"In Praise Of The Hated GM Small Cars Week:" 1986 Fiero 2M4
You know, any used car can be good or bad. And people sometimes ask, "What's a good used car?" Well, I think that depends on lots of things... first, how good the car was when new, and second, how the previous owner(s) maintained the thing.
The best used GM car I ever had was a red 1986 Pontiac Fiero 2M4. Of course, "2M4" means "2-passenger, Mid-engine, 4-cylinder." It was four years old when I got it, had 40,000 miles, I gave $4,000 for it, and it had four new tires.
The car had cost the seller about $12,000 when new, so I figured if they had already lost twice what I was paying for the car, plus the price of 4 new tires, I was coming out ahead.
I went from a 1984 GMC ½ ton full size pickup to a Fiero because I wanted to feel "sporty." I was also a "Returning to college student," and every hundred dollars counted. So not only did the car get considerably better mileage than the pickup, it was also easier to park in those tiny campus spaces.
The 2M4 also came along as I started working on the Road Test Magazine show. That was a fun time, and the red and white license plate matched the car perfectly.
The best thing about any Fiero, in my opinion? The styling. So much so that it served well as an image car while I worked on the show. Heck, Reeves Callaway liked it... so I suppose that was good enough for me.
I always thought the Fiero was styled after BMW's M1, or at least shared many styling elements with it. They both had flip-up headlights, a thin black piece of body side molding, both were mid-engined, and they were low to the ground. Way low. The M1 beat the Fiero to market by about six years, so there was plenty of time to copy the Teutonic technocar.
I never minded when "Kitty" walked on the car. Her paw prints were tiny (When there were any), and quickly wiped off. She was my pet for 16 years, and sometimes I still think I see her lounging around the old place.
On another note, one evening I went out to the car, fired it up, turned on the lights, and not much happened. It turned out that some ice had formed over the headlight covers, and they could not open. So I took that as a lesson, and after they thawed I turned them on, they raised, and I pulled the plugs on both headlight cover motors.
This did two things well: first, the lights would always work in the frozen stuff, and second, it saved the lift motors from working for about five months out of the year. Hopefully this prolonged their life a bit, but I'll never know for sure.
This car really didn't have too many options, but that's OK. No V-6, no power windows, door locks, or sunroof (The sunroofs weren't very good anyway). But it had tilt, which is mandatory for easy access into a Fiero. Add alloy wheels, intermittent wipers, a rear luggage rack which of course never got used, plus the mandatory air conditioning for here in the South.
It also had a standard 5-speed (The V-6 had a 4-speed), an AM/FM/cassette radio, and the Courtesy Light Package (Under dash, ash trays, trunk light); I think that was about it.
All Fieros had a high level of trim inside and out, they were and are unique, and I'm sure that has helped keep them as popular now with some folks as when they were new. And maybe that's another reason they've been called the poor man's exotic car.
Being a 1986 model, it was in the third year of Fiero production, and many of the early bugs had been worked out. At least it never caught on fire, though it was recalled once for further fire prevention repairs. I think they wrapped some wires and replaced the dip stick so it would "hold" an extra quart of oil to help it run cooler.
It came with a black Fox bra (After all, this was a car of the 80s), and had a slightly ripped driver's seat bolster area. The owner's husband got it in with a screwdriver sticking out of his pocket, and, well, the rest is history as they say. But right after I got the car, a local upholstery shop replaced a small cloth section for $40, and the seat looked as good as new
The car came with one mechanical ailment, which was quickly resolved. Seems one of the FWD (Excuse me, RWD) bearings was bad... you could actually wiggle the rear tire a little. The local Pontiac dealer wanted $240 just for the part, plus their time to put it on. Sensing I was getting ripped off here, I went to a national auto parts chain and got a bearing assembly (with a lifetime guarantee) for $81. Installation was easy.
This brings up some old memories. When they say, "Keep that great GM feeling with Genuine GM Parts," I have to wonder why I would replace a part that wore out early (40,000 miles or less) with a pricey part from the same parts manufacturer. I also had trouble at that dealership later, when the A/C system mysteriously failed after having a recall service done there.
That dealership is now closed, by the way, and currently the facility sells and services KIAs. And the $81 bearing assembly never gave a moment's trouble the rest of the time I had the car.
More than once, like at a gas station, somebody came up to me and asked how I kept the car so clean. But I guess since "Fiero" means "proud" in Italian, keeping the car shiny just came natural. Plus, as small as it was, there wasn't a whole lot to keep clean. I remember that it took half as much time to give the Fiero a sponge bath as it did the long-bed pickup.
People even asked me if I could detail their cars. I guess I could have picked up some extra change doing that, but I really didn't want the responsibility of touching their vehicles in case something bad happened.
But after just four years with the Fiero, bits and pieces were starting to age. At 80,000 miles the washer fluid tank had dried and cracked, the headliner had dropped, the electronics in the radio had fried, one of the horn buttons kept breaking off, and the A/C system was going south. And those Dunlops weren't brand new any more.
So the decision was made to replace the car with a new 1994 Ranger pickup. Of course, now I wish I had kept the Fiero and maintained it, but I didn't know of any support clubs or forums at the time (Or if there even were any), and I really didn't want to pump any real money and time into an 8-year-old car. Been there, done that.
The Fiero may have started off as a high-mileage commuter car, but to me, it had all of the necessary sports car ingredients. Compared to many British roadsters it was a rocket, and had comforts they never offered.
The 90-hp Iron Duke never set any land speed records in it, but the red spark plug wires looked cool. And speaking of engines, I always thought the Twin Cam Quad 4 was the perfect engine (180 hp) for a Fiero, but that's another story.
What would I do differently if I had the Fiero all over again? Well, since the body panels basically can be removed with a screwdriver, I'd find a salvaged car and get the sunroof pieces. Yes, I said the sunroof system in the Fieros wasn't very good... there wasn't even a cover shade... but since it was probably a 2-hour job to remove the outer roof panel and headliner, then install the new bits with the sunroof, I could have the glass panel all Winter, and not worry as much about the sun's harmful rays cooking the interior... and its passengers.
When I sold the Fiero, I couldn't watch the buyer drive off in it. Yes, the money and title had changed hands, but it was still my car. Every mile I had spent in it was a pleasure, and it was a gift to have that car during a very special time of my life.
And that's why I can never have another one.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Image Credits: I took all of these pictures of the Fiero during its 4-year time with me. The BMW M1 image is from BMWDrives.com.