Driven To Write’s Top Fifty Best Cars Ever: Number One

Here it is, the our Top Fifty Best Cars Ever finalist. The engine is behind the driver. It has two seats, strong performance and agile handling…

1984 Pontiac Fiero, styled by Aldikacti and Milidrag:
1984 Pontiac Fiero, styled by Aldikacti and Milidrag:

For the Fiero, Pontiac used a range of engineering concepts not previously seen on an American two-seat sports car. The engine resided aft of the driver and Pontiac engineers opted to deploy plastic panels to clothe the chassis. This reduced weight, tooling costs and gave new freedom in styling. Although considered by some to be less than the sum of its parts, the Fiero sold well during its five year run, earning it a Car & Driver Ten Best award in 1984.

1984 Pontiac Fiero interio:
1984 Pontiac Fiero interior:

Two engines served in the Fiero: a 2.5 litre L4 petrol and a more powerful 2.8 litre V6 petrol. These engine choices made sense in the light of the existence of the more powerful and costly Corvette which had a V8. The 2.5 litre managed creditable fuel economy and the planners intended it to have a commuter car role in addition to its fun-to-use quality. While the mid-engine layout offered advanages in theory, the fitment of standard GM brakes, suspension and gearbox (in the name of cost cutting) reduced somewhat the extent to which this potential was exploited.

With its aggressive styling, keen pricing and competent road manners, the Fiero offered much that would cost more if found in an imported car. All that was required of the owner was the correct expectations and regular servicing. More than this though, the Pontiac served to test technology that found its way into the revolutionary Saturn cars which changed they way GM looked at its customer and dealers and helped GM move on to a new period of creativity and market success.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

21 thoughts on “Driven To Write’s Top Fifty Best Cars Ever: Number One”

  1. What would be the modern day Fiero? A smart Roadster, an Alfa 4C or the Toyobaru?

    1. Hi Fred – surely those fires are a detail.
      I think early Porsches had gasoline-powered heaters that were a little combustible.
      The real drag on the Fiero was the crummy standard issue brakes and suspension.

  2. The Fiero showed GM could not resist their bad habits. The fires don’t surprise me.

    1. Hmm. The Spanish adjective fiero means fierce. Definitely TDA.

    2. I always read it as “proud” – depends if they had Italian or Spanish in mind.

  3. I was somewhat puzzled as to why the Fiero never made it to Europe as an Opel or Vauxhall – after all, in those days we got quite excited about anything affordable with a mid-mounted engine, even one as horrible as the Pontiac Iron Duke.

    An interview with Bob Stempel in CAR January 1981 provides some of the answers. Stempel is regarded as the “Father of the Fiero”, but had moved to Germany to take charge of Opel in October 1980. Asked about the possibility of European sales he said.

    “The P-car is a Pontiac, aimed at Pontiac buyers. It was engineered for one market and is based entirely on US componentry…

    …The way the P-car is set up makes it unsuitable for Europe. It was designed to cope with American washboard roads and US safety legislation”.

    So much for GM’s successful world car programme, as evidenced by RWD T-car and FWD J-car. Consoling the desolate interviewer (Big Georg Kacher) Stempel said “We’ll do something equally exciting here. The new tooling flexibility will give us the arsenal”.

    For the life of me I can’t think of anything that fitted the description. Perhaps Opel/Vauxhall never needed such a product in Stempel’s era. With the FWD Kadett/Astra and Ascona/Cavalier, their star never shone brighter than in the ’80s, and Stempel went on to take the top job at GM.

    1. How about the Calibra? That was after Stempel´s time. Maybe he left plans for it in his desk.
      The T-body gave us the early Kadett and the J-body the Ascona. The J-body came later (1981) Wikipedia doesn´t say when the RWD T-body appeared; I guess it was the early 70s (1970?).

    2. Europe got the Opel Monza, which was a genuinely fine car. A mate of mine was utterly obsessed by them in the early 90s, and I think was responsible for writing off at least two (six cylinder rear drive coupes and 20-somethings are an interesting mix).

    3. I’m pretty sure we saw Fieros here in Switzerland. Not many, though, and I suspect they weren’t imported officially; but Switzerland had a special liking to American cars, as can be read elsewhere on DTW, and a lively scene of non-official importers, so I think they came via this path.

  4. Rather surprisingly, the first T-car was the Brazilian Chevrolet Chevette arriving in April ’73, five months ahead of the European Opel Kadett C. The Brazilian car had a 1.4 litre ohc engine unrelated to anything offered in Europe. The bodywork was near-identical to the Kadett C.

    Argentina got their version, the Opel K-180, with a 1.8 litre pushrod four derived from a descendant of the 1920s Chevrolet Stovebolt Six, the extraordinary ohv unit produced the world over, and copied by Austin and Toyota, to name but two.

    The Calibra was the only thing I could think of as a ‘sporty’ offering to fulfil Stempel’s ambition. Stempel’s reign at Opel was brief; he returned to Detroit in 1982, and the Calibra didn’t arrive till 1989, In between the Manta and Monza had been allowd to wither on the vine, so I’d guess that the Calibra was the response of a later management to the mid-late ’80s coupe zeitgeist.

  5. The “glamour” Opels – if I’m allowed to use the term:

    1968-73: Opel GT
    2000-05: Opel Speedster / Vauxhall VX220 (Lotus Elise derivative)
    2007-10: Opel GT (Pontiac Solstice / Saturn Sky)

    Curiously, none of them were built in Germany. “Which Opel was made in Norfolk?” is a great pub quiz question?

  6. Jacomo: the Monza is a great car. Georg Kacher thought so (as if that proves much). It did however emerge quite some time before the Fiero, around 1976 I think. And it´s a completely different car. Setright and Kacher disagreed over the Senator “B” though. In this instrance I side with Setright. By extension, I think the Monza had similar qualities of balance and power. Funny how the Granada coupe and Monza differed so much in character. Whatever they are like in real life, I get the impression Opel set up the Monza as a proper GT while the Granada is a two-door saloon, no better and no worse than the four door version. Myles Gorfe will disagree, if he ever turns up.
    Have you seen my Senator review here? I got to drive one last year.

  7. Simon: wasn´t GM´s HQ in Zurich for a few years? I think that meant a lot of GM cars were brought over. There are also American military personnel who import their cars to Europe while stationed in Germany. They are another source of odd American metal (or plastic in the case of the Fiero).

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