By on October 14, 2015


As I continue my occasional look at cheap, mid-engine sports cars of the Eighties, one enormously popular car is clearly missing. The Fiero was GM’s attempt at producing an efficient, yet potentially fun car on the cheap.

Unfortunately, GM mostly succeeded at producing a platform for awful Lamborghini replicas.

Parts-bin engineering meant much of the Fiero’s underpinnings came from Chevettes and Citations, two vehicles not well known for performance. In 1988, however, a suspension redesign wholly transformed the car. It’s been said that the Fiero was killed to maintain the Corvette’s place atop the GM performance mountain — I can see that.

The Quad4 HO engine, soon to be found in the Oldsmobile W41 package cars, would put out nearly 200 hp in a lightweight, well-handling package that would surely challenge the C4.

This 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula doesn’t have the showy body kit of the GT model, but has all of the performance goodies. I’m not certain, but I think the WS6 handling package is fitted, too, which makes this even more desireable. If more power is needed, kits are available for small-blocks, Cadillac Northstar V8s, and I’ve seen homebrew Quad4 installations, too.

The Fiero has a reputation for engine fires, but these kinks have generally been worked out by the aftermarket. I want some time behind the wheel of a Fiero. At least when clothed in the original body panels, they look like a barrel of fun.

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34 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula...”

  • avatar

    A Q4 version of the Fiero would have been fun up until the headgaskets failed or you ran out of aspirin to compensate for the NVH.

    An SD4 would have been the most compelling option, but I don’t know if that engine could meet emissions.

  • avatar

    I can’t begin to imagine the looks you’d get driving one of these. Can you still get Zubaz on eBay?

  • avatar

    I see one driving around here occasionally to which someone has mounted a trailer hitch, and carries around a huge box behind the car. The rest of the car appears to be in good condition. The box looks like it must weigh close to a thousand pounds. As you can imagine, the front tires barely touch the ground and the rear end is almost dragging. Not knowing the guy, I don’t know if any rear suspension improvements have been made to help carry the load.

    In the ’80s I totally discounted these cars. Maybe they would have been worth a second look by the end.

  • avatar

    If you are ever in Iowa, you are more than welcome to drive my 88 Fiero Formula. I have pretty much the exact same car as your featured one, except mine is used as my daily driver in the non-winter months. Fun cars!

  • avatar

    The online Fiero community is also awesome. Just sayin’.

  • avatar

    The Chevy 2.8 was very hard on head gaskets. That was the motor that finished my relationship with Chevy:(

  • avatar

    Well, for $2500 more (or little less with an offer) you can get a pristine Corvette instead. And it’s got awesome C4 styling, and directional wheels.

    So I’m thinking this $6500 is too high for Fiero. If this were a GT, the price would be more appropriate. The GT looks entirely better, more unique, and modern than this regular Formula.

  • avatar

    This thing needs 3800SC power.

  • avatar

    A guy showed up at an autocross last weekend with an LS4-swapped Fiero. It was pretty awesome.

  • avatar

    Gotta be the GT body style for me.

    There’s a local guy here in Calgary who has a black 88 Fiero GT with the wheels pictured above (in gold), with a 3800 Series II SC and a 5MT. Its an absolutely beautifully built car, he used as much wiring from the donor GTP, all the accessories work (air, cruise, etc) , and it sounds fantastic though its 98 Camaro muffler.

    I want it so bad.

  • avatar

    There are a few of these that show up at the local C&C with LS conversions.

    Its a shame GM had at the beginning had relied on the parts bin for the suspension only to ultimately redesign the suspension and kill the car.

    They should have went ahead with the Q4 car if only to get the Corvette team( I say Corvette team but really upper management) off their ass with the possibility of the Corvette being a generation ahead by now.

  • avatar

    If I’m not mistaken, the fires were only an issue on the ’84’s, and was dealt with in a recall. I know a friend of mine had an ’86 2M4 through high school, and his only real issue was keeping the thing pointing forward (which was at least in part a tire issue, and also that we were teenagers).

    I really like the low-key looks of all the Pontiac Formula cars though, and would absolutely drive this as it is.

    • 0 avatar

      The engine fires were isolated to the ’84 and some early ’85 models with the 4cyl. The problem was very poorly made connecting rods and a misprint in the owner’s manual that understated oil capacity. The combination of low oil level and weak connecting rods led to broken connecting rods. In some cases, the ‘catastrophic engine damage’ caused oil to leak onto the intake manifold and POOF!

