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Thread: Fiero - plastic (and sort of fantastic)

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Fiero - plastic (and sort of fantastic)


    John Z. DeLorean, the eccentric but indisputably brilliant father of the 1964 GTO, also had a vision for a sexy, low-slung Pontiac two-seater. He even had a prototype built -- the XP-833 Banshee. GM management, however, considered the proposed Pontiac coupe/roadster a heretical threat to the primacy of the Chevy Corvette -- and the Banshee was discretely shelved (along with DeLorean himself a few years later).

    But the spirit of the Banshee concept would linger within the halls of Pontiac into the '70s -- dormant, but far from exorcized. And by the early '80s, it would be reincarnated in the form of al altogether new mid-engined, space-framed and polymer bodied two-seater called Fiero.

    Like the Banshee, the original design concept (credited to Hulki Aldikacti) was fairly radical -- a no-compromises sports car for enthusiast drivers; an American Porsche or Lotus. Unfortunately, other than the car's mid-engine layout, exterior styling and unusual dent-resistant composite body panels, much of Aldikacti's vision for the car never saw production. To save money, GM insisted on the use of pre-existing chassis and drivetrain components -- including a Chevette-based front suspension and a nothing-special 2.5 liter, four-cylinder engine rated at just over 90 horsepower.

    What eventually saw the light of day in 1984 was still quite a looker, however -- and the Fiero 2M4 was lauded by Car and Driver magazine as one of that year's Ten Best new cars. It was also very popular with buyers -- who were willing to overlook its weaknesses because of its attractive styling, fun personality and low price.

    Some 136,840 cars were sold the first year out -- far exceeding GM's estimates and confirming Aldikacti's belief in the car.

    A modified '84 Fiero even beat out the also-new Chevy Corvette for pace car duty at the Indianapolis 500 that year. Production versions of the Fiero pace car were offered for sale with the same "aero" snub nose treatment and bodywork -- but sans the specially-built "super duty" 200-plus horsepower engines used in the real pace cars. Only 2,000 '84 Indy 500 pace car replicas were manufactured -- all of them in special white paint with powder-coated "aero" wheels, silver leather and red two-tone interiors, quad exhaust tips and stereo speakers built into the headrests of the seats. The throttle body-injected 2.5 liter "Iron Duke" four was stock, but got dressed up with red spark plug wires and silver/black air cleaner and rocker cover.

    The pace car package was not cheap, adding almost $5,000 to the base price of a 2M4 Fiero. This boosted it from around $9,500 to nearly $15,000 (in 1984 dollars; this is the equivalent of about $30,000 today).

    For the second-year follow-up, Pontiac addressed the power problem by offering a new V-6 option in the SE and GT. This engine developed 140-hp, a significant uptick over the base 2.5 liter engine. The Fiero was gradually transforming into the sort of car envisioned by Aldikacti. Ironically, despite these improvements, sales fell through the floor to just 76,371 units -- an alarming turn, insofar as GM upper management was concerned. Apparently, problems with those first-year Fieros -- including an embarrassing engine fire/failure debacle attributed to defective connecting rods in the 2.5 liter engine -- had soured many buyers on the car. Word had also gotten out about the Fiero's less-than-sexy Chevette-sourced chassis bits -- and that also helped turn off the spigot of enthusiasm.

    Still, the Fiero had managed a surprisingly decent start -- especially in view of the way it was hobbled by the nickel and dime crowd in charge of General Motors at the time. And there were people within Pontiac who (like DeLorean, years earlier) were true believers, committed to the car's success.

    Knowledgeable insiders claim Pontiac wanted to introduce a turbocharged V-6 with a 5-speed tranny (in place of the 4-speed then being used), along with a totally revised suspension unique to the Fiero that would have made it a legitimate sports car -- not just a sporty commuter car. These changes also might have turned the Fiero (like the Banshee) into a real threat to the Corvette -- which probably explains why they never got approved. With sales dropping so precipitously, it was even harder to make the case for upgrading the car.

    Still, some things did manage to get through the pipeline -- including a new fastback bodystyle for '86 and a Getrag-sourced 5-speed gearbox to go with the 2.8 liter V-6. These changes seemed to salve the sales slide of the previous year, with a noticeable tick upward to 83,974 cars sold.

    But '86 would prove to be the high water mark for the Fiero. The mostly carryover '87 models (which received some minor tweaks, including distributorless ignition and a new cylinder head for the base 4-cylinder engine that resulted in a slight increase in output to 98-hp) never came close to matching the sales performance of the previous year.

    A mere 46,581 found homes -- and it was clear the Fiero was in serious trouble.

    A desperate Hail Mary pass was attempted for 1988 -- the final (and arguably, best) year for the Fiero. At last, the car got a credible sports car all-independent suspension system very similar to designs then in use by Lotus (which GM had just acquired the rights to). A new Formula model was offered -- and much-improved vented four-wheel-disc brakes were incorporated.

    1988 GTs were, at last, living up to the promise of 1984. Straight line performance was very good (15 second quarter miles times were possible) and handling was excellent.

    Had this car been introduced four years earlier, the Fiero almost certainly would be alive today. As it happened, it was too little, too late (a common problem with General Motors; other examples include the second-generation 1965-'69 Corvair and the Cadillac Allante in the early '90s).

    Despite the major improvements, the market had turned against the "proud one" (as the Fiero was also known). Sales ebbed again, down to 39,571 -- of which about half were V-6 GTs or Formulas.

    Although there were plans in the works for a second generation Fiero -- possibly with a new DOHC engine -- things never got further along than a styling buck/advanced prototype which was never shown to the public until many years after the Fiero's cancellation. It's too bad potential buyers never saw it -- because the prospect of a DOHC or turbo V-6 Fiero with more than 200-hp (and even a possible V-8 option) might very well have jump-started enough enthusiasm for the car to keep the fires lit. But the bean counters within GM didn't care -- while Chevy probably cared very much about the possibility of an in-house competitor that might have been faster and better handling -- as well as less expensive -- than the Corvette. Much like the XP-833 three decades earlier.

    Perhaps saddest of all is that just after GM decided the Fiero had no future, Mazda brought out the Miata -- a fun little roadster that was everything the Fiero might have been -- and almost was. That's the tragic element underlying the story of this car.

    Had GM done it right and invested a bit more faith (and funds) the Fiero could have evolved into one of the world's greatest sports cars. It had all the right ingredients -- from its mid-engined layout to its American Ferrari styling.

    But it was pushed into an early grave by short-sighted management who never really gave the car a chance.


  2. #2
    TC
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    Re: Fiero - plastic (and sort of fantastic)

    But it was pushed into an early grave by short-sighted management who never really gave the car a chance.
    Judging by their results, the management of the big three US car makers must be among the worst in the world.

  3. #3
    MikeHalloran
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    Re: Fiero - plastic (and sort of fantastic)

    Not that it matters now department: My accountant friend bought a Fiero as first car for his eldest son, because the insurance was cheap. I'm guessing because they were underpowered, and especially because there's a limit to how many teenagers can squeeze into one.

    As for management skill:
    It appears to me that the skills required to survive as a manager in any large corporation have nothing to do with managing.



  4. #4
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Fiero - plastic (and sort of fantastic)

    Quote Originally Posted by TC
    But it was pushed into an early grave by short-sighted management who never really gave the car a chance.
    Judging by their results, the management of the big three US car makers must be among the worst in the world.
    No question... and if GM and Ford survive at all, it will be in spite of the legacy of previous management...

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