Remember the Pontiac Fiero?


The Pontiac Fiero is designed as an economy car but presented as a sports car.

About 370,000 copies were printed in five years, still considered unsuccessful. Eventually GM scraps it as it is. Did you say “paradox”?

Economic or sporty?

We are in 1978. General Motors is doing pretty well. The 1973 oil crisis looks far from the rearview mirror. shrinkage full-size models (platform B/C) are successful and intermediate models (platform A) are successful.

The new compacts (X platform) planned for 1980 should solve the problem of Japanese and European imports. Minor downside: CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, which require a steady reduction in average consumption from each manufacturer with fines (18 mpg 1978, 20 mpg 1980 and 24 mpg 1982). Economic cars are popular!

Engineer Hulki Aldikacti proposed to Pontiac management the concept of a two-seater with a rear center-mounted engine (a first in North America) at a time when each brand was still managed as an autonomous entity.

Photo: General Motors

Robert Stempel, president of Pontiac, liked the project and presented it to GM management. But that’s the point, it’s not like a sports car, but more like an economy car with reduced weight (target 2,000 pounds or 908 kilos) and minimal fuel consumption (target 50 mpg).

The baptized P-Car project was approved and the company allocated a budget of $410 million. For the development of a new model, even then, not so much … especially since it involves the design of the car and the re-equipment of a factory. This decision will haunt Fiero throughout his career.

out of the box

With such a budget, Aldikacti needs to think differently. He will entrust the development of the car to an outside firm (Engineering Technology Ltd in Troy, Michigan) to avoid bureaucracy. Whoever dreams of a beautiful V6 and sport suspensions will have to delve into GM’s organ bank instead. On the undercarriage side, the Chevette provides the front suspension, while at the rear, the front-wheel drive compacts of the future (X platform) provide the entire front axle (by simply turning).

Photo: General Motors

On the engine side, you have the choice between the 4-cylinder 2.5-liter Pontiac “Iron Duke” and… nothing more. Using a Brazilian initial design, this engine was introduced in 1977 for economical applications. Known for its toughness, it doesn’t stand out for its power (92 horsepower in the Fiero… thanks to the Tech IV injection).

Budgetary constraints force Aldikacti to be very creative. He urged consultant W. Edwards Deming, who helped recover the Japanese auto industry after World War II, to develop new production methods. For the body, he preferred to use plastic, which is an ideal material for the mid-range series. The self-supporting monocoque frame is made of steel. It contains a large central tunnel containing the fuel tank. Extended crossmembers on the sides increase rigidity, allowing cooling channels to pass through (radiator is at the front).

In this framework, 39 small steel blocks with a plastic core are welded. A huge machine (more than twice as high) arrives to drill and machine (mill and drill) at the same time all these blocks will later be used as a screwing point for the panels (does not add to the rigidity of the car).

Photo: General Motors

Such a method makes it possible to achieve optimal control of their location. It is made of Enduraflex plastic, in homage to the Endura facades launched by Pontiac in 1968. Actually 4 different types of plastic depending on their body position. They are painted simultaneously to obtain a quality surface. This innovative technology would later be used on early Saturns and fourth-generation Camaros and Firebirds.

An abandoned factory in Pontiac, Michigan was renovated to manufacture the Fiero. He will be the only person to provide production during the model’s career. Demming will prefer a teamwork method close to the Japanese system.

Was recorded!

The development of the Pontiac Fiero follows its own course. Style is entrusted to Ron Hill’s Advanced design studio, who chose to make a car with a cut-back.

In April 1980, a rolling prototype was presented to GM management. The car was approved for a 1982 vintage. The style was later transferred to John Schinella’s studio for the transition to industrialization. A few names were evaluated and Pegasus became the favorite for a while. As such, the production car’s logo will be a winged horse, even if the name is ultimately irrelevant. Fiero was recommended by Bruce McDonald of public relations.

Photo: General Motors

But then in 1979 the second oil crisis broke out. GM suffered significant losses in 1980. Now it’s time for rationalization. Aldikacti has been ordered to “put on hold” the development of Fiero. He refuses. Bill Hoglund, who replaced Robert Stempel at the helm of Pontiac in October 1980, was able to salvage the project… at the expense of a budget cut, which is currently $300 million. Hoglund will manage to set aside funds for a V6 and new suspensions…but that will be after the launch finally scheduled for 1984.

Production began in the spring of 1983, and the Fiero was presented to the public on September 22, 1983. Singer Hall & Oates was responsible for its promotion.

