I'm a kind of person that likes driving cars that are "out of the ordinary" so to speak. Thus was the reason why I always wanted a Pontiac Fiero. I like the razor edge styling of the early models and the general sporty look to the cars. Unfortunately, when I got my drivers license over 2 years ago, I wasn't able to afford one of these cars.
Here's my own personal car history: The first car I had was a 1986 Oldsmobile 88. That car was great (for being a $500 car), not because it looked cool or performed all that great, but because it was my first car. After two months of driving it, the engine's main bearing went after 230,000k and I had to get another vehicle.
My 2nd car was a 1980 Chrysler Cordoba and it was almost a perfect car for me. One drawback though; it was terrible on gas. So, I was then in search of a fuel efficient car...
That's when I got my 1989 Mazda 323 station wagon. It was great on fuel, but it was missing the "uniqueness" I was looking for in a car.
Then the most miraculous thing occurred.
When driving the 323 home from school, a lady driving a van hit me while changing lanes, totalling my car off.
A few days later, I got a phone call from my insurance company and they reimbursed me for the car. Guess how much they gave me. $2,105! I bought the car for $200! It was my lucky break. I finally had enough money for the car I've always dreamed about owning.
I immediately started looking in the local ads for a Fiero. It couldn't be just any Fiero either, I wanted it to be a 2M4 (4 cylinder model), have a sunroof, it had to have the "pointed front end" (not the aero style the later models have), and I wanted it to be black or red in colour. The reason why I wanted a Fiero so bad was because it had a lot of good things to offer: Current average price, fuel economy, safety, comfort, sportyness, decent speed and acceleration, and most importantly, the uniqueness I've been looking for in a car.
After a few weeks (or was it days?) of getting the money for my Mazda, I couldn't wait any longer for my ideal Fiero. I settled for buying a 1985 Sport Coupe model for $2,200. It doesn't have my colour preference (it's silver) but other than that, it's practically exactly what I wanted.
This is probably one of the better conditioned vehicles I've ever owned. The first few nights of having the car I cruised it down Albert Street of Regina and was surprized to see how many people were taking the chance to line up with my car at every stoplight! With the engine in the rear, the pop up headlights, and the 2 seat configuration, this car is very sporty looking both inside and out. A lot of people I meet say that my car reminds them of the DeLorean featured in the movie "Back To The Future".
Mechanically, my car has a 2.5 litre, 92 horse "Iron Duke" engine with a 3 speed automatic... which is probably the slowest combination possible in this car. Fieros were also available in 130 horsepower 2.8 litre V-6s and 4 and 5 speed manual transmissions. I did a few minor modifications such as replacing the catalic converter with a straight pipe and installed a K&N air filter. With that in mind, this car does ok when it comes to acceleration. 0-50km/h is achieved in about 4 seconds (similar to my dad's Chrysler Intrepid) due to the car having a good power-to-weight ratio. However, when approaching highway speeds, the 4 cylinder has a harder time propelling because let's face it; 92 horse is 92 horse. 50-100km/h takes a whole 8 seconds with the gas floored. With the car in 3rd gear and the engine reving at 4500rpm (which is pretty much the "red-line") my car goes about 165km/h which is pretty much the same max speed as with any four cylinder car really.
So why didn't I get a 6 cylinder? well, the main reason was fuel economy. The 6 cylinders aren't all that great on gas during city driving and I do a lot of running around town. My car gets about 27 miles per US gallon in the city which is pretty darn good. On a recent road trip (doing 90km/h and very little wind) I got an amazing 37 miles per gallon! It only cost me $10 to fill up my tank after 187km (considering gas prices here in Canada). The 2nd reason is because the 6 cylinder is very tightly cramped into the engine compartment, so working on the engine would be even more difficult than the already cramped enough 4 cylinder. Even changing spark plugs would be hard. 3rd, the V-6s are the most desireable in a Fiero (because they generate nearly 50% more horsepower. Because of this, there is a significant price jump between the retail price of a V-6 compared to the inline 4. They often fetch in the $4000 range and that to me is a bit odd that I would spend $1800 more for a car that performs a little better.
Anyway, further on, the thing about the Fiero's fuel tank is that it couldn't be located in the rear, so it was put in a small area inbetween the seats of the car. Even with that great milage from the 2.5L Duke, you'll have to fill the tank up every 300kms or so because of the tank's size. From a complete empty, this car only takes 30 litres and so I have never fit more than $25 at a time into the car.
The location of the engine makes this car handle very well. Going around curves on the road at high speed is what this car is all about. It has almost no body roll and it never seems to be out of control in straightaways, even at speeds of 140km/h . The car doesn't have power steering but it's very tight and the slightest movement of the wheel makes this car change lanes rapidly on the highway.
