Alan Cesar
Alan Cesar Dork
3/28/13 11:23 a.m.

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?

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