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Performance Pontiac Article


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COLLECTOR'S GUIDE


With its stylish body, fine handling and zesty power, the Fiero V6 is truly an enthusiast's car.
By Jeff Coch
 
Pontiac had been gunning for its own two-seat sporty car from the DeLorean days onward, but it wasn't pushed seriously until the late 1970s. Between government-sponsored fuel economy requirements and the gas shortage that brought those regs on in the first place, Firebird sales were slipping fast. The thought of a sporty-looking two-seater commuter car that could get excellent gas mileage led Pontiac to create what was known internally as the P-car.

Thanks to money crunches, the Fiero was a car of compromised desires. Enthusiasts were hoping for this to be a rip-roaring sports car, but due to tight purse strings in the early '80s, Pontiac would never fund such a project unless it was a commuter car. On the other hand, if off-the-shelf components (like Citation and Chevette suspensions) were used, the car's looks would promise things it couldn't possibly deliver. The only hope was to introduce it as a commuter vehicle and refine the basic package as time went on.

The fantastic plastic-skin-on-steel structure was a technological calling card and a had mark of the car's innovation that remained throughout its production. However, some questioned it as being unnecessarily heavy and complex. Wouldn't all-metal weigh much as plastic with metal reinforcements are be cheaper to boot! Maybe, maybe not. But considering the fact that GM has gone on to use this system in its minivans the F-body cars and the Saturn--we can safely say that was a pioneering achievement.

The car was small enough and stylish enough to make people expect far more than it could initially accomplish. With a short 93.4-inch wheelbase, a 68.9-inch width and a low 46.9-inch roofline, it certainly seemed to warrant great performance promise. Similarly styled cars--the Fiat X119 and the Toyota MR2, to name two--certainly lived up to the performance expectation of their leadfoot GM was selling all it could make.

Fiero 2M4 exploded onto the scene in the fall of '83 and found 136,940 buyers in its debut season. Considering that the Pontiac marketing types were aiming for 50,000 to 60,000 buyers, you can imagine their elation. A highly modified Fiero was chosen to pace the 1984 Indianapolis 500. That car featured a 2.7-liter Super Duty engine, custom bodywork, an over-the-top "Fi-Air-O" air scoop, custom rims and more. The image of performance was there, even if it couldn't be had on the streets (yet).

If so many people bought the car with just the ancient 2.5-liter Cylinder Iron Duke (later called Tech IV) Four, how many performance it fans would turn to the car when it had a hotter engine!

 

THE V6 ARRIVES

Performance fans found their joy a season later, when the GT was introduced. A 2.81iter V6 engine rated at 135 horsepower (though output was always at least 140) was the GT's only engine, although last year's choice of 4-speed stick or 3-speed slushbox remained as the tranny options. (The 5-speed available in the four-cylinder '85s couldn't handle the torque that the V6 pumped out.).

At least Pontiac's tuning of the corporate V6 eked out more power than any of the other divisions could at the time, thanks to the shiny red intake runners and other tweaks. Dual exhaust was part of the package, as was revised body styling that aped the Indy Pace Car's. A slightly humped rear decklid was included for intake clearance. The Pace Car's rear spoiler was--and forever would be--optional on the GT. Color choices--red, white, black and Light Gray Metallic--were carried over from the previous season.

The WS6 handling package tried to cover the suspension's lowly roots with revised control arms for more travel, as well as stiffer springs, revalved shocks and more. Fourteen-inch Hi-Tech wheels on 215/60 Goodyear Eagle tires helped out as well. The interior stayed largely the same, as it did throughout the Fiero's life, with just fabric and detail changes to separate the years.

All Fieros were eligible for the optional V6, not just the GT. Base cars received a "2M6" designation, while SEs were not specifically adorned.

Car And Driver got their 85 GT to hit 0-60 mph in 8.2 seconds, while tripping the quarter-mile lights in 16 seconds flat. Top speed was a respectable 119 mph.

In 1986, Pontiac
took away the GT's standard V6, but left everything else and called it SE. A new GT was introduced midyear. It received new rear styling--the squarish roofline was replaced with hatchback-esque sail panels with full rear quarter windows. But this was an illusion; the engine cover remained as is. Taillights grew to taller, wraparound lenses with a reflective "Pontiac" callout in the center. The bodywork and new 15-inch "diamond spoke" rims were GT exclusives. Color choices grew to five: Silver Metallic replaced Light Gray Metallic; red became Bright Red; and Gold Metallic was an all-new hue. By midyear, the long-awaited Cetrag/Muncie 5-speed arrived.

For 1987, changes were minimal. Base cars received new front and rear fascias, and all cars got larger 12-gallon gas tanks (up from10.2). Medium Red Metallic replaced Bright Red, and a new Bright Blue Metallic was added.

A $30 million, fully independent Lotus-designed suspension graced the 1988 Fiero's chassis, which finally let the car live up to its performance promise. Shorter spindles, smaller scrub radius, reduction of: kingpin angle, longer A-arms and a 28mm: anti-roll bar replaced the Chevette pieces at the nose. A new subframe with different attaching points, a three-link design, lower spring rates and a 22mm anti-roll bar did away with haggard old X-car pieces out back. A new model, the Formula, was introduced; it used the low-line body panels (including the roofline), but had full GT running gear and included the snazzy rear spoiler standard (it was optional on all other cars). T-tops were introduced as an option. Bright Red returned and Bright Yellow debuted, though Bright Blue was dropped, leaving it a one-year-only color.

Sadly, Fiero was axed at the start of 1988, making this orphan a beloved memory. Sagging sales couldn't justify continuing the car any further. Fiero never matched its first year sales peak, and a 1987 recall affecting 1984 cars that were prone to engine fires may have sealed its fate. Ideas for turbo engines and using aluminum instead of steel for the understructure never came to fruition, and a 1990 redesign was stillborn.

