COAL: 1986 Pontiac Fiero GT – The “Loophole”

1986 Pontiac Fiero GT

One of the few photos I have of my car. Note the gravel dust on the car…clean cars are impossible when you live on gravel!

(A warm welcome to our newest COAL writer)

Greetings! I am excited to be the newest contributor to this series.  I have always dreamed of sharing my personal car stories on this website. I look forward to the weeks to come! To give everyone a little backstory about myself, I have been obsessed with cars for as long as I can remember. Most of my childhood revolved around anything cars related. If you asked my parents, saying I was obsessed with cars would be an understatement. Cars were my everything growing up.

Before I tell you about my first car, I need to give you a very summarized history of my family.  In the year 2003, I was 11 years old and growing up in the countryside of Iowa City, Iowa.  My parents were your typical middle-class family; 3 kids, a modest home, and two late-model Fords in the driveway; a 2001 Focus and a 2003 Escape (both manuals).  My parents were in the midst of a Lemon lawsuit with Ford Motor Company over the Focus. One day Ford called and wanted their car back by the end of the day. My parents dropped off their Focus and headed to the local Honda dealer to order a 2004 Honda CR-V. There was a few months wait until the CR-V would arrive, which would leave my parents with one car. This would not work for an active young family.  My father took to the classifieds and found the perfect cheap “temporary” car: a 1988 Pontiac Fiero coupe; painted in silver, a 5-speed manual, and the much-loved Iron Puke Duke. My mother was told the car would stay around until her CR-V came in. Little did my mother know that Fieros would become a centerpiece of our family…

1988 Pontiac Fiero Coupe

The first Fiero that started it all; a 1988 Fiero Coupe with the much loved Iron Duke and Isuzu 5-speed manual. This Fiero was involved in a car accident with another car. Neither had a driver in it at the time of the accident! Story for another day…

After that Fiero, my father began collecting Fieros. Soon more Fieros arrived in our life. My mother could not handle all these Fieros (who could?) and told my father that if he wanted to get a different Fiero, he had to sell a Fiero; apple for apple.  A deal was stuck, but little would my mother know my father would discover a loophole in this agreement.

In Iowa, teenagers can obtain what is known as a learner’s permit on their 14th birthday. This allows a teenager to drive under the supervision of a family member.  One has to read a driving manual, go to the DOT and take a written exam (side note, I have lived out of Iowa for the past seven years. I did not realize until I left Iowa that every state calls their department of vehicle services something different). If passed, you get a special license that only allows you to drive between 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM with a family member. If I think backward in time, waiting to obtain my learner’s permit was probably my biggest want as an adolescent. There was nothing more I wanted than to learn how to drive and have my own car.  This brings us to my first car.

Saturday, October 28th, 2006. My mother is out of town on her annual shopping trip.  My father is to watch my sisters and me and take me to the DOT to get my learner’s permit. We go in, I take my written exam, pass with flying colors, and we head home. I am ecstatic. How could this day get any better (maybe if I got to do some driving?)? Once home, my father is anxiously refreshing an eBay listing for another Fiero in Virginia. Thing is, at the moment in time, we had two Fieros in our garage; one was running and the other needed a new 2.8L V6.  Soon the auction ended and my father was the new owner of another 1988 Fiero coupe.  My mother’s rule applied. What would dear old dad do?

Up to this point, I had been mowing neighbors’ lawns and helping with snow removal to earn extra money. If my memory serves me correctly, I had maybe $1,500 to my name. My father struck a proposition with me; I could have the GT for $1,000, and then he and I would get the car in driving condition for when I could start driving on my own. deal with me. The decision was easy for me and about ten seconds later I shook my father’s hand. I was now the proud owner of a gold 1986 Pontiac Fiero GT! I was 14 and I owned my first car! Wow!!!

Cub Cadet 1872

A Cub Cadet 1872: the lawn mower I spent most of my free time on as a kid mowing yards. These Cubs deserve their own CC write-up. I fundamentally believe these are one of the best lawnmowers built in the last 40 years; power steering, disk brakes, and hydrostatic transmissions. Great machines.

