So I have most likely confused you dear reader with the history of the vehicles in my life. Unfortunately, the complexity does not stop and has not stopped. But I will try my hardest to make it easy to follow along.
Just to recap, it is the fall of 2012. My Firebird has been sold to help pay for college and my dad parted ways with the Trooper due to cancer setting in. I have gone back to college with something borrowed from my dad. What I have left out is what he borrowed to me. He lent me his 1988 Fiero Formula as a temporary vehicle until he and I could find something better suited for me. I was happy to have his Fiero, but also itching to have my own car. It is early November. I should have been studying Calculus, but instead, I am in my dorm room looking through Craigslist listings across the great state of Iowa for the “next vehicle.” And I found it.
1988 Pontiac Fiero Coupe. White, 4-cylinder, 5-speed manual, 90k miles. Engine threw a rod. Solid car, little rust. Too good to scrap. $700.
I do not remember what the actual ad said, but I know it was short, and there was just information for me to decide this was going to be my next car.
I called my dad, told him I forward the Craigslist listing, and said from what little photos there were, this looked like a solid vehicle. I said I wanted to buy it as my next college car and asked if he could 1) go look at it and purchase it and 2) help get it running. The vehicle was located in Des Moines, which was a couple of hours from my parents. This was much closer for him than it was for me. Plus, I had a very busy couple of weeks ahead of me and knew I could not get away to go look at it. The most important part was that I already knew of a rebuilt engine for this vehicle.
The year before this, my dad had acquired a white 1988 Fiero coupethat was identical to my soon-to-be car. It was so rusty it could not be driven. He and I took all the parts off of it we wanted and then scrapped the frame. The drivetrain in this junker car was still good, so my dad kept it. All Fiero coupes came with the much loved 2.5L Iron
Puke Duke. My dad took the junker Iron Duke and did a complete rebuild on it. He figured he could sell it and turn a little profit. He had it listed for most of the year and had zero luck trying to find a buyer for this freshly rebuilt engine. Instead, it got pushed into the corner of the shop to be forgotten about.
I asked my dad if he would sell me the engine to put in this soon-to-be-mine Fiero. He said we could work out a deal. The following weekend my dad and his buddy went to go look at the Fiero. That afternoon he called me to say it was sitting in my parent’s driveway ready for us to get to work. My dad and I talked about when we could do this engine swap. Up to this point, my dad and I had pulled engines out of Fieros more times than we would like to have admitted, but nevertheless, it made us pros at Fiero engine swaps. My dad thought if we really focused on it, we could do the entire engine swap in this car over my Thanksgiving break and have it running by Sunday evening before I had to return to school.
My dad then dusted off the rebuilt Iron Duke and got to work gathering all the parts we would need. A week later I returned home on a Tuesday evening. All the next day, Thursday afternoon (we did stop to enjoy a nice Thanksgiving meal cooked by my mother), Saturday, and most of Sunday, we worked on the Fiero (I had to take Friday off to do homework…arg).
Pulling the old engine was the easy part. I think we had it removed by Wednesday at noon. We spent the rest of that day, and Thursday, cleaning the rear engine cradle, installing a new clutch in the transmission, cleaning the engine bay, and swapping what components we needed from the old engine onto the new one. Come Saturday, we were ready to put the new engine in the car. By the end of the day, the rear engine assembly was in the car, and the car was one step closer to being started up. When my dad picked up the car, the steering column was dropped and laying in the driver’s side footwell. Apparently, the previous owner lost the keys to the car and was working on doing a key-tumbler swap. He never made it past pulling the column, so we had to work on that. Late Sunday afternoon I sat in the driver’s seat and turned the key. After a couple of cranks, the Iron Duke fired up and my new-to-me car was (almost) road worthy. I had to go back to school on Monday, but my dad spent the next weeks servicing the brake system and getting new tires installed; two things the car needed. Three weeks after Thanksgiving, I returned home and my Fiero sat in the driveway. My dad had been driving it and said it was ready for me.
What I have not told you yet is what extra exterior accessories were on the car. When my dad went to go look at it, the car had been sitting outside and was very dirty. What neither of us picked up in the photos was all along the bottom of the car was pink and purple pinstriping, the quarter sails behind the front windows had skull stickers on them, and finally, there were doves and crosses etched into the corners of the driver’s and passenger’s windows. The previous owner told my dad the car was his girlfriend’s Fiero and she was quite fond of it. However, she was not fond enough to check the oil. She ran it dry, which led it to throw a rod. Over my Christmas break, I was able to get the skull stickers off with little ease, but the pinstriping and the doves were too problems I was never able to fix. I tried pealing the pinstriping off, but trying to get it off took the paint with it. The doves etched into the glass were going to require new glass. While this was fixable, we really did not want to deal with ripping apart the doors and getting new glass. We shrugged our shoulders and left both issues.
