When my son turned sixteen, he, like many teenagers, wanted a car of his own. Unlike his older brother he did not want to go the reasonable and conventional path with a fuel efficient and used compact car (Mazda 3 hatchback). Instead, he wanted something a little unique and less than practical. I guess the apple does not fall far from the tree in this regard.
Due to factors and reasons of unknown origins he only had eyes for a Pontiac Fiero. Ronald Finger’s Fiero “real person, basic tools” restoration series certainly feed the Fiero project passion further. Unlike most folks, both he and I liked the notchback over the later fastback body style. Having briefly owned a 2.5l four cylinder powered (a stretch to say powered) Chevrolet S10, I steered him towards a V6 car. One of his other requirements was a manual transmission, further narrowing the pool of available cars. Like many teenagers he had more dream capacity than budget, so we would be shopping the lower end of the market.
I was immediately on board as I have never owned a Fiero but had always been intrigued by them. Additionally, I had no project car at the current time. We would be looking for one that needed some work but not a total disaster. I am a firm believer that if he has both sweat and monetary equity into a car it will be well taken care of. In the meantime I remembered I had a Hot Wheels Fiero which I passed on to him.
The first step was a set of tools for his birthday. A basic socket set, wrenches, screwdrivers and electrical tester. Once my wife was reluctantly won over (or worn down) the search started in earnest.
Pontiac Fieros used to be reasonably common but this is no longer the case. Most survivors for sale were higher priced but perfect examples, or parts cars masquerading as viable projects. First up was a local 1984 model which was a four cylinder car and to me felt a little pricey at $3,500. I figured it was worth a look to make sure Fieros were really what he wanted. The seller was friendly and accommodating as we set out on a test drive.
The body was in great shape but the interior had been customized with paint. It had good tires but on aftermarket rims. The engine ran well but the gearbox shifted stiffly and oddly, although it seemed to get better as we drove. I urged him to pass on this example, which he reluctantly did. He still loved the idea of a Fiero so the search continued.
I found a few Fieros for sale midway through an engine swap. One with a Cadillac 4.9L V8 and the other with a Quad4. Exciting, but a very poor choice for a first project car.
A friend of mine let me know of a Fiero at a used car lot in a nearby town which is not my preferred place to buy a cheap car but still worth a look. He sent some photos with what looked like frost on the body. Once viewed in person it became immediately clear that it was actually horribly faded paint from sitting outside in the sun. The tires had good tread but were dry rotted out. The good news was that it was a GT model which meant a V6 engine. It had a manual transmission but only a four speed since it was a 1985 model when GM did not have a strong enough transverse five speed gearbox for the six cylinder engine. The price was $3,200 which, given the body condition, felt high.
Next on the list was another 1985 GT which we had to travel to Calgary in order to view. From the photos the body and interior looked good but it too had been sitting a long time. Once investigated in person the car was pretty rough mechanically with a missing radiator as well as unknown engine, rusty brakes and suspension. It was all doable but a rather more work than I had hoped for. The seller shared a story about a mystery axle alignment that her handy father could not find parts to fix. For me this meant it was a hard pass on this one with a $2,000 asking price. These are harder to find than I recall! And more expensive than I initially thought. Or I am just frugal?
To lick our wounds we got lunch and headed to a nearby scrapyard. I could give him a bit more of an overview of what work the white car would have required on a semi dissembled example in the yard. Luckily they had three Fieros in stock. All were 1984s with four cylinders and four speeds. One had quite a nice body in red.
On the ride home my son an inspired thought. We could buy the red 85 GT at the used car lot with the bad paint, grab the good body panels from the scrapyard and have a decent car. On a Fiero all body panels bolt onto a steel spaceframe making for easy body panel replacement. Unfortunately it had been several weeks so we both misremembered the price as lower than it was in reality. But the concept was sound, at least, to me.
We made an appointment to see the 1985 GT the following Monday. The lot was an interesting one with many cars packed densely in. To drive it, the owner would have had to move about 20 cars so we initially agreed to just an engine start up as a first step. With a battery boost it started up and ran … for a few minutes. It felt like it ran out of fuel to me and I told they seller as much. He disagreed and who was I to argue as it was his car. The strategy shifted to a potential as-is offer. When it ran the engine did not knock, did not appear to leak badly, coolant tubes were in good shape, so we came to an agreement on a price including delivery, which was a bit of risk. Hopefully we could get it running again without too much expense and nothing else major was wrong with it. Check in the next installment to see if the gamble paid off.