My Fiero was a GT trim,  meaning it had the different bodywork from the coupes that gave it a different nose and rear bumper, as well as a different C-pillar. In the Fiero world, most say this is the most sought-after body style to have. I have a different opinion. My father picked this car up from another Fiero collector in Illinois the previous year for a low price due to needing a new motor. The car had around 180,000 miles on it when we got it, and remarkably, was in really good shape for all the miles. The previous owners had taken good care of it. All it really needed (besides a new engine) was a good cleaning.  Maybe the biggest drawback to the car was the factory 3-speed auto. Since my dad brought it home, it had sat in the back of our shop collecting dust.

1986 Pontiac Fiero GT

Where my Fiero spent most of its time with us; in the garage. Note another Fiero under the car cover…

A few interesting tidbits of random facts about this car: according to the VIN and my Fiero guide, which breaks each model year down by trim, color, and options, this was the 6th last Fiero to be made for the 1986 model year. As an 8th grader, I thought this made my car even more special. This car had spent a good amount of time parked in a garage with windows on the driver’s side. In daylight, one could notice how the paint was faded only on the driver’s side of the car. Gave the car an interesting appearance.

My dad and I spent the next winter working on a different Fiero and had to wait until the following summer to get to mine.  That did not stop me from washing the car, cleaning the interior, going into the garage where it sat, and sitting in the car waiting for the day until I could drive it.  (Side note, over all these years and many different Fieros, all Fieros have a distinct interior smell) When the time did come to work on my car, I was really excited. Spending that summer working on my Fiero with my dad was something that really bonded the two of us. My biggest takeaway from that project was learning that just because a part is new does not mean it is “good.” Case in point; we installed a new oil pickup tube in the engine. After the engine was running, we had oil pressure problems and ended up replacing the unit with a used unit, which took care of the low oil pressure issue. I could not understand how something “new” was not as good as a “used” part.

My Fiero was ready to drive in the fall of 2007. At this point in time, the running engine was back in the car, and we had finished going through the brake system. The car was roadworthy! My dad let me do the maiden drive on my own. That was a powerful moment for me! All my waiting was for nothing! I remember that first drive pretty vividly. It was a warm, September Sunday afternoon. I drove the car from our house down the road a couple of miles and back. It was glorious!

1986 Pontiac Fiero GT

Giving my sister a ride shortly after the Fiero was roadworthy again.

The car did leave my dad and me stranded shortly after it was back on the road.  We decided one evening to take it to a local self-serve car wash, about 10 miles from our house. As I pulled up to the carwash, I put my left turn signal on to turn into the parking lot. I was rolling at a slow speed and gave the car some acceleration, little to my surprise, the engine did not sound right and the coolant light came on.  My dad reached over and killed the ignition, as I came to a rolling stop in one of the service bays. We got out and looked underneath. One of the 21-year-old coolant hoses had burst and puked all 13.8 Qts of Dex-Cool on the parking lot.  We called my mother and she came and got us. We returned the next day with a new hose and coolant and got the car back home.

So what happened to my first car? Well, I did not drive it more than a handful of times. I could not drive on my own and since our entire family did not fit in the Fiero, it did not get driven much other than when my dad and I ran errands on the weekends.  One day my father came home and said he needed to talk to me. He had sold my Fiero to his friend. “What?!?! Sold my car???? How could he???” You see, my parents had paid for the new engine/parts to get the car on the road, as well as fuel and insurance.  They had more money in this car than I did. They also did not sign the title to me, so I really did not “own” it. My mother also did not feel comfortable with a new driver driving a car without airbags. So a decision was made (without my knowledge) to sell it.

My parents were gracious and gave me the full amount of what the car sold for and said they would pay for the next car. I do not remember what it sold for, but I was furious at my dad. It took me a long time to forgive him (all is well now). My dad’s friend said I could drive the car whenever I wanted. However, I never did see that car again after he took ownership. If memory serves me correctly, that owner had the car for a few years and really enjoyed it.

A Fiero Collection

From left to right: my dad’s 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula and his 1988 Pontiac Fiero Coupe, my 1986 Pontiac Fiero GT. For a short while, there were three (running) Fieros in my parent’s driveway.

And that brings me to my next COAL…something I did drive, was a GM product, newer, had airbags, and a key related feature to Fieros.

P.S. So how did my mother take it? Not too well. She got a lovely leather sofa out of the deal. My parents are still happily married and I now have that sofa in my living room all these years later. Never again did my dad try to use me as a loophole to buy another Fiero.