance was always the Fiero strong point, being that it had a larger engine than it’s competitors (but only slightly more horsepower). A steady stream of improvements addressed problems with suspension and drivability, but it was not enough to stem the tide of bad press the Fiero had garnered in the wake of 4 cylinder engine fires and reliability issues. As it’s main competitors the CR-X and MR2 were about to debut new versions, Pontaic was planning to cancel the Fiero.
Ironically, just when many of the problems that haunted the Fiero had been resolved, the announcement came that there would be no 89 model. Pontaic was planning to use the new Quad 4 DOHC engine that was popping up in GM’s midsize and compact sporty cars. There was even talk of adding turbocharging. The announcement halted the development of the next generation Fireo, a car that strongly resembled the fourth generation Firebird and rumored to have about 200 hp. It’s been speculated that as the Fiero moved closer to the Corvette in performance the likely hood of it being canceled increased. The planned second generation would have had Corvette level performance at less than the price of a Trans-Am, so maybe Chevorlet was simply trying to protect America’s real sports car.