The turning circle of the car is a bit surprising. you would think that a car with such a small wheel base would turn really well, but for some reason even U-turns are a bit tricky. Expect multi-point turns with this car if it's in a tight space.
The car comes with 4 wheel disk brakes which was a novelty in the mid 80s and makes brake jobs a lot less expensive, yet brake performance isn't much better than anything these days. I can still lock up the brakes and it doesn't stop on a dime. The brakes are also a bit harder to press than newer cars today.
Oh yeah, and this car's body panels aren't made of metal like most cars, just plastic-like material bolted on the car's Steel space frame (much like a real race car). This makes it not rust (and probably is the reason why they look good even for today) but the panels can crack upon impact and the paint often flakes off if it's still original. However the panels are a breeze to take off the car.
The most obvious part of the car's interior is that it's a 2 seater. Thus don't expect a Fiero to be a family car, or even a multi-boyfriend car for that matter. After driving this car 55,000 kilometres I really don't have any regrets about choosing a 2 seater car, I really don't miss it. considering only two people can sit in the car, this car offers a lot of room to stretch out. The Fiero has incredible leg room and is really good for even the tallest of people. Head room is much the same and the car has an inviting spacious appeal once seated inside, especially if equipped with a sunroof.
The interior resists aging very well. My odometer showed over 240,000kms and there is not a single bit of wear or tear on the standard grey cloth upolstry. The dash or steering wheel were in good shape and there is very little warping of the interior pannels. The only real sign of wear on my car is on the bottom of the air vents where the dash sticks out futuristicly from the car near the doors. The reason why these are cracked is because they are very easily hit by people's feet when entering and exiting the car.
Speaking of entering and exiting the car, the Fiero is very low to the ground. probably 4 or 5 inches of clearance and the roof of the car is about the height of my naval. So, obviously you have to pretty much fall into your seat to get in and hoist yourself up to get out of the car. This does seem awkward, but once inside the car, it feels roomy and the position in which seated in is pretty comfy. The only thing that is somewhat annoying is that the dashboard is situated higher that a normal car, so a lot of people (including myself) wish to use cushions because there is no height adjustment for the seats. The seats themselves are firm, but they are still good for extended trips. They have a bucket shape and are highly supportive.
Oooh! and the coolest thing I found out about my car is that the instruments behind the steering wheel sticks out from the rest of the dash, so not only does it look cool, but the gap it creates works really well as cupholders! Practically a perfect fit for any normal sized beverage.
I had the original Delco tape deck in my car, but I replaced it with a CD player by Kenwood. The front speakers are 4"x10" in size, so they are a bit hard to come by if they need replacing (they were discontinued in the early 90s as use in GM products). My car has 3.5" speakers in the headrests of the car which is pretty cool. With 2 speakers per seat, they offer great stereo sound. One problem though is that if they ever needed replacement I wouldn't know how to get them out.
The glove compartment in this car isn't in the usual place (and I don't why one wasn't put in), it's located between the seats in an upright position. This makes it a bit harder to get into and there isn't much stuff you can put in it. There are no pouches in the doors (with the non-power-door lock models) or any other places to put things inside this car, so it's a bit annoying to find places for maps and stuff.
Trunk space is also limited. There's no formal trunk in the front (which surprised me), just a radiator, mini spare tire, windshield washer and brake fluid. There is space to put a small bag in the front but not much. The real trunk is actually in the rear! Behind the engine! Thus the trunk is very small and when I take off the sunroof (yes it's removable), it barely fits in the trunk. You can mayble put a few suitcases back there. Thank goodness I have a luggage rack on the rear engine lid (which actually kinda looks like a spoiler, so that's cool). This school year, I will attempt to take all my stuff for my dorm in the Fiero on a single trip.
Fuel economy was great for a Lotus-look-alike. 55mph on the highway under optimum weather returned just over 37 mpg (2,600rpm at that speed) and city driving was a steady 27 mpg throughout the summer months. The 3-speed transmission goes though all of its gears very quickly and the torque-converter locks as low as 30mph (1,400rpm). a 5 speed transmission would've been even nicer for fuel economy. It's possibly the most exotic looking economy car out there.
My mom never did like my car, and neither did my dad, or my mechanic... Looking scary huh?
Actually the real reason why my mom doesn't like Fieros is because her friend bought one brand new in 1984. From then she had constant problems with it and hated it passionately. I never found out why she didn't like it, but it freaked out pretty much everyone in my family. Fieros also don't have a very good reputaion with the public either. Why? Well, because some allegedly caught on fire. Pontiac fixed that problem, but not before the general public was scarred for life.
