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Mid Engine Mystery Machine: 1988 Pontiac Fiero

By Jeff Bennett

OK.  I am going to need the help of Barn Finds readers who are Fiero experts on this one.  Obviously, it is a Fiero.  It is a 1988 model, and it has a V-6.  The seller identifies it as a GT model, but I am pretty sure that GT models came only with the flying buttresses that made it look like a hatchback from the side.  This one has the traditional body with what looks to be the black BBS lookalike wheels of the Formula model.  It also has an automatic transmission.  Can anybody tell me just what model this 1988 Pontiac Fiero is?  Found on Craigslist in Chatsworth, Georgia for the bargain price of $3200 cash, this low mileage Fiero could end up being quite a steal.

The story of the Fiero is an interesting one.  Planned and built under the guise of being a commuter car, the designers and engineers obviously were looking at it as a sports car from the start.  In typical GM fashion, they ran up against two obstacles.  The first was that no car was allowed to compete with the Corvette, so fuel economy became a selling point to the top brass.  Second, designers and engineers were forced to use off the shelf parts from such illustrious GM products as the Chevette and Citation.  Thus, when production began in 1984, it didn’t have the performance to match the looks.  While sales were still brisk, the combination of poor performance and the usual GM build quality became the car’s first impression in the minds of consumers.  Pontiac steadily improved the car in model years 1985-1987, then sprang a huge suspension redesign on Fiero fans in 1988.  This fixed a lot of the ills, and both the GT and Formula models were now legitimate sports cars.  Unfortunately, the brain trust at GM cancelled the car at the end of 1988.  I would say more about GM’s decision making, but this gig is paying for my car restoration parts.

This particular Pontiac is one of the fabled 1988 models.  As mentioned before, it has a lot of the parts that a Formula should have, but it is being advertised as a GT model.  It may be a base model with a V-6, but I cannot find any information that they were built this way.  At any rate, the car is advertised as a GT model, which I am pretty sure it is not.  Even if it isn’t, it is a pretty nice car nevertheless.  The red paint, which is showing signs of oxidation in places, still compliments the mid engine car’s lines very well.  It is hard to style a mid engine car well, and still retain vision out the back windows.  Porsche got the styling right with the street going 904 models, but didn’t do very well with the 914 (Don’t write to protest.  I had one and loved it, but you have to admit that they are a bit homely.).

Interior wise, this one exhibits the usual GM mid to late 1980s lack of quality.  Nearly all of the interior parts are made of cheap plastic, many parts of the dash look to be last minute add-ons, and the fit between different sections and parts leaves a lot to be desired.  The good news is that this one is still in pretty good condition, though it really needed to be detailed before the pictures were taken.  It is equipped with an automatic transmission, AM/FM stereo with an equalizer, air conditioning and cruise control.  The seller states that everything, including the air conditioning, is in working order and that the car has only 59,000 miles on it.  The only danger sign I can see, other than the plastic on the center console, is that we don’t know the condition of the seats under the thin seat covers.

The engine bay, which also needs some detailing, looks to be in proper order.  There are no obvious signs of tampering, engine swapping, or hot rodding visible in the photograph.  Its not like you would want to spend a lot of time in there anyway, as mid engine cars are notorious for being difficult to work on.  The location and size of the engine bay make working on them, cooling them, and souping them up problematic.  It does, however, reward you with wonderful handling, which is why these cars are built in the first place.

No matter what model it is, this looks to be a very nice Fiero.  With some elbow grease, polish, and time, this one could be show ready in no time.  Repainting it to fix the oxidation problem and recovering the seats, if they actually need work, would add some cash to the cost of the project.  However, I think it would be worth it.  1988 Fieros are the best of the breed, and will eventually become collectable.  You can enjoy this one in the meantime, no matter what model it is.

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Comments

  1. Mrvans Member

    V-6, spoiler, and black wheels indicate that it is a Formula the 1988 Fiero GT had the flying buttress fastback look..

    9+
  2. RayT Member

    My money’s on it being a Formula as well. Mrvans is correct: the GT had lots of specific exterior plastic.

    The Formula was a nice little package, IMO cleaner looking than the GT. The automatic trans. is a bummer, though. At $3.2K, I’d swap it out while pulling the engine to install some go-faster parts. As Jeff says, they aren’t the easiest to work on when in the car, but present no problems when sitting on a stand!

    6+
  3. Bill

    Another easy identifier was the word “Formula” that appeared on the bottom of the doors.

    1+
  4. Todd Rupp

    As a Former Pontiac Dealer in 1988 in Georgia, this car is a Formula Model. It should have Silver Formula Decals on the doors but could have easily been removed. Still a nice looking car!

