By on October 13, 2020

In Part I of this two-parter, we learned about the Fiero’s high-cost conception, and initial stumbling blocks in the form of fires and subsequent piles of melting plastic. But the team behind Fiero never gave up hope, as evidenced by what happened in the second half of its life.

Appearances changed for Fiero halfway through 1986 when the more exciting “1986.5” GT debuted a new fastback body style. The fastback looked larger and more modern than the standard coupe and wore its big, smoked heckblende with even more pride than the original. In its first full year of production, the GT trim sold well and made up 15,880 of the Fiero’s total 46,581 sales that year.

But the most substantial improvements were made to Fiero in 1988 when it gained a new suspension. In fact, it was the debut of the suspension the Fiero’s engineers designed for it in the first place. Changes were also made to address common consumer complaints: Brakes were upgraded to vented discs in all corners, and a new power steering pump was added. Also new for ’88 was the Formula trim, which brought many of the desirable features of the GT to the coupe’s form factor.

The most notable reasons for selecting the Formula trim were the sportier WS6 suspension, and its accompanying lace alloys and rear spoiler. Across all Fieros, yellow was available for the first time in 1988. The Formula proved a good seller and reached 5,484 sales in its only year, about 1,400 shy of sales on the GT.

But as was the way with GM, around the time the Fiero was improved to become the vision its engineers dreamed years before, the plug was pulled. There was already a 1989 Fiero prototype in the works, which was elongated and pulled in design features from the extant Firebird. Engineers proposed replacing the awful Iron Duke with a Quad 4 as the base engine and developed a new 3.4-liter DOHC V6 for the prototype. Also proposed for use was a newly developed turbocharged version of the Buick 3800. And that 3800T would’ve been the one to get, obviously. The new 3.4 V6 didn’t go to waste though. It was developed fully as the 210-horsepower LQ1, and GM put it into production in the Pontiac Grand Prix and the Z34 version of the Lumina.

GM declined to greenlight the second generation Fiero citing its complete unprofitability and slow sales. Perhaps an expensive upcoming recall of 244,000 cars was also a factor. A sad end for an ambitious little car. Very not sad is today’s bright yellow V6 five-speed Formula in stunning original condition. With a couple of upgrades, modern air conditioning, and 54,000 miles, it asks $8,900 in Florida.

[Images: seller]

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20 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Completely Stock 1988 Pontiac Fiero Formula (Part II)...”

  • avatar

    Awesome car. Never seen leather in a Formula, I guess it was added later because that example doesn’t even have cruise or power windows.

  • avatar

    The year was 1984, I had just hired in the Bowling Green Corvette plant as a lowly, previously laid off auto worker. One of the high ranking corporate executives came to the plant and called a plant wide meeting to tell us about how our quality depended on us keeping our jobs and the intention was to keep 2 shifts operating instead of just 1. He started talking about how GM had other 2 seaters ( Buick Reatta & Pontiac Fiero ) and if we weren’t carful they just may steal sales away from the Corvette resulting in a loss of jobs. I approached him after the meeting and asked him ” do you really think the Fiero was capable of “stealing” sales away from the Corvette, since the Corvette was in a class of it’s own”? He just looked at me with a grin on his face as if to say nah! Eighteen months later the 2nd shift was cut, it wasn’t because of the quality, the new Vette was catching up on sales as does any newly designed Corvette.

    • 0 avatar

      The Reatta was not available until 88, the design not previewed until 86. So you’re saying this exec leaked the Reatta two years before the prototype was done?

      • 0 avatar

        yes, he didn’t call it by name but said it’s in the works, from what I recall, 36 years ago!

        • 0 avatar

          So from design to build average time line of 5 years any high level exec would know far in advance of what’s in the pipeline, right?

          • 0 avatar

            Here’s a ’84 Motorweek video where they allude to the “rumored” Allante at the 1:00 mark. So if the Cadillac was basically common knowledge I’m guessing higher up GM people knew that a Buick cousin was in the works.


          • 0 avatar

            Didn’t you have an Allante?

          • 0 avatar

            I did. A silver ’89 with about 160K miles. It was a fun car but I didn’t drive it much because the top operation was a giant PITA and I was always afraid about the brakes or trans. I traded it straight-up for a ’94 Seville which was easier to live with but less interesting and N* made me also afraid to drive it too much.

