Pontiac Enthusiast Article
Fiero: The Little Car That Could
by Jeff Denison, GM Design Center
Pontiac's first and only production two-seater was a revolutionary
automobile in many ways. It pioneered an all-new two-seat
commuter/sports car market segment, and it also was built in a whole
different way from cars before it. Different not only in the exotic
method of construction - a drivable metal space frame with Enduraflex
exterior panels precisely mated to it - but also in terms of how the
people themselves worked together to build it.
The Fiero was built in accordance with many of W. Edwards Deming's
then-revolutionary ideas on industrial management. Deming had spent
many years in Japan, where his ideas of white collar-blue collar
teamwork and cooperation were a central part of what would become
known as "Japanese management."
Adhering to these concepts, the Fiero team made product and product
quality the first priority. Anyone in the plant who saw a problem
could push a button and stop the assembly line - something never before
seen in an American production facility. Since that time, Saturn,
for one, has built a reputation on this approach to customer-driven
The roots of the Fiero run deep at Pontiac Motor Division. Back in
the mid-1950's, when Chevrolet was producing the new Corvette, Pontiac
yearned to produce the two-seat Bonneville Special and the fabulous
Club de Mer. And in the 1960's, John Delorean's XP-833 two-seat
prototype and the 1969 Fiero show car both failed to get the nod for
production, although the staff at Pontiac longed to build some two-seat
In the late 1970's, in the face of uncertain oil prices, Pontiac's
planning staff looked into the future and perceived a niche for a
small, economical two-seat commuter car. The 13th floor at GM was
intrigued, but would only provide a budget of $400 million to produce
the car. This may sound like a lot of money, but GM spends this much
on a major facelift for a single car line. The Fiero was to be a
brand new car.
Pontiac accepted the challenge. Hulki Aldikati, a mechanical engineer
whose career spanned the Bunkie Knudsen, Pete Estes, and Delorean years,
was put in charge of the preliminary phase of the project. He made some
of the tough decisions that would make the Fiero such a unique vehicle.
Hulki took his small budget to GM's Advanced Vehicles Concept Group,
where the basic engineering guidelines for the new P-car platform were
established. The next move would be to bring the two-dimensional
engineering drawings to life.
The project was turned over to Jack Humbert at GM Design Staff. Jack
was the executive in charge of all production car design. He headed the
Pontiac styling studio during the 1960's, when it turned out many of the
cars we admire today.
The P-car program was assigned to the Advanced Three design studio, where
Ron Hill and his team of designers, scupltors, and engineers began to
put the pieces together. The proportions specified by Advanced Vehicles
were exciting, and one of the chief criteria of the space frame
construction was that the lower and upper plastic body panels would be
fastened at the center of the body side. This created a line that would
run the entire length of the midsection - a line that would thus be a
major design theme. It became a black rub strip that rose slightly at
the rear of the car, giving a "wedge" shape that lends a suggestion of
The Fiero's wheel wells were designed large from the start, so as to
accomodate the fatter rubber the sports car enthusiasts would soon
The basic wedge-shaped, mid-engine design was accepted by management, and
a running prototype was soon built and approved. Pontiac got the go-ahead
to proceed to production. The Fiero moved into the studios of John
Schinella in Pontiac Two and Bill Scott in Pontaic Interiors.
The exterior design team felt the clay model still needed some brand
character - its own Pontiac identity. So they shortened the nose and
moved the greenhouse forward for a rakish mid-engine look, and they
added split bumper pads front and rear for the distinctive Pontiac
look. They also integrated the side-marker lights, front park and turn
signals, and door handles into the bodyside rub strip.
Meanwhile, the interior group pursued a floating-pod aircraft look for
the instrument panel. The wide, armrest-high center console housed the
shifter, ashtray, and power accessory switches, and swept back into a
second pod in the center housing the radio and climate controls. The
steering wheel started out as being a Formula wheel, and ended up being
a cleaner, three-spoke sport wheel design.
Inside of just six weeks, the base 2M4 Fiero was released from Design
Staff, and a special aero Fiero was already being designed to pace the
upcoming 1984 Indianapolis 500. This car received new front and rear
fascias, a lower ground-effects treatment on the body sides, and a
rear spoiler. In 1985 this design would receive a V6 engine to become
the Fiero GT. A year and a half later, the 1986 GT got a new semi-fastback
flying-buttress roof, along with wraparound taillights. In 1987, the
base car received new fascias front and rear, then in 1988 there was the
new suspension - and the rest, as they say, is history.
This is where the Fiero's production history ends, but not where Fiero
design ends. Although production ceased at the end of 1988, a reskinned
Fiero was waiting in the wings, waiting to take its turn on the dealer's
As you may be aware, it takes some three to five years to tool up to
design for production, so when the announcement came in March 1988 that
Fiero production would end, the design studio had the next-generation
car already finalized for production tooling.
The basic proportions of the base 2M4 car remained the same in this new
design; remember, since the plasic panels bolted to the space frame, no
major deviations were possible without changing the space frame itself.
The glass and upper structure remained unchanged, except for the fact that
they would become a design element and would be painted black, separating
the upper from the body color. The rear sail panels extended past the
more vertical rear window, producing a buttress effect similar to the
1966-67 GTO design.
The body itself was a smoothed-out revision of the 1984 model, with
fresh front and rear fascias. The most noticiable difference was
the bodyside rub strip, which in the new design flared wider at the rear
to house the taillights.