    0
  5. JammerX19

    Just another future short wheelbase Ferrari kit car in the making.

    0
  6. boxdin

    Its a Formula, and without the GT bodywork it was said that the formula was 400 lbs lighter than the GT. The AT had no OD but the 5 speed was much better for top speed. I will admit that my all time fav Fiero was a 4cyl convertet to Formula/GT suspension specs. Best Fiero I ever had and it had 236k miles when I got it.

    3+
  7. Wayne

    Everything points to it being a Formula, in particular the front and rear bumpers were only on the Formula model.

    0
    • carl f beebe

      Wrong.Formula has the same bumpers as 4cyl.coupe.

      0
      • Wayne

        I’m afraid you are wrong, the coupe had black bumper pads front and back, the formula had cut outs for the park lights.

        0
  8. Brakeservo

    I worked for a Pontiac dealer when the very first Fiero arrived – a four-banger. Well the owner of the store wanted to be the first to drive it after it came off the transport truck so he and the Finance Manager went to go around the block. I think they made it half-way before a rod blew through the block! Now, ask my why I’ve never owned a GM car since!

    1+
    • boxdin

      4cyl Fieros were given the reject bent rods by GM. At its peak, 3 engines were blowing up per day. Fiero still overcame that. But Chevy won in the end.

      0
  9. Rik

    If you can get the VIN, this decoder will tell you what it is.
    http://www.fiero.net/vin.html

    4+
  10. Milt

    When these came out, I was really gung-ho on getting one until I had to deal with a d**khead salesman screwing with me at every turn. I got out of there and ended up buying a 914. Bullet dodged.

    8+
  11. Alfie

    Some Italian from Brooklyn ordered this car new. I’m sure of it.

    4+
  12. Debbie

    Looks like a formula. The fact that the windows are crank and it has the base steering wheel. Does the gear shift knob have a leather cover or is it plastic? Formula has plastic. Formula is basically stripped down version. If this is truly a formula, grab it. Fully restored, they are going around 10k or more. They only made notchback GTs in 85. After that they were fastback. I have an 85 Gt and an 88 Formula.

    0
  13. matthew

    Easy, that’s not an 88. It’s more likely an 86. That buttressed you speak of were the 88 style. That’s when they finally got it all right. And then in gm fashion killed it off.

    0
  14. Dolphin Dolphin Staff

    I remember when GM put out the last year, very much improved Fiero—–and then cancelled it. I don’t think many of the enthusiast car mags approved of the cancellation, but the car was bleeding money and I guess GM had no choice.

    That shows that you need to get enough about the car right the first time so that owners will like it and feel loyal enough to the car to maybe buy the 2nd, improved version or at least recommend the car to their friends. But I don’t think that happened very often with the Fiero…..probably just the opposite.

    By the way, Bob Lutz, about the best automotive writer working today, talks about cancelling car lines in his column in Road & Track this month. A very interesting read, as usual.

    5+
    • boxdin

      Allante and Riata both sold in less numbers than Fiero in 1988 and werer kept. As GM said many times, GM has only one sports car; Corvette. Read wiki how Fiero was killed from inside GM.

      0
      • Mark

        But still probably had higher profits than the Fiero. Buick and especially Cadillac have very high margins making them very profitable in low numbers. BTW, both the Reatta and Allante were sports cars.

        1+
      • Paul Reed

        The Riatta and Ellante where absolutely garbage car packed with ridiculous amounts of unreliable unnecessary electronics. Those where definitely not sports cars.
        Pontiac was making too good of progress on the Fiero and Chevrolet demanded it be killed to save the expensive Corvette.

        0
  15. lawyer George

    Re: Th Fiero: I was temporarily engaged selling these new, waiting for injuries to heal from being T-boned by a woman applying make-up. I thought the Fiero were pretty and GM was professing pre-market 2 B pocket rockets, but were on delivery Stone Ponies fraught with drinking problems. My “demo” something salesmen actually had in those days -was the functional equivalent -Oldsmobile F 85.

    It was a comfortable enough car, but was under-powered in the extreme. The rubber-bands kept breaking and when it as converted to gas was created a disastrous, crippling expense of argyles which were were unable to withstand the rigors of being constantly soaked in raw gasoline occasioned by the requirement /necessity of putting one’s foot in the carburetor to lessen the wheeze to say nothing of the clear and present danger of being given an impromptu fiery preclude (a much better car) to the owner’s
    Final Exit where he/she a smoker.

