What could have been: The Pontiac Fiero
We often reminisce about beloved native car brands that have sadly gone out of business over the past several decades because, unfortunately, there is simply so many of them. From the sad demise of Oldsmobile, which at least retained a little bit of personality as it exited the American market, to Mercury's exit, a company that was a shell of not only its former shelf but also the Ford's in it's last few models were virtually identical too.
One of the most dearly missed brands to fold over the past few years was undeniably Pontiac. While few classic American car enthusiasts were protesting the closure of the Saturn marque, even the head brass at GM – hopeless in most regards at the time – still held out a glimmer that the Pontiac name could return to glory. However, as The General inched his way toward bankruptcy, the government forced the corporation to shave this brand out of their portfolio, and so died a few of the best cars in the company's stable – from the Solstice to the G8 to a next generation GTO.
While Pontiac is known for it's classic hot rods like the Trans Am, LeMans and of course the Goat, there is one model that Pontiac fans have embraced in recent years, although the brand had hoped consumers would forget as soon as possible. Despite all of the issues that plagued this car during its five-year production run (1984 to 1988), the vehicle actually garnered a lot of accolades and even holds the title of several firsts not just for Pontiac but the entire auto industry.
When this model was first introduced to the public in 1983, it was to be the first mid-engined sports coupe manufactured by an American brand. To date, this is still the last attempt by a domestic marque to make such a car, and probably for good reason.
When GM first invested in building a two-seater for Pontiac, the bosses feared that it would pose unwanted and unnecessary competition for the Corvette – which itself had been dumbed down markedly during the period, another sign of the general incompetence of those in charge at the time. So, they value engineered the car to appeal to a niche market of drivers looking for a sports car that had great fuel economy. As a result, they swapped out the original V6 envisioned for the car in favor of the 2.5L "Iron Duke," which got impressive gas mileage (27 city, 40 highway) even by today's standards, but didn't fit in with the sporty looks and layout of this otherwise attractive car.
Then, the press jumped all over the fact that the Iron Duke was actually quite flammable, and the placement of the engine made it especially dangerous for passengers, quickly giving the Fiero a bad reputation. Despite all that, the car still gained a lot of praise from various news outlets, with Road & Track lauding its looks – despite sharing parts with other small cars in the GM stable – and Motor Trend commending it's handling. Car & Driver even named the Fiero to its 10 Best list in 1984, and that same year it beat out the Corvette as the Indy Pace Car.
Sales were robust at first, as the factory couldn't even keep up with demand for the car during its initial run, but figures turned south quick once the public's high hopes were dashed and that this exotic looking coupe was hardly a supercar. For 1988, the company redesigned hte model from head to toe, giving it the V6 engine it was originally meant to have and designing a whole new chassis for the model. Although the final Fiero was exactly what the original designers had envisioned for the nameplate and was actually a mighty performer, the damage had already been done to the marque, and production ceased.
Today, the Fiero is actually embraced by gearheads who have modified old models to such extremes that they actually embody mid engine supercars – some even going as far as to craft their own makeshift Ferraris and Lambos on top of the Fiero chassis.
Do you think this car deserves a place in the halls of the revered when it comes to automotive history, or was the Fiero a footnote you'd rather forget? Leave your thoughts below: