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      Car History: Car History Year 1984
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 13:28:31 UTC by Cars
     
     
      Cars As long as examples of the Fiero survive, people will continue to argue whether the Pontiac two-seater was a classic in the making that got prematurely killed off by the accountants or merely an expensive failure that was put on sale before it was fully developed. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

    There had, in actual fact, been ideas for a Pontiac sports car bouncing around the division's engineering and styling departments since the early '60s but, apart from a couple of concept cars on the auto show circuit, nothing had come of these proposals. One example of this was back in 1966. As a response to the runaway success of the Ford Mustang, John DeLorean tried to win approval from his GM masters for a two-seater Pontiac for the 1967 model year, but he had to be satisfied with the Firebird - basically a restyled Chevy Camaro with a Pontiac engine. Although the genesis of the Fiero dates back to around '75, credit for providing the required impetus to get the project moving goes to Bob Stempel, who became Pontiac's general manager in 1978. Stempel's reasoning wasn't based upon producing a mid-engined, high performance sports model but rather a fuel-efficient commuter car to combat the projected escalation of gas prices and likely disappearance of models like the Firebird as a consequence of future government legislation. This resulted in an immediate conflict as to exactly how the Fiero should turn out. Another problem was the lack of finance. Stempel had left Pontiac in 1980, to be replaced by William E. Hoglund. Immediately after taking over, Hoglund was informed that there would be very limited funds made available for the Fiero project. The whole auto industry was suffering during the early '80s, with record losses being recorded a!S round, and these were not the best conditions for trying to get sufficient money allocated to develop a completely new type of car. Hoglund wasn't to be deterred and set about cutting costs to the bone. The engineering work was subcontracted out to Entech Engineering (under the control of Pontiac's project head Huldi Aldikacti), with a directive to use as many existing components as possible, and pressure was applied to parts suppliers to reduce prices wherever possible. The end result was, predictably, that far too many compromises had to be made and the Fiero suffered badly as a consequence. The underpinnings of the car read like a list cobbled together from the corporate GM parts catalogue: the drivetrain consisted of the four-cylinder engine/transmission unit used in the front-wheel-drive X-body quartet (Chevrolet Citation/Pontiac, Phoenix/Oldsmobile, Omega/Buick, Skylark) and the front suspension was mainly taken from the Chevy Chevette. Although the designers made space for a V6 engine right from the outset (it was added in '85), the '84 Fiero arrived in the showrooms with a 92 horsepower, 2.5-liter "Iron Duke" four-cylinder mated to either a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transaxle mounted midships. Although placing the engine in such a position creates the optimum weight distribution - and therefore excellent roadholding - the Fiero's modest power output meant that it was always going to be found rather wanting when it came down to performance. While a 0 to 60mph time of around 11 seconds and a top speed of just over 100mph would be outstanding figures for a utilitarian commuter car, they were totally out of keeping with a sports car that looked like a miniature Ferrari. And that was possibly the Fiero's biggest problem - it simply couldn't deliver what its appearance promised. The story of the swoopy body started out at one of GM's Advanced Studios headed by Ron Hill, and the styling was finished off by a team of designers under the leadership of John Schinella at the Pontiac II Studio that included Jack Folden, Bob Menking and John Snell. Schinelia was later quoted as saying: "Maybe we made it look too good, because people were expecting more out of it than what it was. If it had looked a little dumber, maybe they wouldn't have had so many high expectations that it was hot." Visually the Fiero bears a slight resemblance to the Bertone-designed Fiat X1/9 and also the Toyota MR2 (both mid-engined), but while it could almost match the performance of the Italian car the Pontiac fell a long way short of matching the Japanese one. But if the Fiero's shape and configuration seemed vaguely similar to other cars, the body's construction was very unusual indeed. Instead of a conventional unitary body of welded steel, the Pontiac's panels were molded from Enduraflex, an impact-resistant plastic, and attached to a space-frame chassis. The strength of the car was contained in this frame and it could be safely driven around without any bodywork at all. In theory, this method of construction not only made accident damage repairs a lot easier, but also allowed annual body styling alterations to be carried out at a minimum cost. As part of the original justification for the Fiero, Stempel and Hoglund had estimated that Pontiac would sell between 50,000 and 60,000 units a year. This was considered wildly over-optimistic by many in the hierarchy of General Motors - especially as the long-established Corvette was only averaging around 40,000 annual sales and that no other two-seater had got anywhere near these sort of figures. But it turned out that everyone was wrong. At the end of its first year the Fiero production total was an incredible 136,940. A runaway success then? Yes, as far as the '84 sales figures go, but there were some problems that needed to be addressed. Firstly, an alarming number of reports were received about engine fires breaking out in the early four-cylinder cars, leading to a major recall in '87 for remedial work. Then there were the questions concerning the lack of performance. This was partially solved with the introduction of the 2.8-liter V6, but it was still saddled with four-speed manual trans because the five-speed offered with the four-cylinder engine couldn't take the torque of the six. It was this sort of poor planning that, together with an equally ineffective marketing strategy, handicapped the Fiero's development and ultimately led to its demise. Sales dropped dramatically by almost 50 in '85, and continued to fall in each subsequent year. Increased competition from imports in this specialized market sector and major rises in insurance premiums were a couple of the factors in this decline, but customer preferences were also changing. At first Pontiac argued for a major revamp of the Fiero, and then looked at other price-cutting ways to keep the model going. Eventually, however, mounting losses forced the inevitable and the company stopped production of the Fiero model.
    After hearing of the announcement on March 1 1988 about the decision to pull the plug on the Fiero, Bob Stempel told journalists: "What you see here is the reality of what's happening in North America -when the market goes away for a particular product, that's the end." In 1984, of course, nobody knew that the Fiero was destined for such a short life. That it enhanced the image of Pontiac in the short term is unquestionable, but whether the two-seater could have gone on to be a lasting success is another matter entirely. The Toyota MR2 is still in production, but the US market represents only a fraction of the car's worldwide sales, and that international appeal is something that the Pontiac Fiero was never really given the chance to match. Specification PONTIAC FIERO SE Engine Cast iron - 4 Cylinders in line Displacement 151 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.0x3.0 ins. Horsepower 92 Body styles Coupe No. of seats 2 Weight (lbs) 2,465 Ibs Price $9,599 Produced 67,671     Specification CHEVROLET CORVETTE Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 350 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.00 x 3.48 ins. Horsepower 200 Body styles Coupe No. of seats 2 Weight (lbs) 3,087 Ibs Price $21,800 Produced 51,547     Specification LINCOLN CONTINENTAL MARK VII Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 302cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.0x3.0 ins. Horsepower 140 Body styles Coupe No. of seats 5 Weight (lbs) 3,600 Ibs Price $21,707-$24,807 Produced 33,344     Specification FORD MUSTANG GT 350 Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 302 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.0x3.0 ins. Horsepower 175 Body styles Coupe No. of seats 4 Weight (lbs) 3,000 Ibs Price $9,578 Produced 150,000 (all models)  
     
     
     
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