How to Build an All-Wheel-Drive Gas-Electric Hybrid Fiero

By Robert Bowen
Mar 14, 2019 | Pontiac | Posted in Features | From the Dec. 2010 issue | Never miss an article

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Photos by Bryce Nash unless otherwise credited.

It may seem pretty improbable that a hardcore backyard car enthusiast would have anything to do with a hybrid powertrain. After all, who has enough patience to unravel the science of marrying two different propulsion types?

Well, Bryce Nash not only embraced the idea of adding electric power to an already gasoline-propelled car, but he figured out a way to complete the entire project for about $1800. The plan? He installed an electric motor in the nose of his Pontiac Fiero.

Yep, he did the ultimate new-age motor swap, though it’s not technically a swap—he just added the electric motor and its attendant control systems to the existing Fiero chassis. The original cast-iron V6 can still be found between the rear wheels.

Bryce is a self-admitted car nut with a household fleet of eight cars. A career in engineering gave him the problem-solving skills needed to build his own hybrid as well as compete in such respected and influential racing series as the 24 Hours of LeMons and ChumpCar.

Years before his Fiero was unleashed at the Grassroots Motorsports $2009 Challenge, it started as many crazy projects do: with the happy convergence of a smokin’ eBay deal and an encouraging buddy. The big score was a powertrain from the short-lived Chevrolet S-10 Electric, an electric version of GM’s small pickup truck sold to fleets in 1997 and 1998. It basically used the same motor and controller system found in the EV1, star of “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

Turns out these cars weren’t dead after all, just hiding in a junkyard outside Detroit. Bryce’s S-10 donor was a GM plant security vehicle that was scrapped a few years back. The enterprising salvage yard that retired the S-10 listed the complete powertrain on eBay.

Enter the instigator.


“A friend of mine bought one of these drivetrains on eBay,” Bryce explains, “and while he was there the company mentioned they had another one. It was not as complete as his since it was missing some parts.” But for a low enough price, almost anything can be forgiven. In this case, that price was $800 and included shipping to Bryce’s house in Portland.

Faster than you can say “Sold!” Bryce was the lucky recipient of an electric car powertrain with a street value he estimates at between $8000 and $9000. While cool and dripping with potential, at the time Bryce had no idea what to do with it.

The driveline went to that place where all cool projects go: the back of the garage. Bryce kicked it around for a few years, looking for just the right project at just the right price.

Inspiration came when Bryce picked up a used Pontiac Fiero Formula. This wasn’t just any Fiero, either: The 1988 models are highly regarded among the fans of the model.

“It has the best suspension, good brakes, a V6 engine and manual transmission,” Bryce explains. “It’s fairly sought after in Fiero circles, and the $500 asking price was a good deal.” While the paint and interior were in good shape, according to the seller it had a timing chain problem and needed a clutch—a diagnosis that was a bit pessimistic.

“Based on past experience with these, I knew it was probably the ignition module,” Bryce explains. “It took me a couple of days to get it back together, and that was the problem. The bad clutch was actually misadjusted shift cables.” Bryce suddenly had a running, driving Fiero Formula for only $500.

Ready, Set, Charge!


Now Bryce just needed enough motivation to complete the puzzle. Our own Grassroots Motorsports $2009 Challenge did the trick, specifically the West Coast edition. The hybrid idea that Bryce had been kicking around for the past few years would be just the thing to score points with judges—and also show the GRM community just what West Coast competitors could do.

In typical Challenge form, he began construction exactly three months before the big event. That guaranteed plenty of late nights in the garage as the deadline loomed. “A supportive girlfriend goes a long way,” Bryce says. “Jessica was very understanding as I worked literally night and day on the car to get it ready for the Challenge.”

It helped that he had done the research long before. Many of the sensors that control the battery-charging and -cooling system were missing, but Bryce knew this issue was just a minor annoyance.

“A lot of the sensors I bypassed with resistors since they were not crucial to the way the system worked,” he explains. “The throttle position sensor and motor speed sensor were kept, though. The throttle pedal and sensor are the same as those used on newer Chevy pickups with Vortec V8s.”

