When recent floods wiped out Sanford, Michigan's Fieros Forever, the shop and nearby museum lost a 1984 Pace Car edition, among many other Fieros in its inventory. In the wake of the loss to the Fiero community, and particularly to owner Tim Evans, we were reminded of the lengths to which Pontiac went to make its unique, mid-engine car worthy of leading cars across the Brickyard.
Over its storied 84-year history, Pontiac was chosen to provide the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 on four occasions. Its first time at the head of the pack was in 1958 with a drop-top Bonneville. Pontiac wouldn't return to the Indy oval until 1980, this time with a turbocharged Trans Am. Another turbo F-body would serve as the brand’s final Indy Pace Car in 1989. In between the boosted Trans Ams was another product, this one unique to the Pontiac brand: the all-new, mid-engine 1984 Fiero.
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Nice article, Brandan.
Since I lived through this time, and was (still am!) a serious Pontiac guy, he's my recollection of the time....
The Fiero was sold as a gas-sipping "commuter car". The 2M4 was meant to imply a "Two seater, mid-engine, four cylinder" car, and were, like the first generation Mustangs, considered a "Secretary's Car" by all the "real" car guys! I was somewhat interested in them at the time as I was driving an X1/9, but that faded after I drove one. I told my friends at the Pontiac dealership that if they ever sold one with a V6, I'd be interested, but by the time that came to be, I was married with a new son, and a house, and the budget at the time wouldn't allow a new car.
By the time I could afford one, and GM finally "Got It Right" with the V6 and revised suspension, GM killed it.
They were interesting cars, but had some serious teething pains, and were under-powered, and over-weight.
A 1985 2M4 Fiero carried me through from boot camp to retirement and college and to my first house. It was not what most people think of as a glamorous car, and it wasn't all that reliable, but it was my car and I enjoyed just about every foot I drove it. I remember those pace cars and even before that race I wanted a Fiero. Everyone has their dream car, mine is the Dusenberg SJ coupe convertible, after that is the Fiero at least I can say I owned one of my dream cars.
A co-worker had to be the first one in the area to have one, so ordered one and waited. When he forst got it, we were all impressed that GM would make a car like this. The plastic body and the speakers on the headrests I remember were a couple of the most interesting things to me at the time. But, the newness wore off quickly when the performance turned out to be sub-par, there were early teething issues, and it ate rear Goodyear Eagle GT tires for lunch. He didn't hold onto it for long. I enjoy seeing them stoll on the road.
I don't think that they were underpowered compared to what else was available. In 1987 I owned an '85 GT with a 4 speed and V6 AND a 1986 Pontiac 305 Trans Am with the 305 carb engine and 700-R4 automatic. Took both to Lapeer International Raceway on the same day. The Fiero ran 15.6 @ 87 mph. The Trans Am ran 15.7 @ 88 mph. I never had a 5.0 Mustang walk away from my Fiero on the street. So can we knock off the myth that the Fiero was underpowered? It was as quick as its contemporaries. What else can be expected?
We have a 4 speed version of this for sale at $8500. There were only 200 4 speeds available. Ours is really clean with low miles.
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I recall the launch of the Fiero. I loved the idea and really pulled for the success. If it succeeded could other innovative ideas follow? I recall comparisons with the Fiat X19, which was really the only similar car around for reasonable money at the time. Most commented that the Fiero was faster, but preferred the Fiat as they had worked the bugs out over the years. I was disappointed to read that. When the six came out the following year I was sure they had a winner and would sell a ton. I wanted one. Alas, in a story filled with "what ifs" the Fiero failed after initial sales success largely due to people being disappointed with the first cars. What if they had waited a year and started with the six and instead refined the car for year?? What if indeed!
The manual transmission models used an hydraulic clutch that had some issues. Pontiac went through several revisions of the slave cylinder and clutch
until they came up with something that worked. And the car had the weirdest parking brake I ever saw - instead of being in the center it was located to the left of the driver's seat. When you pulled it up it set the brake but put the handle right next to your hip; pulling it up a second time made the handle fall back to the floor.
I went through a serious Fiero phase in the early 90s, owning 6 of them over 4 years. One was the '84 Indy Pace Car, with the even-more-rare 4 speed. While the later GTs with the V-6 and Getrag 5 speed were much quicker, there was something about that Iron Duke in Indy colors that was really special. Of course, the best was the '88 GT. I bought mine on a business trip to Dallas, and drove it home to Atlanta. And just when GM got it right with the '88, they killed it.
Of course, all the bad press from early engine fires didn't help. There were stories where cars caught on fire on the drive home from the dealership. The intake and exhaust manifolds were on the same side of the transverse-mounted engine. The carb would flood/leak and gas would drip down on the exhaust manifold. These stories almost killed the car before it got started.