By on August 31, 2020

The Pontiac Fiero started out as an innovative sports-car design, got bean-countered into an overweight parts-bin commuter car with embarrassingly public reliability problems, then got a complete redesign in 1988… which turned out to be the year of its demise.

Here’s one of those final Fieros, found in a Colorado car graveyard last year.

The most important change for the 1988 Fiero can be seen underneath, where Chevrolet Citation (rear) and Chevrolet Chevette (front) suspension bits no longer reside. The Fiero’s engineers finally had the opportunity to install the suspension their car should have had all along, but The General predicted — correctly — that the sports-car market would shrivel during the coming decade and decided to cut losses and axe the Fiero.

Not only did the last-year Fiero handle and stop better than its predecessors, the body looked sleeker and more modern. Did these improvements help sales? No, they did not; years of news reports of Fiero engine fires and recalls coupled with competition from the Toyota MR2 and Honda CRX two-seaters (and maybe even from Malcolm Bricklin’s Bertone-badged Fiat X1/9s) had turned the car-buying American public firmly against the Fiero. The Pontiac Division announced the demise of the Fiero in March of 1988, and barely over 25,000 of these cars made it out of the showrooms.

This car has the base engine, the 2.5-liter Iron Duke aka Tech 4, which was about the least sporty four-cylinder gasoline engine GM could find anywhere in its far-flung empire (and that includes Daewoo and Isuzu). Essentially one cylinder bank of the old Pontiac 301 V8, the Duke grumbled out 98 horses for the 2,597-pound Fiero. By this time, most Fiero buyers had figured out that the optional 2.8-liter V6 and its 135 horsepower were worth every bit of the extra cost, though the Duke-ized Fiero managed to get decent fuel economy when it wasn’t bursting into flames.

Had Fiero production continued past 1988, we would have seen Fieros with Oldsmobile Quad 4 engines beating up on MR2s and CRXs… and sales for all three cars fading into irrelevance at the same time, while truck sales skyrocketed.

1988 Pontiac Fiero in Colorado junkyard, manual gearshift - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAn Iron Duke Fiero with an automatic, even a 1988 model, wasn’t much fun to drive. This car has the five-speed manual, which probably contributed to keeping it alive until age 31.

1988 Pontiac Fiero in Colorado junkyard, keys - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhen you see the keys in a junkyard car, you know that it didn’t get towed away for too many parking tickets. Perhaps some Denver dealership got this one as a trade-in.

1988 Pontiac Fiero in Colorado junkyard, CSU parking stickers - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIt lived here since at least the middle 1990s, according to these Colorado State University parking stickers.

The Trans Am gets most of the screen time in this screaming-guitars-and-big-hair television commercial, but you’ll find some Fiero footage between the Daewoo LeMans and the Grand Am.

Seeing the Fiero lumped in with the wretched LeMans is depressing, so let’s watch an oonsk-oonsky Fiero ad from the optimistic first model year.

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16 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Pontiac Fiero Coupe...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    A perfect example of a car that should have been so much better then it was, then when it got better it was axed. This happens a lot, get it right then discontinue it :(

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    i have to say, I always liked the Ride Pontiac Ride jingle.

    Back in 07 or so, a guy I worked with had an ’88 GT. He was of larger carriage and it was odd seeing him in it – especially getting out of it. It was decent though I always thought it needed some kind of engine work because it was very loud but not in a tuned sort of way. I really wanted to like it but I came away unimpressed.
    Apparently someone stole it and wrecked it.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    Oh how I’d love to have an 88 Fiero GT V6.

  • avatar
    ScarecrowRepair

    I had an ’86 MR2 and had rejected the Fiero because of its parts bin pre-production reputation and its catchee-fire post-production reputation. Just seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. The MR2 lasted 29 years, 473K miles on the original engine, another 60K on a parts car engine which had not been well-cared for. If I had waited two years, or if GM had introduced the right Fiero from the start, without its deserved bad reputation, would one have lasted as long? I’ll never know.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Oh, Fiero, where and how did they go wrong with you?

