Buying a Pontiac Fiero in the UK

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The first big question is - What is a Fiero? 

The Fiero is small (in North American terms) car built in relatively low numbers from 1984-1988.  It was quite advanced for it's time, with a mid-mounted engine, independent suspension, 4-wheel alloy disc brakes, galvanised steel space-frame, non-metallic body panels, etc.

The original Fiero was equiped with a 2.5l 4 cylinder engine, but later became available with a 2.8l V6. Gearbox options were 3sp automatic, 4sp manual, and 5sp manual. Many of the parts came from other models in the Pontiac lineup, although many more were unique to the car.  The engine and gearboxes were originally found in front-wheel drive cars - it was just re-positioned to a point just in front of the rear axles.

All of the body panels are non-structural, that is to say, the chassis, minus all of the body panels, can be driven (although it would not be legal to do so on the street!).  Some of the panels (door skins, wings, bumpers) are made of a flexible moulded plastic while the bonnet, roof and bootlids are made of a more rigid fibreglass/plastic mix. There are two basic body styles (although there are variations within them, depending on year and model)

                         - the notchback                                       - the fastback

 








As a result of the way the panels are separate from the chassis, the Fiero has long been popular for the basis in re-bodying projects. Common re-bodies are Ferrari 308 and 355, as the dimensions of the chassis are very similar to the Ferraris.

As the Fiero was never marketed outside of the US/Canada, most of the cars available in the UK are likely to have been personal imports. As well, almost all of them are left-hand drive. 

What are they like to drive? This depends on a number of factors (age, condition of suspension, engine/gearbox combination, condition of brakes, etc).  In my experience, they are easy cars to drive, most of the time, although steering can be heavy when parking (power steering was not an option).  The 4-cylinder engine is a bit asthmatic and, if you like a bit of acceleration, I'd go for the V6. Remember, though, that you are taking early 80s here - the 140 BHP V6 in stock form is not a screamer (about the same horsepower as a bog-standard new Mini Cooper S...). The brakes, when in good condition, will deal with most challenges thrown at them, and the handling is, mostly, neutral.  It is not at it's best when pushed hard on narrow winding roads, as it was conceived as a nippy commuter, rather than an out and out sports car. As a motorway cruiser, however, it is great.

What are the bad points? There are a number of issues - the handbrake mechanism is a bit fiddly, and if not properly maintained, will seize (a common MOT failure point).  The calipers are unique to the Fiero, and so are not that common here in the UK, but the various re-build parts can be found, and the job is fairly simple.  Because of the design of the car, there are very few rattles - most are related to worn suspension components.  There are a number of parts specialists in the UK, covering the majority of consumables (spark plugs, distributor cap, etc).  Body panels and glass are more rare, and you may end up having to get them from the US. Germany is also a good source of bits for the Fiero.

Being left-hand drive can be a bit of a problem but mostly on narrow country lanes, at night, with big hedgerows cutting down visibility.  Driving one on single carriageway does mean that you have to put a bit more thought into overtaking, but that is true of any left-hand drive car over here.

How much should you pay for one?  The usual answer is that it depends on the condition but, as a guide, you should be able to get an MOT'able car with a V6 and automatic gearbox from about £750.  At that price, however, you should expect a few flaws. At the top end, for a 1988 Formula with 5sp manual, low mileage, in excellent condition, you can pay up to £5000.  As usual, you get what you pay for.

On the insurance front, prices vary tremendously, so shopping around is a must. Bargains can be found, however. My own car (a 1985 V6 parked on the road) was fully comprehensively insured as my main vehicle, therefore earning a No Claims Bonus, for less than £160 per year (yes - I am over 25!!).

Just remember to do your homework, and if you need to know more, there is a Facebook site dedicated to these cars - look for "Pontiac Fiero UK" - members there are knowledgeable about Fieros in general, and may even know the car you might want to buy.

One last thing - Fieros had a reputation for spontaneous combustion - this reputation was a result of poor quality control on some early 4-cylinder cars, along with a poor attitude from General Motors, who blamed the owners for not maintaining their cars properly.  The risk was that low oil levels would cause overheating which then caused breakage of connecting rods (often through the side of the crankcase, spilling oil, etc on the hot exhaust and brake parts), resulting in a vehicle fire. The Fiero was subject to a small number of recalls during the early years, and many of the cars around now have had the necessary work carried out.

My own opinion of these cars is that, whilst they are not the best "sports cars" around, they are different, fun, practical (within limits) and very good value for money, so go out there and enjoy yourself.

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