Photo: General Motors

better and better

Three versions are available at launch: basic, Sport and SE. All of them have the same mechanics and are distinguished by their equipment level. The welcome from the press was quite enthusiastic. He is delighted that an American manufacturer has finally launched a rear mid-engine car. On the other hand, economy targets could not be met (weight close to 2500 pounds and average 27 mpg consumption) without the vehicle being sporty (92 horsepower, 4-speed manual transmission or 3-speed automatic).

The Fiero holds the road quite well, but its comfort seems limited, and the lack of power steering makes it difficult to manoeuvre. No comparison to the new Honda CR-X, which is lighter and more dynamic. Also, it’s not particularly cheap. In Canada it asks for $9,669 to $11,637. Then a CR-X retails for $8,195 and a Pontiac Firebird 9927 sells for $12,838. Never mind, the public was jostling at Pontiac dealerships and 136,840 Fieros were sold for the 1984 vintage (including 2000 replicas). fast car with a particular rounded front end of the Indianapolis 500).

Photo: General Motors

The following year, a GT version was added to the range. It includes the long-awaited V6 engine (2.8 liters, 140 horsepower, 4-speed manual transmission), WS6 sports suspensions and front of the replicas. fast car and a spoiler (optional). While the V6 is optional on the Sport and SE, it can take advantage of a 4-cylinder 5-speed manual transmission (original Isuzu). After strong initial demand, sales fell to 76,371…probably due to the MR2, Toyota’s new mid-rear engine coupé.

In late 1986, a corpse fast back It is offered in the GT model, which also benefits from the 5-speed gearbox designed by Getrag. The power of the V6 drops to 135 horsepower. Sales go up to 83,974 copies.

For the following year, the base and SE models changed the design of their front and rear parts. The fuel tank is enlarged (from 39 to 45 liters). The 4-cylinder is optimized and the power increases to 98 horsepower. This is not enough to stop the decline in sales (46,581 copies) and 1,200 workers were laid off from the Pontiac plant.

Photo: General Motors

1988 vintage marked the long-awaited appearance of new suspensions. Its developments, designed based on lessons learned in the competition, cost $30 million. Combined with the larger brakes, they finally give the Fiero the sporty character it needs. If GM had approved the necessary investments, it was finally what it should have been from the start. A new Formula model was also introduced. Designed for the enthusiast, it uses GT’s specs but SE’s equipment to limit purchase cost. However, the fate of the Fiero was already sealed, and the last example rolled off the assembly line on August 16, 1988, after selling 26,401 for the year. A total of 370,167 Fieros will be produced.

oil on fire

One of the disadvantages of the “Iron Duke” block is that in the case of the Fiero it can leak oil, which drips into the hot exhaust manifold and causes fires to start. Add to that a plastic body and you get a car with a reputation for choking on smoke.

The problem mainly concerns the 1984 models, since as early as 1985 Pontiac revised the configuration of the engine compartment. This did not prevent NHTSA from launching an investigation in the summer of ’86 and implementing a GM recall on all 1984 models in 1987.

Photo: General Motors

Internally, Fiero has lost one of its most ardent supporters. Bill Hoglund appointed Michael Losh to head Pontiac. Its mission is to reduce costs. A post-recall study shows that the model lost money mainly due to warranty costs. GM then embarked on a costly and chaotic restructuring and no longer had the tools to support this range. On March 1, 1988, Pontiac announced that the Fiero would not be renewed for 1989.

What could it be…

The 1988 vintage showed that the Fiero could now make sporting claims. And what GM had prepared was enough to disappoint you. A new generation was planned for 1989 or 1990, and its development was very advanced. It would have sportier lines and more powerful engines (Quad 4 Oldsmobile 2.3-liter 160 horsepower or 3.4-liter V6 210 horsepower). Even a turbo version with a V6 from Grand National was tried.

It would take power steering (tested on 1988 models). In addition, two prototypes with aluminum frames designed by Alcan were built (weight reduced by 50% and stiffness increased by 40%). These prototypes hinted at possible developments for the 90s. Just imagine the potential of everything!

Photo: General Motors

On the side: a luxury Fiero

Thanks to the ease of assembly of the new body panels, the Fiero became a favorite of automobile manufacturers. kit-cars. Many will be converted to Ferrari 308 (aka Faux-rarri) and some will even be sold on the Pontiac network (Mera model). But there is one that stands out for its quirkiness: Zimmer Quicksilver.

Photo: General Motors

Zimmer is known for producing neo-retro 1920s/1930s style cars. In 1988 the company decided to add a model with a more modern look. Based on the Fiero V6, Quicksilver features an extended front of around 40 centimeters, chrome bumpers, grille and sills, and an interior that combines leather and wood. The mechanics do not change. Only 170 were produced, selling for almost US$50,000 (about 3 times the price of the Fiero V6).

It caters to all tastes…