That Christmas break I drove the car all around Iowa City. It ran great and presented no teething problems with the fresh Iron Duke (thanks Dad!). Besides the exterior accessories, the car was in really good shape. It had spent most of its life in western Nebraska and Colorado, so it had very little rust. The interior was in good shape. Most Fiero coupes were sparse on options. Mine was optioned with AC, an AC Delco cassette deck, and most importantly, cruise control! Of all the Fieros we have owned (9), cruise control was an option we only saw on the higher-trim cars. The cruise on my car worked, which was a bonus on long drives to and from school.
I returned to college that January in my new car. I was pretty excited to show my friends my latest ride. I had told my buddies about my Fiero after Thanksgiving break, but I had purposely left out the part about the pinstriping and the doves. When they saw it, they gave me a bunch of crap and nicknamed the car “my girlfriend’s Fiero.” The name stuck.
Going into winter, I did not have a “winter beater” to drive, thus my Fiero was my primary mode of transportation. Fieros do really well in the snow and mine was no different. Come February, I decided to surprise my mom for her birthday by coming home for the weekend. I left school late afternoon and headed east for the 6 hr drive back to Iowa City. My dad knew I was coming, so he was on the lookout for me. The entire drive went great, except for the last mile as I approached my parent’s house. The Fiero was hesitating and struggling to run. I made a right-hand turn onto my parent’s street and the Fiero died. Thankfully my parents live at the bottom of a hill. I coasted to a stop in their driveway and went inside to wish my mom a happy birthday. The next day my dad and I went to go investigate the Fiero. A car needs three things to run; spark, fuel, and air. We determined we were getting adequate spark and air, but no fuel. We had not pulled the fuel tank and put a new fuel pump in when we put the new engine in. My dad determined my fuel pump had failed. A new one was ordered and I returned to school on Sunday in my dad’s Ranger. He said he would get the pump replaced the next week. When he went to go drop the fuel tank, he was surprised to find it was so light. Turns out my fuel pump had not failed, I had run out of gas in a convenient location! I learned my fuel gauge was not as accurate as I thought (or any Fiero fuel gauge for that matter).
I had been driving my dad’s Fiero that fall, which was an uncommon college car. Being a small school, people learned I drove the Fiero. I did not have to tell people I got a different Fiero, as once people saw the white Fiero, I would get asked if I had a second one. Soon I was known as the “Fiero-guy,” something I was okay with. I do not remember all the details of how it happened, but there was a couple of week period where both my dad’s Fiero and mine were parked on campus next to each other. I wonder about the probability of that happening at another school.
Going into the summer, I accepted an internship at a local engineering company near my school. I decided to stay on campus for the summer with a buddy and not return to Iowa City. My dad’s Fiero was in storage at my grandma’s house down the road. I would often exchange Fieros and drive one for a week and then switch to the other for the next week. Back to back, my girlfriend’s Fiero was not as fun as my dad’s. That summer I did put a lot of miles on the car and I never had any issues with it. Come to the end of the summer, I was (again) short money for tuition. My dad and I talked, and I decided to sell the white Fiero and drive his Fiero for the short term. I ended up selling the car for a nice profit to a kid not much younger than myself. He wanted a Fiero and I was happy it was going to someone who would appreciate it. He and his dad came to get it in a Cadillac Cimarron!
Was I sad to see the Fiero go? A little, but I was okay to move on. I still had access to my dad’s Fiero, and that brought much more enjoyment than the Iron Duke. Next week we will jump ahead a couple of years to the end of my college career, where I would buy a much newer vehicle.
I think that was the worst car to have an auto trans in. Wide semi-bald tires didn’t make the rain much fun, either. Still, it was a reliable daily driver (I checked oil back then) and I think I loved it.
I don’t remember either it or the Saturn rusting. There had to be some steel somewhere under the plastic, but I don’t think it bothered me.
V6, 5-speed, tires… Sigh.
With the unassisted steering, I’d think an auto would be preferred if you drove or parked in the city much. Even with an auto, I didn’t buy one because I had to tilt the seat back to fit my head, so my arms were stretched too far.
Great story. Virtually all the ’88’s I’ve encountered (with the desirable upgraded steering and suspension) have been fully optioned V6 models. I can’t recall seeing a 4 cyl model.