Bryce was missing the battery charging port and its controls. Armed with a Helms service manual for an electric S-10, Bryce fabricated new components.


Once the electronics were under control, he started working on the next big issue: how to attach the motor to the wheels. He decided to place the electric motor in the Fiero’s front trunk, yielding all-wheel drive.

The job wasn’t so easy, as the front suspension had to be completely redesigned to accommodate the extra power source. “I replaced the stock springs and dampers with a set of Civic control arms and spring perches, and used the strut tower for the dampers only,” Bryce explains. “I had to fabricate some upper mounts on the inner fenders for the upper arms.”


The motor and differential came as a one-piece unit, but some of the parts were borrowed from other GM cars. The differential, it turns out, was also used in early Saturns. That meant the inner CV joint splines were compatible with other GM parts. To wind up with the same bolt pattern at all four corners, Bryce decided to use Fiero rear hubs up front, too. That meant he had to assemble his own axles.

“I did some Internet research—it took me hours—to find the spline sizes and axle lengths of various GM cars,” Bryce explains. “In the end I used a Fiero outer CV joint to match the Fiero hubs and a Saturn inner CV joint to match the differential.” He found some Cavalier axle shafts that were the correct length and had the right splines to join the different CV joints.

Fortified with the source material knowledge, Bryce set out on a marathon junkyard mission. In order to build his two front axles for the lowest possible cost, he decided to assemble them inside a self-service salvage yard.

That plan required pulling six different axles from at least three different years and models of GM cars. He then had to break everything apart and build his custom axles, all while stationed in a dirt lot.

The result was worth it, he says: “I brought a wheelbarrow full of tools, found the six different axles I would need to build my two axles, and walked out spending only $150 total versus $600 that it would have cost to buy all six and build them at home.”


Bryce still had to fit some more components inside the Fiero chassis. The electric motor needed its own cooling system, so Bryce fitted a second radiator. It now shares space with the original Fiero piece, and both are leaned at opposing extreme angles for maximum packaging efficiency.

A Toyota Prius battery pack, chosen for its low weight and high capacity compared to the original lead-acid battery packs, would live under the dashboard. Even though the battery pack only produces a third of the motor’s rated voltage, it initially pushed the motor to a little more than 60 horsepower. Some wiring changes eventually raised that figure closer to 75.

Bryce can recharge the battery while on the go, too. “Most hybrids charge the batteries when the driver uses the brakes, using the motor to slow the vehicle and charge the battery,” he explains. “My setup is similar, except I also have switches set up to force the motor into regenerative braking mode while I drive with the gas engine.”

He finds the setup practical at the drag strip, where he can recharge the battery during the drive back to the start line. And if the drive back doesn’t give him enough of a charge, Bryce says he can just drive around the paddock and generate more electricity.

“In an ideal world I’d use a plug-in charger, as it would be much more convenient than burning dinosaurs and driving in circles—assuming I had a wall plug at every track,” he explains. “In reality, high-voltage chargers cost a lot of money, and I’m not clever enough yet to build one myself. I still use gas to charge my batteries up, just like a Prius.”

Bryce controls the electric motor with a second throttle pedal located just left of the stock one. This was supposed to be a temporary setup only used for testing, but it worked better than expected.

“The gas pedal sticks up further than the electric one, but since it has more throw they stop at the same place,” he explains. “It works pretty well, so I’ve left it.”

Early testing sessions also showed that the lack of temperature controls was not a problem. The original, huge lead-acid battery pack produced much more heat than the Prius pack, partly because it could be fully discharged in as little as 50 to 100 miles. The newer nickel-metal hydride packs don’t heat up more than a few degrees.

Delayed Debut


As the Fiero neared completion, however, Bryce began to worry. He noticed that most of the people who expressed enthusiasm for the West Coast Challenge began to drop out one by one. The night before he left for the San Diego event, only five to seven competitors were expected.

On the morning of the competition, even those competitors had evaporated, making Bryce the only contestant who actually made it. Even though Bryce won by default, he said he was disappointed.

