Our Cars: 1988 Pontiac Fiero

Submitted by Angela Ziesler Belt

I didn’t want it. It was small and old and cosmetically challenged. It had close to 100,000 miles on it. I don’t especially like low-slung cars. I prefer that my knees are below my butt and this car had a low drag. It felt like it was six inches off the ground. As I catalogued my other objections, my brother turned to me and said, “It runs. The tires aren’t bad. I’ll get the guy to throw in a new battery for you and I think I can get him to come down on the price.”

So I bought that fine, 1988 Pontiac Fiero for $300, $100 under the asking price. I’d liken it to accepting a date thinking, “well, I’ve nothing better going on ….”

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My Fiero had some fun, sporty features like the hidden headlamps and integrated stereo speakers in the headrests, although the driver’s side speaker used to cut out intermittently. The plastic body panels (my brothers called it the Tupperware Car) left me lukewarm, but I learned that Fieros resisted denting nicely and I grew to appreciate mine a little more. There were some things about this car were just downright funky. The first time I took it to the gas station, I had to get my sister to help me find the gas cap lever. It was behind the speaker in the driver’s headrest. Funky.

The interior of my Fiero was just as tired as the exterior with the peeling clear coat. The AC trickled at best. The headlights sometimes stuck. It burned a lot of oil and I was constantly checking gauges. This little car required that I pay attention to it, but it never once left me flat and it gradually grew on me, so I learned a little more about it.

The Fiero was a mid-engine sports car built by Pontiac from 1983 to 1988, the first and only mass-produced mid-engine sports car by a U.S. manufacturer. Originally intended to have a v-6 engine, Pontiac eventually settled on a v-4, GM’s “Iron Duke,” nicknamed for its heavy iron block. It wouldn’t fit into the engine compartment as is, so it was equipped with a smaller oil pan, and the engine then always ran a quart low. I can personally testify to this. This is the only car I’ve ever owned where I felt I really needed to check the oil on a weekly basis.fierorear

Although the Fiero was on Car and Driver magazine’s Ten Best list for 1984, it had its detractors who complained about performance, reliability and safety issues. Despite the criticism, Fieros were pretty popular, 400,000 were made in their five year run. In comparison 163,000 Toyota MR2s were sold in their first five years.

Even today, the Fiero has very loyal fans who are still driving their little two-seaters, mid-engine cars and are proud of it. The 1988 Fiero is most sought after both because of the improvements made in that year, and because they were the last produced. They are also often used as kit cars.

Fieros had a reputation for being difficult to work on—that mid-engine fit into a really small compartment and the engine is turned on its side, so it’s not so easy to reach around, but there is always some old guy who’s up for the challenge. My guy was named Dave. He was always willing to change a belt when I needed it without complaint. That didn’t happen all that often, but I always carried an extra fan belt, just in case. I also carried oil and antifreeze religiously. I stored all my car care supplies in the trunk, which was under the front hood. The engine compartment was under the rear hood. There was also a tiny, carpeted storage compartment back there, but that compartment got really hot, being right next to the engine and all. It was also pretty warm in the driver’s seat which backed right up to the engine compartment. I had the sunroof open in almost all weather.

The Fiero had excellent pickup and handled great. It was a fine little car for highway driving and was Ok for city driving as well—very easy to park. I learned to embrace its size and be creative. I could fit beach chairs carefully behind the seats and I once put a six foot Christmas tree in the passenger seat. As I drove around town with it sticking out the window, people honked and waved. That was a fun day. There were a lot of fun days in the Fiero

In the six years I had it, I put more than 30,000 miles on it and then I sold it for $400. No complaints about that good little car and lots of good memories.

 

 

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