The transformation was astonishing. The 1988 car had performance, braking, and handling to go with the good looks


The manner in which the Pontiac Fiero was sold to the unimaginative Roger B. Smith-era GM management (now thankfully long gone)-a generation of inbred, know-nothing dullards, who nearly killed GM-speaks volumes about how obtuse they were.

One sports car, the Corvette, was enough for Smith's beady-eyed bean counters, so the mid-engine, two-seater "P-car" (as the Fiero was known internally) was billed as an efficient "commuter car." While the term brings to mind something appliance-like, the resulting Fiero looked quite similar to other mid-engine sports cars of the era, particularly the elusive AC ME3000, a still-born English design.

The sports car similarities ended there, as the developed-on-the-cheap "commuter car" shared suspension pieces from lackluster GM cars of the era. Front suspension was initially Chevette-derived. And following the practice of mid-engine cars of the time, the drivetrain was a cleverly relocated front-wheel-drive engine and transaxle from the GM X-car.

Needless to say, it didn't make for a very inspired package, especially when mated to the GM "Iron Duke" four-cylinder. It was not unlike the first-generation Mustang-the looks suggested more performance and better handling than the pedestrian underpinnings could deliver, a flaw the magazines were quick to point out. There were other problems, too, including engine compartment fires and GM's casual approach to quality control in the 1980s, things the Falcon-based Mustang didn't suffer from.

Somehow, the car guys managed to prevail and performance upgrades sneaked into the Fiero line, starting with a Chevy 2.8-liter V6 in 1985 and a Getrag 5-speed in 1987. But it was 1988 when the Fiero finally made the leap from an interesting and moderately appealing car to a real driver's car.

The 1988 transformation was astonishing

Out went the Chevette and Citation parts and in came a unique Lotus-inspired multi-link suspension. Additionally, Pontiac offered ventilated four-wheel disc brakes and the WS6 handling package, which included six-inch wheels up front and seven-inch in the rear. The genuinely attractive flying buttress rear and new front fascia that had been introduced several years earlier suited the car well and the four-pipe megaphone exhaust made a decent sound.

Zero to 60 mph times in the high sevens to low eights were reported. Handling was fairly good with the new multi-link suspension; however, one thing the Fiero was not was lightweight. So, don't expect MR2 Spyder-like reflexes.

But the transformation was astonishing. The car now had sparkling performance, shifting, braking, and handling to go with the good looks. The only area that went unaddressed was the interior. Although decently instrumented, it suffered from the excessive use of hard gray plastic and crummy gray switchgear, which was Pontiac's practice until very recently.

There was to be no Hollywood happy-face ending for the Fiero, however. In the end, it was bean counters 1, Fiero 0. GM shuttered the Pontiac, Michigan, assembly plant in 1988, and that spelled the sudden end of the Fiero. Just like the Cadillac Allante a few years later, GM killed the car precisely when they had gotten it right.

The Fiero GT, along with the Corvair, seems to have crossover appeal to import guys. With the exception of weight, it suffers from few of the excesses or oversights common in domestic product from the era. Similarly, today it presents few problems as a cheap and interesting daily driver.

The biggest problem is finding one

Engines and transaxles are robust, as engine compartment fires were not common on late GTs, and the plastic bodies don't rust. In fact, most problems seem to be the result of ham-fisted tightwad repairs and the fact that few dealers and shops are familiar with the car. At worst, this can lead to some unfortunate consequences. Incorrectly jacking or lifting a Fiero can result in crushed cooling pipes and some expensive repairs. Also, NOS trim pieces are becoming scarce, although parts cars and mechanical bits are not.

The biggest impediment to Fiero GT ownership is finding one. Just 6,849 1988 GTs were built-a pittance by GM standards. They are now 20 years old and still considered used cars rather than collectibles. Well-cared-for originals or cosmetically restored cars are rare. Nevertheless, they are out there and worth seeking out. Since these are modern GM cars, niceties that you won't find in a Porsche 914, like working a/c and heat, are standard. Removable T-top roof panels were even available on the GT, along with a silly rear wing that spoils the car's looks.

While it is safe to say the Fiero GT reached the bottom of its depreciation curve some time ago (around 1997), and is now modestly appreciating, real collectibility-where cars are regularly trading for above their original asking prices-is rare.

Nevertheless, good Fiero GTs have probably retained nearly as high a percentage of their original prices as a 1988 LT1 Corvette. Right cars probably start in the $6,000-$7,000 range, cheap enough for there to be absolutely no reason to mess with the $2,000 garbage out there.

It is difficult to see today's product-centered management led by car guys like Bob Lutz making the same mistakes that GM made with the Fiero and the Allante. Arguably, the Pontiac Solstice was a more than adequate apology for prematurely whacking the Fiero, a faux sports car that morphed into a very credible performance car.

Comments are closed.