The Fiero bargain that still haunts me

1986 Pontiac Fiero

I’d always had a soft spot for General Motors first—and until very recently, only—mid-engine car because my brother once owned one. But one Fiero, wearing wide, IMSA-inspired flares front and rear, and a patriotic, pinstriped color scheme, still tugs on my heart strings. 

In 2013, I spotted a 1986 Fiero in some listings for a RM auction nearby in California. It wore a very 1980s paint scheme with white on top, blue on the bottom, and a thick red pinstripe below the beltline. My schedule didn’t allow me to attend the auction, but I assumed it would go for a collector car price and not a project car price. Despite that, I made sure to check up on the sale to satisfy my curiosity.

Most striking to me was the powerplant. GM had actually (and intentionally, I assume), built this Fiero with a Pontiac Super Duty Four and a five-speed manual transmission. The SD4, as it’s often known, has nothing in common with the Iron Duke four-cylinder that so sluggishly pushed around the base Fiero. Both the SD4 and the Iron Duke are half a V-8, essentially, but the SD4 is half of a high-output pushrod V-8, rather than the Iron Duke, which was based on Pontiac’s most lackluster V-8, the 301.

Super Duty Four engines could be built to surprisingly high horsepower levels, and this version had been tweaked by GM to 232 horsepower—more than twice the output of the factory four-cylinder and the same number claimed for the 1984 Fieros that paced the Indy 500 that year. This retro, quirky Fiero had a lot of potential. 

RM’s own catalogue had no explanation for why this Fiero was built by GM: “The objective of the project is not known. The car in this form was never taken up for production, although a Fiero GT model had some similar features. Thus, this car remains unique.”

Yea, duh. Don’t say it so loud! 

I had no idea how it ended up for sale, but it went for a seemingly bargain basement price—$3520. I was stunned.

Practically speaking, the price was incredibly low—for a collector who surely had deeper pockets than I did. I had just purchased my own Pontiac project car, a 1964 LeMans, so I didn’t have a spare $3520 laying around. That enticing SD4 engine wouldn’t have been smog legal in California, so it would have been relegated to a track-only toy. I also didn’t—and still don’t—have a trailer and a proper tow vehicle, and at the time, I didn’t even have a place to keep it parked. The Fiero was totally impractical, logistically and financially.

And absolutely none of that has kept me from imagining what it would be like to spend a few weekends a year at Willow Springs in a factory-built prototype with a race-only engine. 

It sounds a whole lot more exotic than it is, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? To Poncho, perchance, to dream.