 


PRODUCTION

A total of 370,167 Fieros were built during the car's problematic five-year life, with an estimated 300,000 still on the road. The V6 lives in 110,820 of them--roughly every third car had it. When you consider that 130-odd-thousand were built in '84 when a V6 wasn't even available, that shoots the V6 totals to about half of Fiero production for the years it was available.

Total GT production topped out at 63,010. All 5,643 Formulas received the V6. A total of 42,167 V6-powered base cars and SEs were built, though separate production breakouts weren't available concerning how many of each.

Many Fieros have been imported to Europe--officially and otherwise--though generally these are four-cylinder cars, since the price of gas is so dear over there. The Dutch, in particular, seem to be fascinated by them.

 


DECODING THE VIN

The typical Fiero VIN looks like this: 1G2PG119*JP200001.

This example VIN represents a 1988 Fiero GT. All V6 Fiero VINs start out with 1G2P. 1G2 is the Pontiac code, and the P (fourth digit) is for the P-car (Fiero) designation. The fifth digit is a model code (E: coupes and Formulas; M: Sport; F: SE; and C: GT). Digits six and seven are body style codes. For'87 and '88 Fieros, 11 stands for a two-door coupe; earlier cars have a 37 code. The engine code is the eighth digit: if the car has a V6, the eighth digit will be a 9. The ninth digit, represented here by the asterisk, is a check digit and may vary. The 10th digit is the year: E=l 984, F=1985 and so forth. The letter I was skipped over for 1988; those cars have al date code. The 11th digit, P, is the plant code--fieros were all built at the Pontiac plant in Pontiac, Mich. The last six digits are the sequential serial number starting with 200,001.

There is no great danger of buying a "nonoriginal" Fiero, such as a V6 car that started life as a Four. The conversion simply isn't worth it--too many wiring and computer changes--although those who are into Fieros can tell you of Quad 4 swaps, V8 swaps, 3.4 DOHC swaps and more.

 


PROBLEMS

Magazines moaned about the Fiero's spotty paint quality throughout the car's life, but at least the skin wasn't susceptible to rust. The pre-'88 cars had the Chevette front end, and larger tires to mask the suspension's shortcomings, which often makes them handle oddly. (Luckily, there's a small but healthy aftermarket to improve early cars). Also, improperly rebuilt 2.8s have been known to stress-crack, so check for oil in the antifreeze and vice versa. The American Engine Rebuilder's Association has issued advisory bulletins on the matter. The sturdy metal understructure should be checked only if the car lived its life in a high-salt area.

 


THE SKIN GAME

Because of the removable body panels, the Fiero became popular kit-car fodder toward the end of the '80s. The Ferrari 308GTB style MERA is just one example of this. Convertible conversions were not uncommon, either. Florida and Arizona have large concentrations of these custom-bodied cars. Of course, customizing and personalizing is a hallmark of the old-car hobby, but factory-original cars are inevitably "worth" more on the open market.

 


PRICES

Fiero-mania seems to be gaining, so now would be the time to get in on them before prices get really out of hand. Four-cylinder Fieros are still available on the used car lots of small-town America for relatively low prices. They're old enough to have depreciated fully. But the GTs are a different matter. The 1988 cars are the most desirable of the lot. They've got the suspension upgrades that remove the weakest link of an otherwise fine car.

Other than that, look for T-tops (just 1,251 made), WS6 cars, 5-speeds, leather seats, the driver's lumbar seat (1988 only) or rare paint colors like Bright Yellow or Bright Blue. Better still, find a combination of the above. Most people who bought cars like this know what they have; many are low-mileage and well cared for. It's tough to touch an '88 GT for less than $8,000. Those that are cheaper usually have high mileage or are beat up. Or, if you're lucky, it's owned by someone who \U doesn't know what they have.

Low-mileage, high-option '88 GTs can bring close to $20 grand. (Not bad for a car that sold for $14,000 less than 10 years ago!) Formulas are usually a few thousand less than GTs, but more than SEs. Nice'86 cars will run you in the five grand area; used-car lot finds should again bring a grand or two less than that. Indy Pace Cars are also a good investment-especially one of the 200 4-speeds- but remember, they're four-cylinders. For driveability, only the V6 will do.

An accurate, current and complete price guide is yours for $2.50 postpaid from Paul Vargyas, 2600 Longview Dr., Lisle, IL 60532.

 


CLUBS AND LITERATURE

To learn more about the Fiero, we recommend that you join the Fiero Owners Association (P.O. Box 83, Montgomery, TX 77356; 409-4484193; $25 dues gets you a quarterly newsletter), or the Fiero Owner's Club of America (2165 South Dupont Dr. No. 1, Anaheim, CA 92806). Tech, shows and minutiae are covered by both clubs in mind boggling depth. For instance, did you know that while Fieros were initially bought in equal numbers by young men and women, they are now likely to be owned by men in their late 30s to early 40s!

There are also a number of regional and local clubs across the country, one of which should be near you. FOA's membership roster alone has tripled in the past year and a half, so clearly these cars are coming into their own. The clubs were of invaluable assistance in the preparation of this article.

You may also want to pick up the Fiero Spotter's Guide by Mark Corbin. For $5 postpaid, you get an 80-page pocket-sized volume that will tell you what's worthwhile and what's not. You can buy it through Mark himself at 5474 SR19, Gallon, Ohio 44833. Also, check out the Fiero Museum in Adrian, Mich. Call curator Harold Hooten at 517-265-2290 to see if the museum is open when you're in the area.

 

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