            So I sold both the Cadillac and the Electra and got a Yamaha motorcycle.

          • 0 avatar

            “So from design to build average time line of 5 years any high level exec would know far in advance of what’s in the pipeline, right?”

            The answer to this is definitely yes. I don’t work for an OEM, but my company modifies OEM vehicles and even as (trusted and NDA signing) outsiders, we are privy to detailed knowledge of upcoming vehicles years ahead of their public release.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I remember reading in a car magazine in the mid-late 80’s that GM wanted to have a low volume halo car two seater for each division. The Buick Reatta Pontiac Fiero, Cadillac Allante and of course the Corvette. Apparently Oldsmobile had a prototype of a two seater Trofeo.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Perhaps the saddest automotive tragedy ever. I drove an ’88 and it was a whole new ballgame.

  • avatar

    One would be hard-pressed to get a better classic car for $9000 than this example of THIS peak Fiero!

    Makes me want to dig up the old C/D and see the 1988 road test!

  • avatar

    Honestly I’ve never loved Fiero’s, yellow, or black wheels but somehow this car works and looks cool. I’d love to drive one sometime just to say I did although will probably be disappointed (probably similar to a Delorean which I would also like to drive sometime).

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    ’88 Fiero Formula vs MR2 Supercharged:

    The ’88 brakes were the biggest improvement. ’84-’87 used non-vented 9.75″ rotors that required a lot of pedal effort (felt like non-power brakes) and faded with heavy use. ’88 finally had a normal-feeling pedal and 11″ vented rotors.

    I miss my Fieros sometimes, but discovered that Miata really is the answer. (Unless the question is, What sports car can I drive through ten Ohio winters without it rusting to the ground? OR What 2-seater can I use to take my GF on a week-long road trip that will actually hold all the crap she brings along?)

    • 0 avatar

      It would appear that original Miata really is the answer!

      The original MR2 didn’t generate the buzz (and is not as popular an amateur racer). The Fiero wasn’t even in the game until 1988, and it had to be optioned just right, and then it was gone.

      I wonder if the MR2 or Miata would get the quickest lap times, in the hands of a professional driver.

      But most of us here are not professionals…. I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s possible that with that torquey V6, we amateurs might get better lap times in an 88 Fiero Formula than the other two.

  • avatar

    “The Reatta was not available until 88, the design not previewed until 86. So you’re saying this exec leaked the Reatta two years before the prototype was done?”

    I also wondered about that timeline…

  • avatar

    Ugh. Makes me sad to remember that I lost my 21k mile ’88 GT 5-spd earlier this year in a total loss accident. Watching BaT auction prices continue skyward since then adds to the sadness.

  • avatar

    GM made more interesting cars in those days. All GM produces today are angry looking SUV and Trucks, and EV’s that nobody wants to buy.
    How is GM going to thrive with less than 15% of the US market. This is where they are headed by their own admission. Barra will stop at nothing to achieve an all electric future, which only 2% of the car buying public wants.

  • avatar

    I worked at Oldsmobile Division in the Fiero Timeframe. Olds built many Fiero parts, including RRIM body panels, gas tanks and other ancillary parts. I had the privilege of touring the Fiero plant in January of 1984, which was the heyday of Fieros. Consumers couldn’t buy them without being on a waiting list and dealers charged premiums for them. This was also when the Indy Pacecars were being produced.
    Couple of issues with this article. First off, the vehicle shown is not stock. The seats in it were retrofitted from a GT likely. Also, production 88 Fieros never had power steering as mentioned in the article (there were no power steering pumps! as the engine is in the back and the steering is up front!). I worked on a prototype ’89 that had electric power steering that Saginaw was going to debut in that vehicle.
    The coolest thing I had the chance to work on was an Olds proto Fiero that was ‘stretched’ to have a back seat! It was a 2+2, very odd looking. I always wondered what happened to that prototype. We also had a big hand in the ’89’s quad 4 because that was an Olds developed powertrain. I have an ’88 yellow fiero that is truly stock, unlike the one in this article. Love mine, Fiero problems aside – but I was part of its history.


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