      There were thousands of cars affected by the crappy connecting rods, but ‘allegedly’ less than 250 engine fires. My cousin had an ’84 model that burst into flames in early 1986 with 19k miles on it. By the time the Atlanta FD arrived 10 minutes later, all that was left was a space frame with the melted red body panels dripping from it.

      The good news is that no one was seriously injured in any of the fires!

      Sadly, like so many GM products of the past, they finally got it right and the ’87-’88 Formula and GT were good cars….then they pulled the plug…

      • 0 avatar

        It wasn’t that the connecting rods were weak per se it was that they had terrible quality control. GM’s own testing determined that about 25% of them were likely to fail. Rather than fix their production issues the decision was made to ship them, hope most made it out of warranty and deal with the fallout later. With 4 per engine it is truly surprising that engine failures were not far more common.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I don’t hate the Fiero; I just hate what GM did to it.

    To shackle such a swoopy body as the Fiero’s to a truck engine (at which job the Tech IV/Iron Duke excelled) when are at least 2 engines with nearly double the available horsepower out of the box in your overlord’s inventory, it’s no longer a rumor: no one is allowed to disturb the financial performance stratification at GM, even if it means using inappropriate powertrain combinations. Fieros were a joke on the street; any self-respecting driver in a turbocharged Sunbird or Quad 4 equipped Calais could smoke the later V6 version without even noticing – and the base engine Fieros were cruel jokes.

    I remember being impressed with leaked concept sketches in the early 80s, especially one with Pontiac’s Banshee label applied to it. I was sorely disappointed when I read about which engine was to be fitted to the car, and quickly realized it was pressure from the Corvette team which prevented Pontiac from borrowing the Quad 4 or the Brazil turbo 4-banger to create a truly worthy competitor to Toyota’s MR2 hit.

    In the late 80s, an enterprising hot rodder fitted a hi-po Pontiac 455 behind the seats of a former 2M6 before making it into several magazines. His most memorable comment: “It pulls really hard at 150 mph.”

    It looks like today’s hot swaps include big power factory crate 4-bangers – and a quick search pulls up several LS4 upgrades.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      They committed an even worse sin, Felis Concolor, they actually stuffed that Iron Duke engine into the FIREBIRD. I had a friend who owned a 1984, what a sorry POS that was!

    • 0 avatar

      If you knew or know the hoops that had to be jumped through just to make that car happen you would understand why it was built the way it was. Sure you see what you and others talk bad about, bit you don’t see what it was to become… You need to talk to some of the people to was involved in the program to see the clear vision of what the car was to become.. I as well as a few others have had the pleasure of talking with engineers and designers of the Fiero program…

      The Fiero did well for the year it was produced. No it wasn’t the fastest, didn’t handle the best …. But put the biggest smile on while driving them … And the owners were always waving at each other. I speak from experience and owned a new 88 Formula back in 88…. I liked the car and I drove a 10sec street car back then…oh and 10 sec street car was a big deal in the 80’s…. I have 3 Fieros now one will push 180 down MIS back streach and I know guys that go faster.. But I still enjoy to drive the stock on too…

  • avatar

    This is one of those cars that to me was a joke within a few years after being discontinued, but I’ve come to appreciate. I can at least tip my hat to GM for making a bold gamble.

    And there really is no telling how many cars were sabotaged to protect the Corvette.

  • avatar

    Yeah! You should really have all the real & complete facts together before you post something. You loose all creditably on anything you say otherwise….


  • avatar

    Here and there for the last decade, I get a bug to find one of these, swap the engine, and learn to drive an MR that still has Chevy-priced parts. Then I take one look at the interior of even a nice one, which is enough that the bug doesn’t come back for at least a year or two.

  • avatar

    MR2 was far superior. Fiero was a nice attempt…eventually!

  • avatar

    They look like fun and lovable cars, I rode in one once years ago and it was peppy for a light, little car like that but it was no match for the Celicas and MR2s that Toyota built. The problem now is that MR2s are in the same price range as nice Fieros and while they don’t lend themselves to hot swapping big inches they don’t need to. Base HP is fun, grabbing a newer I4 from a corolla and a turbocharger nets you 200+ and doesn’t rip the drivetrain to hell. It’s kind of a collectible focused on the love of the car than the fascination of the power itself.

    It’s the same market for those who collect XJS, you have to love the car because there are better vehicles that do the same thing.

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