    It seemed like such a good idea.

    Twenty years before you were born, Ford put a fancy body on the lowly Falcon and they made a fortune off it. GM took a bunch of parts, put them together in a rather creative way, some exciting new technology, a really nice looking body, aaaaaaand (sound of balloon hissing out)

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It WAS a great idea. If they had called it the Chevationette and marketed it as a subcompact for 2 with a bit of zig for just $3,995, they would have sold a million of them. The first year.

    It seems like that was the original intent, or something like that, but they (or marketing) made the idiotic leap to “sports car”.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A Quad-4 Fiero with the improved suspension would have been a much better vehicle. But like many GM products over the years once they get it right they end up discontinuing the model and sell off or mothball the technology.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    The Fiero never appealed much to me – but then I drove one and I liked it even less.

  • avatar
    S197GT

    my family had an ’84, 85, and i loved my 1986 fiero se V6 i had in high school. would hop on the highway in indiana, drive 30-40 mins to the next town, turn around and drive back; hoping to find someone to race. back then 3k-mile oil changes were the rule and i put 3k miles per month on mine when i first got it.

    it was pretty reliable, too. got it with 70k miles IIRC and i think we sold it with 118k miles or so to a distant cousin who drove it quite a bit longer. only thing that went wrong was, of course, the pop up lights. i ran over a small tree with it (put a bra on to cover the paint damage to the front (bumper was plastic) and got lightly tagged by an un-insured visitor from another country on the passenger side. i remember spinning in the lake-effect snow a couple of times but came out all right… i remember loving the sound of the V6 right behind your ear. girls liked it, not easy to make out in, but teenagers are pretty limber and have even more motivation.

    a few years after college i checked out a used ’86 GT and wasn’t as impressed as i remember but still made an offer. he refused but called me on my way home and tried to get me to come back at what i offered him but i made the right decision and kept going home.

    i would test drive an ’88 GT if one was nearby; buddy sends me links to fieros he sees for sale; but haven’t seen an ’88 gt around me for a good price. never did get to drive one of those.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Fiero is the penultimate version of GM getting it right, right before they kill the car off.

  • avatar
    la834

    I’m not seeing any Daewoo Lemans (Daewoo Lemons is more like it) in the first commercial, just Grand Ams, Firebirds, and Fieros. But what is that row of cars at the beginning? Looks like something from 1975, maybe a Ford Granada or Dodge Charger SE? All I can make out are single round headlights and an eggcrate grille. Nice shot of Sam the Record Man on Yonge St. in Toronto (0:24) though, whose legendary sign wowed me as a kid. Was this ad for the Canadian market? Anyway, lol that GM thought the way to seem hip to young people was to blare hair metal and pretend Pontiacs were motorcycles or something (“get on your Pontiac and ride, Pontiac, ride!”. Wtf?) The music in the second Fiero advert was much more modern and would work even today.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Have to give credit to GM:
    They are (were) pretty talented and creative with car commercials.

    If that talent had only been used to build reliable vehicles.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    “started out as an innovative design, got bean-countered into an overweight parts-bin commuter car with embarrassingly public reliability problems, finally got a complete redesign to make it everything it should have been from the start, and was almost immediately thereafter discontinued”

    This is the story of literally every GM passenger car.

  • avatar

    A GF had one of the early ones. It was every bit as bad as advertised. A family member had an MR2 about the same time-even base model vs. base model, the MR2 was a massive winner.

  • avatar
    Cobrajet25

    In 1998, I bought a gorgeous red 1988 Fiero Formula from a local wrecking yard. Price was about $800. Why was it there?

    You probably already guessed, but it had an engine fire. Melted the distributor, plug wires, and a fair bit of the engine wiring harness. The people who owned the yard allowed me to repair the car on-site, and after sourcing the needed parts from an ’85 2M6 at another yard I drove it home a few days later.

    It was a very fun car, and got a lot of looks. I actually liked driving it more than the ’92 300ZX I also had at the time. Don’t miss the Z, but I wish I still had the Fiero!

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