“From the beginning, lots of forum people were against the idea of the West Coast Challenge for all kinds of reasons, and I was mostly angry that they might have been right,” he explains. “Even though nobody showed, I still think it could work out. I really hope my experience is not representative of the enthusiasm here on the West Coast.”

Once back in Portland, he turned to his online gearhead support group and detailed what happened. Here’s where the story gets interesting. A few people offered to send him money so that he could attend the big event in Florida, the Kumho Tires Grassroots Motorsports $2009 Challenge.

He thought they were kidding, but he gave out his Paypal account information. “Before I knew what happened, I had $1500 or $1600 in my account,” he recalls. “That just covered the cheapest round-trip shipping I could find for the car, which was with a no-name shipper with no guaranteed timeline and only an approximate destination.” Despite the risks, Bryce was headed to Florida.


A few weeks later, he was reunited with his car at the $2009 Challenge. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly a happy reunion.

The slow shipping and Florida heat conspired to damage the battery pack and some of the complicated, expensive electronics. A few of the high-voltage relays had welded themselves shut. Bryce immediately leapt at the repairs; his biggest fear was letting down the online community, not losing.


“My friend who started the whole thing with the other electric S-10 powertrain was flying down to help me,” Bryce explains. “I called him as soon as I figured out what I needed, but it was almost too late.” His friend dashed home and grabbed the needed replacement parts. He arrived on the first day of the Challenge, and the team got the car working again.

It wasn’t fast, but it ran. “Unfortunately, we were the last car to finish the autocross, and our time was painfully slow because I could only use half of my battery pack,” Bryce admits.

Power Struggle

Despite making a good showing in the concours—fourth out of 50-plus entrants—and landing the Evil Alliance Award for his outside-the-box thinking, Bryce managed only 20th place at the event. While many people would have been happy just to overcome the challenges he faced in the hours before taking the green flag, Bryce says he left the event disappointed.

“We did not do as well as I had hoped,” he admits. “People paid for us to show up, and I did not want to let them down. I can’t stress enough how cool it was that everyone chipped in and got the car out to Florida so that I could participate in the $2009 Challenge.”

Bryce hasn’t stopped development on the car. First, he wants to completely redesign the electrical system to prevent the sort of problems that befell the car in 2009. Second, he hopes to upgrade the front dampers to something adjustable that can make the most of stickier tires.

Bryce also wants to add nitrous and swap out the cast-iron V6 for something newer and stronger. “There are much better GM engines that drop right in,” he explains. “An engine swap would give me 40 to 50 more horsepower and lose 40 to 50 pounds.” Ideally he’d choose something with an electric throttle so both powertrains could work off the same pedal.

Whatever changes the Fiero eventually receives, Bryce can take comfort in knowing that he’s a trailblazer. The national news is dominated by reports of upcoming hybrid vehicles, and Bryce used his superior engineering and problem-solving skills to create one for himself—all for less than $2000.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Trackmouse UltraDork
1/10/18 12:46 p.m.

That’s pretty rad. As a fellow Oregonian, I agree with his words 100%. If an event was near us, I would be there every year. (An Oregon location would be best since it halves the drive for Washington, Idaho, and California.)

what screen name does Bryce go by?

GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/10/18 1:15 p.m.

His screen name is Nashco, haven't seen him in a long time. I wonder what happened to this car. It's one of the all-time great mechanical marvels to enter the Challenge.

Kreb UltraDork
1/10/18 2:04 p.m.

I'm one of the West-coasters who flaked. Tried to make up for it by sending a few dollars for th trip East. I sincerely hope that the build doesn't fade away. Way too cool for school.

Stefan MegaDork
1/10/18 2:24 p.m.
GameboyRMH said:

His screen name is Nashco, haven't seen him in a long time. I wonder what happened to this car. It's one of the all-time great mechanical marvels to enter the Challenge.

He sold it and it was still running around with the new owner.

