Pontiac Fiero


The Pontiac Fiero is a mid-engined sports car with hidden headlamps, that was built by the Pontiac division of General Motorsfrom 1984 to 1988. The Fiero was designed by George Milidrag and Hulki Aldikacti as a Pontiac sports car. The Fiero was the first two-seater Pontiac since the 1926 to 1938 coupes, and also the first and only mass-produced mid-engine sports car by a U.S. manufacturer. Many technologies incorporated in the Fiero design such as plastic body panels were radical for its time.

A total of 370,168 Fieros were produced over the relatively short production run of five years; by comparison, 163,000 Toyota MR2s were sold in its first five years. At the time, its reputation suffered from criticisms over performance, reliability and safety issues. Today, however, compared to less adventurous attempts at two-seaters such as the Ford EXP, the unique style of the Fiero compared to other American cars has left it a cult following as a collectible car. It remains a popular chassis for rebodies and electric conversions.

The word “fiero” means “proud” in Italian, and “wild”, “fierce”, or “ferocious” in Spanish. Alternative names considered for the car were Sprint, P3000, Pegasus, Fiamma, Sunfire (a name which would later be applied to another car), and Firebird XP.[citation needed] The Fiero 2M4 (two-seat, Mid-engine, four-cylinder) was on Car and Driver magazine’s Ten Best list for 1984. The 1984 Fiero was the Official Pace Car of the Indianapolis 500 for 1984, beating out the new 1984 Chevrolet Corvette for the honor.

The Fiero was originally designed as a small, two-seater sports car with all new suspension and V6 engine. While General Motorsmanagement and accountants were opposed to investing in a second two-seater sports car that might compete with the Corvette, they perceived the oil crisis as a market opportunity for a fuel-efficient sporty commuter car. To this end, the Fiero was re-designed to use a fuel efficient version of GM’s 2.5 L four-cylinder “Iron Duke” engine capable of 27 mpg-US (8.7 L/100 km; 32 mpg-imp) in the city and 40 mpg-US(5.9 L/100 km; 48 mpg-imp) on the highway with the economy-ratio transmission option. These figures are U.S. Environmental Protection Agency test-circuit results, published by Pontiac, and confirmed from multiple sources.[2] It was impressive mileage for a 2.5 L engine of the period, and still good by today’s standards, but the three-speed automatic reduced highway mileage to only 32 mpg-US (7.4 L/100 km; 38 mpg-imp). With respect to fuel economy, the Fiero was intended to appeal to a market niche for which the Corvette with its V8 enginewas unsuitable.

A mid-engine layout was originally chosen as a way to reduce both aerodynamic drag and vehicle weight to improve fuel efficiency, and also for its handling, traction, and braking benefits. However, the sports car potential of the mid-engine layout was not realized when the Fiero debuted. As a cost-saving measure commonly employed at GM, the tires, brakes, and suspension components were carried over from other GM economy cars (like the Chevrolet Citation and Chevrolet Chevette). As a result, the handling and cornering abilities of the initial Fiero were merely on par with other contemporary sporty coupes (Road & Track 1985). Additionally, the Iron Duke I4 motor, which was designed for optimal running at low RPM due to its long stroke, was unsuited to drivers who purchased the Fiero expecting a quick, high-revving motor more in keeping with the design of the car. As drivers attempted to frequently run the engine at greater RPM than it was designed for, the engines experienced a number of reliability problems and breakdowns were frequent.

The public had high expectations for the Fiero with its mid-engine layout and aggressive styling, which resembled more exotic mid-engine sports cars. While initially garnering good reviews for its handling (Motor Trend 1984), the Fiero soon received negative reviews from other automotive critics who expected higher performance from a mid-engine two-seater. Despite the critical press, the Fiero sold well and although Pontiac operated three shifts at the factory during 1984, they could not keep up with initial demand.

The sharing of suspension and other components with other GM cars meant the rear suspension and powertrain was virtually identical to that of the Citation and Pontiac Phoenix; the Fiero even included rear tie rod ends attached to a “steering knuckle”, although these were hard-mounted to the engine cradle and only used for maintaining the rear tire alignment. The front suspension was derived from the Chevette, and Chevette enthusiasts found that they could upgrade their undersized front brakes and rotors using Fiero parts.

By 1985, the oil crisis was long past and demand developed for a Fiero having more engine power and better sports car performance. Pontiac responded by introducing the GT model which included upgraded suspension tuning, wider tires, and a V6 engine having 43 hp (32 kW) more than the base four-cylinder. In 1986, the GT model was restyled slightly to produce a more sleek appearance, but the performance and reliability still failed to deliver.

Finally, in 1988, numerous changes were made to the Fiero to bring it in line with its original design. The most significant was a completely redesigned suspension (and parts of the space frame) to realize the potential of the mid-engine layout. The unique suspension included new two-piece brake calipers and upgraded brake rotors. The available I4and V6 engines benefited from evolutionary improvements, but the planned availability of turbochargers and newer DOHC engines did not happen before production stopped.

In spite of the much-improved car which finally had realized its potential after years of mismanagement, GM ended production after the 1988 model year due to declining sales figures. Bad press and consumer sentiment frequently cited heavy media coverage of Fiero engine fires, as well as the poor reliability and performance of the 1984-1987 models.

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September 6, 2015

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