Here's my thinking: If my car has 240,000km on the odometer and it hasn't burst into flames yet, I don't think it ever will. Plus I think that that problem was only for the 1984 Fieros cause GM sent out this brochure for the 1984 Fiero owners to have.
You should see this brochure! It's hilarious!. The brochure stresses about checking the oil, coolant, changing it regularly and actually has pictures on how to do this!!! How dumb can a person be?!?
Additionally, the 2.5 litre engine is also found in countless other GM products as well. S-10 pickups, Astro vans, Oldsmobile Calaises, Cieras, Chevy Celebrities... They all have the same engine and they're pretty reliable cars. Even the 6 cylinder is found in Berrettas, S-10s, Pontiac 6000s and many others.
So what gives that Fieros are considered unreliable? Well, they're generally not. The difference is this: you have a problem with your S-10 or Berretta, what do you do? Open up the hood and get it fixed right? Well, with a Fiero, the engine is a lot harder to get to than those vehicles and that's what makes them seem unreliable. With major repairs, they have to remove the engine from the bottom, fix it, and install it again.
I've owned my Fiero for 2.6 years and put 55,000km on my car since and this is the list of things that have needed repair:
-Starter x2 $500
-Brakes + rotors $200
-Brake master cylinder $100
-New tires $400
-Flat tire $14
-Headlight motors (never repaired them)
-Cruise control would work sometimes, other times not
-Check engine light comes on briefly once every week or so
The Fiero handles above average in winter conditions. The braking distance is phenominal compared to many other cars (due to an ideal weight distribution) and the traction is also good with the engine being over the drive wheels.
Downsides include an insufficient heater below -20`C, a light front end that impedes steering at moderate speeds. Also, the throttle body fuel injection floods very easily and so it's near-impossible to start the car if the block heater isn't plugged in.
These cars don't have anything out of the ordinary when it comes to safely features, but the Fiero is actually one of the safest cars on the road thanks to it's strong framing. It's achieved five star safety for both occupants (front, side and rear!) and this has probably also something to do with the engine being in the rear. With no engine in front, the more the front end can compact on collision and there's no chance of the engine being squished into the passanger compartment.
Overall, I really did enjoy my car. It has been a great experience driving it and would recommend it to anyone that doesn't need a lot of interior space.
One thing though... If I was able to go back into time, I probably wouldn't buy this same car again. Why not you ask? Well, after 1 year with the car's 4 banger, I think I would've liked the V-6 version. I'd love to find a Red with Tan interior 1985 SE V-6 model with a 4 speed manual in good condition. They look exactly like the coupe version (aside from a dual exaust) but go like stink! Apparently in stock form, it's capable of 0-60mph in 6.9 seconds!
I also loved the Fiero over the years, but hated it's overall practicality. It weighed too much to be a good commuter. 2600+ lbs is too much for a car that small. The early engine fire debacle doomed it's reputation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontiac_Fiero). I could never justify it's lack of utility.
But the Kit Car crowd has loved it over the years. The plastic panels mean you can make it into anything.
It sounds like I hate the Fiero, but I don't. It's a beautiful car that came up short on some of my esoteric requirements.
At least the plastic technology migrated to Saturn .
When I was in college, I had a friend with the 6 cylinder version (I belive it was an 86- and interestingly enough, it was a canadian model that only had km/hour on the speedometer) that needed a new water pump. She knew that I did that sort of thing so I replaced it (I recall it being a very tight engine compartment). It was a 5 speed and of course I had to test drive it to be sure the new water pump didn't leak...
I've said elsewhere here (I think) that I drove a Fiat X19 once. Light, mid-motored, numble fun. DAX is going to have a hoot with his Beat.
PS - nice writeup, Peakster.
I agree. The mid-engine design is a blast to drive.
Since the engine wasn't easily accessible, a friend brought by a '99 Porsche Boxster by the house for "look-over" before buying it used for a steal of a deal. The drive was tremendous! Getting to the engine from under the car (on jack-stands) -- not so good.
Your Saturn does have a parent car. From 1984 to 1988 GM built a car on a space frame chassis, with plastic body panels, an electronic fuel injected engine (4 cyl and 6 cyl versions), all stainless steel exhaust, and hydralic clutches on the stick versions.
It was also assembled in its own separate factory, keeping its production apart from the rest of the GM product line.
Best of all, it was a two passenger, mid engine car. The first Saturns were a clean - sheet continuation that carried over many characteristics of this car. If I took one of these cars and put Saturn badges on it, you would have a hard time pointing at any part of the car and saying 'this is nothing like a Saturn'.
Its kinda sad really because I bet 99% of Saturn owners cant even name the parent car!
I thought it was just the plastic panels. In a way, I guess I have a (fat 4 passenger) Fiero after all.