He was campaigning a street prepared Chevy Spark (yep the electric version of the tiny Chevy) in some of the local autocrosses.  Other than struggling with the stability and traction control, he was doing pretty well.  That was a few years ago when I was running my 951S.  I'm not sure what he's doing now, I haven't been around the local racing scene much since our first child was born in 2016 and I was waiting for my Focus RS to arrive which cost me an entire season of racing, thanks Ford.

I was also one of the West Coasters that flaked on the West Coast Challenge, the loss of my job months before the event didn't help since driving a beater 2000 miles round trip from Portland to San Diego would require more funds than were sensible at the time.  This is one of the problems with a West Coast event, the distances between major cities are quite a bit larger than it is on the East Coast.  The fact that the staff are all in Florida doesn't help, since running an event away from home is exponentially more difficult.

Burrito Dork
1/10/18 2:45 p.m.

Last I heard Bryce was climbing the corporate ladder at Daimler HQ in Stuttgart.


One of my wife's friend's fiance was on the same team as Bryce before he left town.  I have met this guy, Jason or J-man as everyone else calls him, like five times and I'm pretty sure that Bryce is the only common denominator between us (besides of course our choice in spouses).

Nashco UberDork
1/10/18 6:27 p.m.

Woah, blast from the past!  I'm still alive and mostly well.  The Fiero lives on with a friend in Detroit area (my buddy who saved the day in the story above).  He's (very) slowly, but surely, making improvements and it sees light outside the garage some years for car shows. 

Here's the ol' build thread in case anybody wants to relive the past!

The AWD hybrid Fiero build was definitely a steep learning curve for me built with a CRUSHING timeline, but it was super fun to drive and I thrive on aggressive timelines!  Funny that a few years after the Fiero build we started to see super hybrids, like the Porsche 918, hit the market and totally change the concept and appeal of electrified powertrains.  I guess we were ahead of the curve!

I've gone on to have all sorts of personal and professional xEV projects after the Fiero build.  The most recent racer project I had was the Spark EV:

More recently, I worked on the hybrid system in the Freightliner SuperTruck for my job:

And now I'm working on the thing that comes out after this:

Oh, and of course, I also had this build I did with some friends with the goal of building another $20xx car that was HALF the weight of the Fiero.  That was another fun learning project where we did a bunch of stuff we had never tried before.

The rumors above are true, work has brought me (and my family) to Germany...where custom cars like the Fiero would absolutely NEVER, EVER be legally allowed on public roads.  Ha!  I do miss hot rodding for the time being, but I scratch the itch with some occassional tinkering/hacking on my Renault Twizy or my electric assisted bicycle.  I'll have another crazy personal EV project in the future...when and what is a mystery, but it will happen.  I love EV powertrains! smiley

conesare2seconds Dork
1/10/18 8:02 p.m.

Welcome back for the update. This build will go down as one of the all-time greats. 

te72 New Reader
1/10/18 9:40 p.m.

Very cool build. I contemplated adding some electric motors to the front wheels of the Supra, for the same effect, but after talking with a friend, he suggested that I just buy a 90's GT-R instead. Sound logic, and much, MUCH easier way of getting the desired result.

blizazer Reader
1/11/18 10:06 a.m.

Cool to see this story pop up on my newsfeed!


The Fiero is still alive, its safely tucked away for the winter in the workshop. I have to say that I dont know anyone who could have built something like this in the time Bryce had, he's a machine. With that said, there were a number of things I wanted to tweak on the car, so its been together and apart a few times since I've taken ownership of it. The switchgear that gave Bryce fits have been replaced with some more rugged pieces, and I've been programming an Arduino UNO to speak the ancient language from this oddball 1998 non OBD2  electric motor and translate to something that the Torque app on my cell phone can understand (please ignore the wiring mess).

I just scored a battery from a 2015 Volt at a local salvage yard for $1200 and have been imagining how it would look in place of the gas tank up the middle of the fiero.  The tape measure says I'm not crazy, so does the kinect 3d scan of the underside of a parts car.

Maybe I'll pick Bryce's build thread back up here to cover the changes. Or make a new one.

boulder_dweeb Reader
12/14/19 7:39 p.m.

Based on the title alone: START WITH A HUGE PILE OF MONEY.......finish up with (something)


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