Story and photos
by Brian Earnest
Paul Hofmann Jr. is trying to do his part to help the Pontiac Fiero earn some respect in the collector car community. He knows it might take awhile, but eventually the old car hobby might find a greater collective appreciation for the tiny 1980s Pontiacs.
“It would be nice. I hope they do,” says Hofmann, a resident of Hazelhurst in northern Wisconsin. “Because they’re not as bad of cars as people think they are, you know?”
Hofmann has certainly grown to appreciate and enjoy his stellar 1985 SE example. He never had much to do with Fieros in the past, and didn’t ever have any interest in owning one as a hobby car until his son got involved.
“The guy who had it was a mechanic out at the Lakeland Airport. Steve’s Quality Paint and Body in Minocqua [Wis.] had it for sale,” Hofmann recalled. “And my youngest son [Preston] had just got his driver’s license and he thought, ‘Oh yeah, that would be a cool starter car!’ And I thought, well, OK. It was only about 2,500 bucks I think.
“So we took it home and started putzing around with it, fixing it up and repairing it. And I finally said, ‘Preston, if you smack this car up we’re going to have to buy a whole ‘nother car for it to fix it, so let’s maybe find something else. And he said OK, so then I made it my full-time project.”
That was about six years ago, when the little red two-seater had only 45,000 miles on the odometer. The car ran, but it needed some help before it was going to be reliable, and certainly before it would be a nice little show car as Hofmann had envisioned.
“The paint was pretty flat and looked like orange peel. I had to put new rubber on it, new brakes all the way around. The H20 sensor went out it and throttle body sensor went out on it and fuel injector sensor went out, so I had to buy my own plastic handheld [diagnostics tool] for it, which turned out to be money well spent. I was able to go through and figure all that out.”
Hofmann put a few more goodies on the car, such as an aftermarket woodgrain dash and a functional cooling port in front of the rear wheel openings to help cool the rear-mounted engine. “My next step is going to be to put a dual exhaust on it,” he says.
Perhaps the best part about the Fiero when Hofmann bought it was that it was almost rust-free. The body panels were all solid and there was no rust underneath on the frame. Mostly, the car just needed a little TLC, and that’s what Hofmann has supplied.
“The owner’s wife only drives it about a 1,000 miles a year, mostly back and forth to the grocery store,” he says. “I went to high school with her and I talked to her and she said, ‘The only reason I’m getting rid of it is I can’t get in an out of it. It’s hard on my back.’ So it hadn’t been driven much.
“People drove them as winter cars and you don’t do that! All the coolant and everything is up front. And it all has to travel underneath to the rear of the car, and the salt just eats those lines up and you’re dead, because they are part of the frame under there, and there’s just no replacing that.”
Certainly the Fiero was a different breed of cat when it bowed for the 1984 model — different than anything any U.S. manufacturer had ever built. It was billed as America’s first two-seat, mid-engine sports car, and it’s wedge-shaped body, Ferrari-esque front end styling and slot car handling gave it a sporting nature perhaps second only to the Corvette on U.S. car lots.
Displaying little trim apart from a tiny shield emblem ahead of the front hood, the Fiero was described by the company as “revolutionary.” The sleek — if somewhat stubby — body shape offered a drag coefficient of 0.377. Glass surfaces were nearly flush with the body. Headlamps were hidden. Full-width, neutral-density reflex taillamps were flush-mounted at the rear. “Enduraflex” body panel skins were corrosion-resistant. SMC panels went on horizontal portions (hood, roof, decklid, upper rear quarter panel). Reinforced reaction injection molded (RRIM) urethane panels with higher resistance to dents were used in vulnerable spots, including front fenders and doors. The car used a space frame of high-strength steel, described as similar to a racing car's roll cage.
The rear-drive Fieros rode a 93.4-inch wheelbase and carried a 92-hp, 151-cid (2.5-liter) four-cylinder engine when they debuted. Three models were available: coupe with four-speed transmission, 2.42:1 axle ratio and 13 inch tires; sport coupe with 4.10:1 axle ratio; and an SE with special WS6 performance handling package and standard rear deck luggage rack.
Inside the cockpit was a free-standing instrument cluster with electric speedometer, trip odometer, gas gauge, voltmeter, and temperature gauge. Lights warned of door or engine compartment lid ajar, upshift indicator, seatbelts not affixed, oil pressure, and need to check engine. A column-mounted lever controlled turn signals, dimmer, wiper/washer, and (optional) cruise control. Fiero standard equipment included a four-speed manual transmission, P185/80R13 blackwall SBR tires, retractable halogen headlamps, driver's remote mirror, bodyside moldings, rub strips, full-length console, tachometer, map pocket, reclining bucket seats, and four-spoke steering wheel. The SE had P215/80R13 tires and a padded Formula steering wheel.
For 1985, a new GT model joined the original trio, carrying a 173-cid (2.8-liter) V-6 engine with multi-port fuel injection. The new V-6 was optional in sport and SE coupes. The GT's appearance stemmed from the 1984 Fiero Indianapolis 500 Pace Car, including new “Enduraflex” front/rear fascia, rocker panel extensions, and optional deck lid spoiler. A WS6 performance suspension and P215/60R14 Eagle GT tires (on turbo wheels) were available. The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder came with a new Isuzu five-speed manual gearbox. V-6 models had a four-speed. Either one could get a three-speed automatic.
By the time the 1985 Fieros hit the streets, the sporty little coupes had already helped fulfill their company mission: jumpstart sagging Pontiac sales and inject some excitement into a lineup that many thought had gone stale. Pontiac had grown to the country’s No. 3 automaker in the 1960s, but by 1983 had slipped to No. 6. The new Firebird and all-new Fiero were PMD’s big hopes to shake things up, and by the end of 1984 Pontiac had seen a 37.8 percent sales boost.
After a highwater mark of 136,840 units built for 1984, sales of the Fiero tapered off for the next five years, finally sinking to just 26,401 in 1988 before the model was discontinued. Total production for the five-year run was 370,167. Hofmann’s 1985 example was one of 24,734 SE models built that year.
“I only put about 700 miles on it last year, and maybe 300 this year,” Hofmann said. “My youngest son, when we first got it, put about 3,000 on it that first year, but I haven’t driven it that much.”
Hofmann regularly takes the Fiero to weekend car shows in northern Wisconsin and in July showed the car in the Blue Ribbon corral at the Iola Car Show in Iola, Wis. “Coming down here we were cruising 80 mph, and the speedometer only goes to 85,” he chuckles. “I had the needle about this far past 85 – it goes!”
Hofmann has toyed with the idea of putting a four-speed in the Fiero to make it even more fun to drive. “It doesn’t have much for accessories,” he said. “It’s got a tilt wheel and I’m going to price out some power door locks. I want to have power door locks on it.
“It’s a nice toy. My wife and I like cruising around in it. I never see them around me. I always run into guys who say,'Oh, I used to have one of those,' or 'I’ve got one of those at home,' but I never see them.”
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