Styling had never been a problem with the press since day one, but the
new Fiero GT would have pushed the envelope even farther with a shape
that looked like it came right off an IMSA race track. The Fiero GT
was a truly aggressive design with no nonsensical add-ons. The rear
buttress on the upper canopy, which extended further back than on the
base car, faded from black to clear at the rear. The body side was
more a combination of a "body shoulder" running the length of the car,
and below it a slab side that pulled out the rockers and firmly planted
the body on a set of 16-inch cross-laced wheels. A sculptured air
intake ran the length of the door, tapering down toward the front.
The hood and front fascia were similar to those on the '88 GT, except
that the fascia pulled out the top corner with a shoulder that ran down
the opt of the body side. The fascia also integrated the side marker
light and front turn signal into a recessed pocket.
The rear end got more aerodynamic, as the rear edges were squared off,
allowing the air to leave the vehicle more cleanly at high speeds. The
spoiler remained unchanged. The engineers must have devised a better
better way of mating the panels to the space frame, as the GT has no
black rub strip or parting line in the center of the car.
The interior group had not made any great changes. The new interior
would have featured new colors and fabrics, ad well as redesigned
The Fiero planners were on track with the suspension changes in 1988,
with the power steering not far behind. But this was only Phase 1 -
with the fresh styling, the new H.O. Quad 4, and the possibilities
for a 3.8 or even 4.3 Tuned-Port V6 to follow. A GT Fiero would have
been an unbelievable machine. And just think - a GT roadster might
have made the Miata a flop!
Consider this: The GM Proving Grounds had a 1988 Fiero GT running
around with a built-up Quad 4 H.O. and all-aluminum space frame, with
all the updated suspension pieces and power steering. This car was not
only lightweight, it had great handling and all the power any sports
car enthusiast would want.
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Variations on the Fiero
The Fiero has become the basis for many independent versions of what
various people think the car should or might have been. Perhaps the
nicest of these was achieved by a group of GM engineers, who built
the fantastic Metra GT coupe at the right. The workmanship of this
car is second to none.
More recently, a British company called Candy Apple Cars developed
the Finale, which it says is intended to portray the Fiero as it might
look today. It's indeed a pretty contemporary shape. The car is
available as a kit or turn-key, and is marketed in the U.S. by
Domino Cars of Milford, CT. Contact Peter Cameron at Domino Cars
There are several engine upgrade kits for the Fiero. While no one
yet makes a swap kit to put a Pontiac V8 under the bonnet of one,
we've heard it has been done by adapting the V8 Archie small-block
Chevy kit. Right now, there are kits available to install a Chevy
small or big block, an Olds Quad 4, or a GM Twin Dual Cam V6, in the
Fiero chassis. Unless otherwise noted, the following kits are for
a GM corporate small-block Chevy: International Motorsports, Inc. (IRM),
18100 Cachell Road, Rockville, MD 20853, 301/848-3301 (Quad 4
conversions); Corson Motorcar Co., P.O. Boxs 41396, Dept. PE,
Phoenix, AZ 85080, 602/375-2544; V8 Archie, 1307 Lykins Lane,
Niles, MI 49120, 800/331-2260, 616/683-3227 in MI (small-block V8
and '92 and up LT1-to-Fiero kits); Fiero Conversions, Inc., 3410 Walker
Road, Windsor, Ont. N8W 3S3, Canada; Ron's Mechanical, 4845 Oaktree
Court, Burnaby, B.C. V5G 4K9, Canada; Heritage A&F, 14141 South Harrison,
Posen, IL 60469, 708/385-0031 (small- and big-block Chevy conversions);
Pisa, P.O. Box 15088, Phoenix, AZ 85060 (GM Twin Dual Cam and small-
block V8 kits).
And if you want to run with the very big dogs, you can drop an Iron
Duke SD Four into a tube chassis and turn 9.20s, as seen here at
Tri-Power Sunday in Norwalk, Ohio.
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1. The 1969 Firebird Fiero
2. The 1956 Club de Mer
3. The Fiero was built on a drivable space frame
4. The 1984 base car and the uplevel SE version
5. Above: The characteristics of the Indy Pace Car showed up later
on the 1985 GT. Left: The 1986 1/2 GT had evolved into an
enthusiast's sports car. Photos above and at lower left are from
the 1987 Fiero calendar
6. The net-generation base-model Fiero was to have had a black upper
7. The bodyside rub strip design element opens in a wedge at the rear
to contain the taillights.
8. The design of the next generation was already complete when the Fiero's
cancellation was announced in March 1988. Note the evolution of
both cars - the base car and the GT.
9. The racing heritage the designers used when sketching the Fiero's
design is evident in the artwork on this page. Several elements
in the renderings made it into the production GT design. The top
sketch, in particular, shows many of the themes that made it to
the final stages of the next-generation design.
10. Both of the sketches immediately above show that the designer felt
the engine should protrude through the body panels.
11. Above: This clay model of the next-generation Fiero GT carries
the GTP nameplate. Notice the door-length air intake.
12. Above: This running fiberglass prototype of the next-generation
Fiero, painted low-gloss black, was code-named Stealth. The rear
was squared for better aero.
13. Rob Romanelli's amazing Fiero SD 4-banger. The 175-cid, 400-hp
machine has run as quick as 9.22 at 143 mph.