Vintage Views: Pontiac Fiero GT


Story By Alan Cesar

The supercar lineage going back to the Lamborghini Miura makes the midengine layout the holy grail for car nerds. If you stick that massive drivetrain in the middle of a vehicle rather than hanging it off either end, the chassis will be better balanced and thus outperform the pack, right? General Motors had an idea: Why not offer midengine supercar performance to the masses? Enter the Pontiac Fiero.

While midengine cars are usually rather exotic, the roots of this one are a bit humble. Front-wheel-drive cars are plentiful, and their transverse drivetrains are perfect for transplanting behind the front seats. Supercar performance is easy, right? Perhaps not. As the carmaker’s Pontiac division learned the hard way, to build a sports car like this, you must do it right.

History has not been kind to the Fiero. What was initially a sales success quickly tapered off as owners realized what the car really was: a well designed space frame and an attractive body with economy car underpinnings. The front suspension is derived from the Chevy Chevette, while the rear suspension is largely based on the front suspension used on the Chevy Citation.

The Fiero’s four-cylinder “Iron Duke” Tech IV engine making two-digit horsepower from 2.5 liters was equally disappointing, earning derisive nicknames like “Iron Puke” and “Low-Tech IV.” GM did take criticism, though, and improved the breed throughout production. Within a year of the model’s 1984 introduction, the car was available in GT form with a 2.8-liter V6 pumping 135 horsepower. Not long after, the four-speed manual was replaced with a proper five-speed. (A three-speed automatic was optional throughout.)

Starting in 1986, the GT also had distinctive rear styling, with buttress glass at the deck lid to complement the sharper nose. The GT looks less dated today than the boxier four- cylinder SE versions, but it wasn’t until the last year of production—1988—that things got really good.

That’s when GM finally gave the Fiero the suspension it deserved. The front was revised to reduce steering effort, and the rear no longer bore lineage to the General’s X-chassis cars. A rear toe link that attached to a shifty engine cradle had plagued the old arrangement, but a new three-think setup eliminated the result- ing bumpsteer and throttle steer. Finally, there were vented disc brakes at all corners with better calipers.

GM sold lots of Fieros, but perhaps that model could’ve lived longer if it were better from the get-go. The last year’s model is the car to get. It’s the best of the breed, and with a bit of looking you can find a good one at a reasonable $3000 to $7000—or a basket case for next to nothing. (The reliability of Fieros in LeMons racing has not been good, but some masochists keep trying.)

Stick to the ones in better condition, and you’ll find yourself enjoying the car more often than not. It isn’t very practical, but then again, isn’t that what you expect from a sporting machine?

Shopping and Ownership

Justin Cote, vice president at The Fiero Store, is something of a guru on these cars. He has owned several and worked on many more through the years. He gave us these bits of advice:

One disadvantage of the GT is that the styling and power options make it heavier than the four-cylinder models. An option for 1988 was the Formula package, which eschewed the heavy GT styling but kept the V6 engine. The Formula version is indeed faster thanks to its lighter weight, but without the stickers it looks just like a four-cylinder car.

The body is made of sheet molding compound, a composite that found its way into every Saturn car when the brand started. The material can take a beating and doesn’t rust. This also makes it easy to spot previously wrecked cars. Metal can be reshaped and reworked—plastic, not so much. Look for excessive gaps between the panels.

The car’s unique space frame can rust, though, so don’t be fooled by a rust-free body. Look for problems at the trunk wall in the back of the car, near the rear engine cradles, by the rear tires, and in the floorboards. There’s some low-hanging fruit for performance upgrades. The stock exhaust manifolds are poorly designed both for flow and longevity—they’re prone to cracking. Gain an easy 10 horsepower or more with aftermarket headers.

A spare tire fills the front storage area, so the space in the rear is where you stow the groceries. It’s an awkward shape, though: deep and narrow. Remember to put the eggs on top.

The five-speed transmission is the one to get, available in late-production ’86s and after. The four-speed manual in earlier cars and the three-speed automatic are both proven and strong, but neither has overdrive. This hurts highway fuel economy and makes high-speed cruising more of a chore.

For more headroom in the upgrade department, consider the 3.4-liter engine in later Camaros. It’s a descendent of the Fiero’s 2.8 and is nearly a bolt-in swap, so it’s a good place to get an extra 35 horsepower with minimal hassle. All transmissions are compatible with this swap.

For ultimate power, V-8 Archie is the authority on V8 conversions. They’ve long offered kits to adapt small-block Chevy engines, but more recently they’ve branched out to the LS series as well. The SBC kit starts at less than $1000, but figure triple that for the LS kit.

Keep a spare ignition module on hand, along with the tools to replace it. The whole ignition system can be temperamental thanks to the hot engine position, but the module is most prone to failure. A used one will cost around $25; a new unit from GM is double that.

The EGR system can be problematic. The solenoid gets wet and won’t open, which prompts an engine error code. The fix is simply replacing the part.

Engine mounts are critical to keeping the rear end in check on pre-’88 cars. When these wear out, the car can rear-steer badly. If they’re not new, replace them.

Keep an eye on the brake calipers. They’re similar to early Corvette pieces and exhibit the same tendency to seize occasionally.

Parts & Community

Fiero Parts and Appraisals: (207) 934-1969

The Fiero Store: (800) FIERO-GT

Pennock’s Fiero Forum

V-8 Archie Inc.: (800) 891-3608

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