photos by: the author and Brian Sabo
An Introduction to the Crappiest GMEFI Project Car Yet!
The year 2020 wasn’t very kind one to a lot of people; layoffs, job loss, illnesses, income shortages and an insane election cycle. Just about everyone is “over COVID,” and we’re right there along with you. For many, big plans for the project car or race car were put on hold or scrapped indefinitely. While some may have progressed, others were sidelined for lack of parts or part delays. Others, may had to cancel a new car that was on order, and had to go without, or settle for something slightly more modest.
In the case of your author, I had a C8 Corvette in mind for a 2020 project, until the proverbial crap had hit the fan. With a ton of projects already in the shop, some of which sidelined or delayed due to parts shortages and shut downs, I ended up on the prowl for something else. Truth is, the latest project just fell into my lap and I had an itch to buy something. Does this make any sense at all? No. Do I care? Not really.
Located not even two miles from the GMEFI Magazine headquarters, we caught a glimpse of a Fiero poking out behind a house in somebody’s backyard. It’s one of those situations where we’ve seen it countless times, knew what it was, but never bothered stopping to ask about it. The curiosity eventually got the better of me, so I swung by for a closer look.
Figuring it was probably an early 2M4 version with the weak-kneed Iron Duke 2.5L 4-cyl and the basic anemities, I was pretty shocked when I realized that it was in fact a Formula — with factory T-tops, and the “High Output” 2.8L V6 backed by an automatic transmission. A quick Google search told me that the Formula was a one-year only trim level, 1988, which was also the final year of Fiero production. Further digging also told me that the factory T-tops were an extremely low output option, with roughly 100 or so Formulas being produced with the T-roof.
It’s pretty hit. I take that back; it’s very hit. The 2.8L engine is apparently seized up, it has four flat tires, the interior is pretty trashed, the doors are stuck shut, as is the “frunk” in the front. Much of the paint has faded off, the composite body panels all feel porous — partly due to the moss and mold that’s covering it and it’s probably not even worth its weight in scrap metal, with what little metal that’s actually on this car.
Speaking with the owner, as it turned out, the car hasn’t seen the street since 1998 or so, which was basically verified by the crusty license plate registration sticker. He was extremely hard of hearing, so being able to reveal what exactly happened to the car ultimately went unanswered. Most of the wiring and engine harness has been chewed up by rodents and it absolutely reeks inside the cockpit. The rear tires are so bald, that they’re showing their cords — it’s almost as if someone smoked them until something broke and once that happened, that was it for the car. Or so it seemed, until we turned up…
Let’s be clear, however; I’m not trashing Fieros and I have nothing but love for Pontiac’s lone two-seat, rear mid-engine sports car. I grew up in the ’80s, and there were a few of these in the family during my formidable years. I’ve always dug them, but like most of you, I was under the impression that they were underpowered and caught fire about once a week. Despite that, there was a family friend who had an ’86 GT back in the day, and when paired with a removable sunroof, a heavy foot, and a Motley Crue cassette cranked to 11, it was a pretty rad car. At least, that’s how I remember it…
The popularity of the Fiero in the ’80s and early ’90s was pretty epic. Like how I was recently reminded by a colleague, these things were driven [mostly] by big-haired, female mall rats in their heyday. They were girlie enough to appeal to just about every chick back then, but when ordered in the right color combo and in GT trim, it was a pretty cool budget sports car for the lad who couldn’t quite swing the payment on a Trans Am.
In pop culture, these things are everywhere; from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Magnolia, to more recent films like El Camino and Fast 9, I can promise you that you probably haven’t seen a TV show or a film with one in it, somewhere. These days, they’re pretty much dime-a-dozen cars that you can pick up for nothing, and even with the rising prices of ’80s and ’90s cars, $8000 will basically buy you the nicest example on the planet.
Much like the correlation between Firebird Formula and Trans Am, the Fiero Formula packed all of the mechanical bits of the GT, it a more “plain wrapper,” just with a few subtle changes. When COVID was shiny and new, it brought to the table with it 135hp and 160-lb ft of torque by sway of a 2.8L MPFI V6. Laughable now, but in 1988 that wasn’t too far off of what a low output 5-liter V8 was putting out.
Factor in a 2400-lb curb weight the one-year only 1988 suspension setup that was actually worth mentioning (’84-87 was a hodgepodge of Chevy Citation and Chevette underpinnings), and you could only imagine how fun this car could be with a horsepower boost.
The final year saw significant suspensions tweaks that was specific to 1988 Fieros, so much of the hardware was one-off that just about anything you need suspension-wise is unique to the ’88 models. The 15-inch aluminum Snowflake wheels are similar in appearance to those used on Trans Ams of the era, just with a smaller, 5×100 bolt pattern. Interestingly enough, Formula and GT Fieros both share the haloed WS6 suspension. We’re not kidding either; as it’s listed in the ’88 Fiero brochure, there were two slightly different setups for 1988 offered:
WS6 Special Performance (Formula and GT)
P205/60R15 front and P215/60R15 rear Goodyear Eagle GT+4 tires
23mm front stabilizer bar
22mm rear stabilizer bar
16:1 quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering
special springs and bushings
special control arms
Y99 Rally Tuned
P195/70R14 Goodyear Eagle GT tires
23mm front stabilizer bar
22:1 rack-and-pinion steering
special springs and bushings
14 x 6″ cast aluminum wheels
What all of this translated to, was a car that provided 0-60mph sprint in seven seconds, quarter-mile times in the high-15 second range and a top speed of 125mph. For the era, that was very respectable considering what it was. The Fiero essentially served as a direct competitor to contemporary sports cars of the day; particularly the Toyota MR2. It really didn’t make the dent into the Japanese marketshare that General Motors had hoped for, but it was fair competition on the street, and on the track.
If it was a running and driving, and maybe a little rough around the edges, we would (briefly) consider restoring the car and beefing up the 2.8L V6 for some additional power. But that’s simply not the case. So much of the car has been ruined by the elements (and previous owner), that we couldn’t justify the cost, time, and effort to simply end up with a car that we could have pick up for $5,000 with a few issues. It just doesn’t make sense.
So, the crapped out drivetrain is getting yanked and ditched in favor of an LS4 swap from a wrecked 2007 Impala SS. It’s as simple as that. While we’re still at a crossroads as to which direction we’ll take with the engine (a top-notch rebuild, or go full COVID and scrape up used speed parts to make it Sloppy Incredible), we know exactly how we’re setting up the aesthetics.
This thing is going to be straight up out of a Mad Max movie. We’re yanking some of the body panels, going larger diameter wheels, increasing the cornering prowess and essentially leaving the remaining crap box aesthetics. There’s a few details we’re keeping quiet for now, but it’s going to be one rad build by the end of 2021. No fancy paint, no custom leather interior… just budget built, homegrown horsepower and a serious attitude adjustment. Think; Mad Max meets Ariel Atom.
It’s going to be rad, badass, fun and one amazing ride.
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of GMEFI Magazine, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.