I owned a Fiero (4cy / 4 speed) for about 2 weeks. It was loaded, pristine, needed a clutch, and cost me $160. An acquaintance hassled me for it relentlessly and bought it from me 2 weeks later for $400. He was determined to do a V8 swap, but never got around to it. He sold it to a movie studio who blew it up as part of a movie filmed in Toronto, c. 1997
I always wanted another, but these days the prices are out of sight, for solid examples. For the money I could get an C4 Corvette. Obviously the Fiero is the eclectic choice but the C4 is kinda the Fiero big brother, so to speak.
Nice story! Your dad seems like one heck of a handy guy; after you’re done with your series, you need to convince him to write one as well.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of etched glass as an accessorizing strategy. Maybe it’s a regional thing? Does seem unique though. I take it that the next kid who got the Girlfriend’s Fiero was ok with it as well?
Etched glass artwork sounds a bit akin to an automotive tattoo, i.e., a permanent work of art that would be impossible to remove without an expensive replacement of the pane, particularly side window glass. One would have to think very carefully about the long-term ramifications of getting something etched into door glass.
Additionally, I’ve always been quite irritated by dealerships that automatically etch the VIN into the door glass of every vehicle they sell as another, pure-profit dealer add-on. I see little (if any) benefit of that to the customer. IOW, is the VIN etched into the door glass really going to deter a car thief and/or help in the recovery of the vehicle if stolen?
I bought my son a ’85 Iron Puke 4 Fiero to go to college in. My local service $hop loved me, as the Fiero was there vi$iting constantly! As I wa$ paying the $ervice bills, my son thought highly of his “sportscar” Fiero……..my opinion was a bit different.
Fortunately or unfortunately the end to this drain on my wallet came as a fine, priveledged person without a driver’s license or insurance, ran a stop sign and creamed the Fiero. Functionally it was still drivable, but cosmetically it was destroyed. 🙁
It was a clean design, butt the floor mounted seats….arrrggh! DFO
You’ve greatly expanded my appreciation of Fieros as well as your dad.
We’re the Fiero and the 914 the only “volume” mid-engined cars with pushrod engines? I don’t think of the Renault engined Europe’s or Matra as volume. X1/9 and MR2 are OHC.
As cool as the concept of a mid-engined ‘sports’ economy car was for the era, I found the Fiero had the same design affliction, as so many GM cars. Like the S-10, ’82 A Bodies, Astro van, J-cars, etc., there was a sterility to its exterior design, that left me cold. Only with the ’82 Camaro/Firebird, did I feel GM styled cars with a bit of extra and interesting, character/creativity.
I liked the Fiero’s but the drivetrains! The Iron Duke? I could see the Iron Puke used as a base engine but it needed something like a high output Quad Four or the LQ1 3.4L dual overhead cam V6 with a 5 speed transmission. A little extra effort! What a wasted opportunity. Somebody should have slapped Chevy upside their head and told them if this little parts bin sports car threatens your CORVETTE that says a hell of a lot about your crappy product.
I know its not the same but look at the mid-engine Corvette. All the crying about the mid-engine being an abomination to the Corvette creed. GM can’t build them fast enough and the markup if you want to buy one.
The Corvette was ultimately a secondary issue.
There were basically two things that doomed the Fiero: First, the warranty and recall costs meant they were losing money on the base models, especially after factoring in the added cost of the suspension revamp, and because the base model was the volume seller, Pontiac decided they couldn’t afford to treat it as a loss leader for the GT.
Second, Pontiac marketing research anticipated that the coupe market would collapse in the early ’90s, which sadly turned out to be true. In this respect, Pontiac was probably more prudent than Toyota, which obviously hadn’t come to the same conclusion and definitely hadn’t anticipated the increase in the value of the yen relative to the dollar. So, Toyota spent a bunch of money on the second-generation (SW20) MR2, which ended up selling poorly.
It would likely have been a no-win scenario for Pontiac: If they had continued the existing car with some minor freshening and the Quad 4 engine (which HAD been provisionally approved for 1990), it would have started to seem quite dated against newer rivals, but if they had done a more thorough revamp, it would have arrived just as the coupe market was cratering, and its sales trajectory would probably have looked not unlike that of the MR2. As it was, Pontiac said, “Well, we’ve still got the Firebird/Trans Am, that’s probably enough.”
I take no particular joy in any of that, mind you, but I have to concede the business case for continuing the Fiero didn’t look good.
So then ;
Were these hair shirts in general use or not ? .
Good story telling either way .
In this century of crossovers and giant pickups, I would think this car would be a bit scary to drive in traffic. My theory is that sedan and coupe sales collapsed in part because once a family had a tall vehicle, their low ones made them feel vulnerable.
This is my 1986 Fiero GT 2.8l that Jason Cammisa did his Hagerty show on. I have rebuilt every system. Every bolt and wire fixed.