    I don’t know what is wrong with the program upon which these are written and although i never revise anything I write and sending this one in in addition to the one above hoping it will come ut choppy that the F-85.

    One bright morning as the Olds & I were bumping and grinding our way to work on wide 4 lane controlled occasionally by red lights. Just as I was deceleration away from the light a giant blackbird creature swept down from the pole’s top and when just ahead of the grille, flapped its wings and the Olds downshifted! Upon arrival at the agency, I turned in the keys in trade for one of those compact neat S-10 Blaze 4×4 grossly under powered 2.8 tinfoil V6’s but more versatile to my needs.

    0
  16. John Taktikos

    I worked as a car hauler out of the Fiero plant. Not a GT. Formula model, GM was smart toward the end of production and put the V6 in the mundane models as well as GT and Formula. There is no paint on a Fiero, the color is in the plastic body panels.

    2+
  17. Johnny the mailman B

    I worked for a Pontiac dealer when these were released, it set a sales record for GM/Pontiac div…every Fiero that was available sold on first day of release…

    I remember going to GM school to learn about the new car details, one thing that always stuck with me was the “Mill and Drill” body mounting system, the cars body panels are not structural but are screwed on to plastic pads that are pressed into slots in the space frame. the whole car would go into a fixture to have those pads milled and drilled…this would ensure panel fitment would be perfect even if the frame was not.

    5+
  18. Mike Z

    The 89 was supposed to get the GMO Quad 4, that would have been a great car

    0
  19. 55chevy Chuck Foster

    Go figure, it’s gone, I need to check my mail earlier on weekends, I would have tried for this one..

    0
  20. Rob

    If memory serves me, the 2M4 was the four cylinder 2 door mid-engine, and the 2M6 was the V-6 version of same.

    3+
  21. Greg

    I am a GM, and particularly Pontiac and Buick, fan when it comes to classic cars. I currently have a Pontiac Lemans convertible and a Buick Skylark convertible. But this is typical GM, especially 1980’s and newer. When they first came out they were full of flaws. By the time they got all the kinks out and made great improvements, they canceled the model (and in Pontiac’s case, the make!).
    I’ve always wanted to drive a Fiero, see how they go. I had wanted one in the 80’s, but came across an 86 Bertone X1/9 at a great price and bought it instead. Had a lot of fun with that car, drove like my go-cart from when I was a kid! I know there’s a lot of parts and support for these Fiero’s. May still look for one!

    0
  22. Ernie the Dancing Weasel

    My dad was a salesman at a Pontiac dealer when these were current. Said the reason the Fiero died, at least at their dealership, was only kids were interested, they were only interested in the 6 cylinder cars, and the cost of insurance cost their dealer most of the sales.

    I drove an early 4 cyl 5 speed; pleasant enough car to drive but build quality was meh and I liked my Rabbit better…

    0
  23. Ray Devito

    Bob 2M6 was gone by 1988.

    1+
  24. Nomader 55

    I have two 1985 red GT’s with V6 motors. One is 4 speed with 50,000 miles, the other is an automatic with 15,000 miles. Both have the spoiler. Love these cars. They will out perform the same year stock corvette. I’ve done it!!

    1+
    • Mark

      I’d race ya

      3+
  25. Mike S.

    When the Fiero came out I as invited to the local Pontiac dealer for the unveiling. They had a red Fiero parked in the service area for everyone to see but no matter how much wine and hors de oeuvres were given away the poorly fit plastic interior couldn’t be ignored. There was a red Firebird parked in the next bay making it look like a monster sitting next to the Fiero. The design of the Fiero was the talk of the evening but a follow up visit for a test drive cooled my interest.

    0
  26. John P.

    These little cars really came alive with the addition of a small block V8. There were places that sold the necessary adapters, and they fit very well . After that they were absolute terrors.

    0
  27. Marko

    I have a 1985 2M6 SE model.
    Funnest car I ever had, and the quirky factor of the mid engine design, add to the retro cool factor.

    Young people have no idea what the heck the Fiero is.

    1+
  28. Scott McGrath

    Had a Formula for a bit. Great car that handled like it was on rails; much better grip than any of my other sports and racers… until the rear end couldn’t hold any more, but when that back end started losing grip it lost all of it.

    I got rid of it before the internet really took hold. I’d love to try another one with the wealth of knowledge that is probably available on the Fiero forums on how to give it more even handling at and just past the limit. Figure it may just be the fact that everything I’ve pushed hard has been Front Engine, RWD. I may just have never gotten the practice in on mid and rear engined cars past the point of oversteer.

    0
  29. Tony B.

    Yep…looks identical to my ’88 Formula.

    0

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