The cars we loved.
The decision had been made to axe the Fiero as early as the winter of 1987. After a sizable investment in improving the 1988 models, GM decided that there was still room after all for Pontiac’s innovative small sports car. Buick had just dropped the Reatta leaving Pontiac, with a lone potential rival to the Corvette. The positive reviews of the last of the first gen Fieros lead to a rush in sales on rumors of the car’s cancellation. Oddly enough two unlikely forces came together to save the Fiero: the United Autoworkers of America and Toyota.
The last minute decision to save the Fiero resulted in its production being moved to Fremont California. The NUUMA joint venture with Toyota seemed a natural place to develop a small sporty car due to the high quality marks of the Corolla and GEO Prizm. Besides the state of the art NUUMA facility was being under utilized and the UAW had no intention of laying off workers, even as demand for most Big Three cars was falling.
Toyota’s part was kept at a minimum per UAW prideful demands, but the Japanese company would be allowed to assist in the redesign of the interior after 1994. Toyota actually schooled Pontiac in the finer points of fuel management, suspension tuning and ergonomics, points where the first gen car was lagging up till the end. This was Pontiac’s chance to finally reach parity with the CRX and new MR2 (both leaders in the small sports car market). The old adage “if you can’t beat em…” applied more than ever.
The “New Fiero” appeared in showrooms in late 1989, just as supplies of the old car had dwindled. Although the Fiero II would be based on a shortened F body platform, many components would come from Toyota. The parts sharing actually save Pontiac development cost, making the case for the new Fiero financially feasable when it would not have been possible otherwise. While the Fiero looked like a small scale Trans-Am, unlike its big brother, it would have a fully independent double wishbone suspension. The flying buttress design that gave the old car it’s Ferrari like profile gave way to somewhat clunky Firebird inspired C pillar. In fact, the second generation took most of its design cues from the bigger Firebird. Even its front end resembled what would later become the fourth generation Firebird. What it lacked in grace compaired to the 1 st gen car, it more than made up for in overall dynamics – in all models not just the top of the line GTA and Formula versions.
The power came from GM existing collection of engines. The old base Iron Duke 4 cylinder was replaced with a 160 hp version of the Quad 4 used in various Chevrolets and Oldsmobile. The top engine would be a V6 from Buick that eventually got turbocharging in the Fiero GTA of 1992. With 244 hp, it was the most powerful factory Pontiac for the 1992 model year (outside of the SLP Firehawk). A new 5 speed manual (shared with the MR2) and a four speed automatic were developed. The auto featured a sport and economy mode that squeezed 28 mpg from the Quad Four equipped cars.
In California, the Quad Four was replaced by a more efficient Toyota sourced 1.8 L Twin Cam. It was modified for efficiency, yet offered similar performance to the larger Quad Four.
While there was still no factory convertible, plenty of conversions were available with one semi-official one from ASC sold at select Pontiac dealers. A popular V8 conversion made the Fiero true a Corvette chaser, but the nearly 50/50 weight ratio of the mid-engine design was never intended to carry anything bigger than a 3.8 in the GTA.
The second generation Fiero came in three trims: base, SE and GT with GTA (turbo) following in 1992. A special version of the GT called the GTS (California only) was available from 1994 to 95. It was similar to engines in the Celica and base MR2 but made 165 hp in the GTS. Many critics considered the $18,000 GTS to be the most balanced Fiero for performance, reliability and comfort. After the GTS model was discontinued, the Formula returned using the same engine. Like the previous version before it, it was a somewhat stripped down car with few options. The Formula’s lower weight and more powerful engine resulted in a 5.6 0 to 60 time that was close to the fully loaded and $25,000 GTA.
Specially outfitted GTA with a heavy duty suspension and intercooler package were available to police departments. It became a popular high speed interceptor for highway patrols in both the United States and Canada. Pontiac never officially quoted the horsepower, but tests from Road & Track recorded figures of 300 to 320 for cars used in North Carolina and Michigan respectively.
The interior was an evolution of the first generation car. The squared edges and boxy panels gave way to more curves but still had the look of cheapness, thanks to the big switchgear common to GM cars of the period. A Toyota influenced refresh improved matters, but GM’s auto union protested the ideal and certain design elements reverted to a slightly updated version of the original interior. It was a preview of what the fourth generation Firebird would look like.
The 1990-1996 Fiero was a lucky break for Pontiac fans. What was supposed to end with the 1988 model got a new lease on life thanks to GM’s partnership with Toyota. While the Fiero was popular with the automotive press, sales took a slow but steady dive. The only bright spot being the years between 1994 and 95 when the GTS model captured would be import coupe buyers. The Formula carried the torch after the GTA was cancelled.
More than lower sales, internal pressures from the autoworkers union and Chevrolet in particular, who saw the Fiero GTA and Formula cannibalizing Corvette sales. The pressure, combined with reduced sales would force the last Fiero to roll out the California facility with little fanfare. In the end, the Fiero only contributed to GM’s red ink, but greatly improved its profile with performance fans. The ideal of a small rear wheel drive car would not return until the Solstice in 2005.
Happy April Fool’s Day!