Feature – The Pontiac Fiero Design
Concept: Excitement for the ’80s
To express Fiero in its simplest terms would be a gross
injustice. But to gain appreciation for what Pontiac engineering “magic”
has accomplished, you first have to understand what the Fiero concept
started out to be. In plain language, Fiero is a sporty, exciting, highly
fuel-efficient, highly styled 2-seat personal car.
Pontiac has taken this simple, straightforward concept and
turned it into a rolling example of brilliantly innovative engineering.
It’s a formula that has worked well for Pontiac over the years, and Fiero
may be the finest expression of the division’s engineering prowess to
The Fiero can be described as an economy car. It can also be
considered a practical and durable car. And, by its technical
specifications alone, Fiero may legitimately be called a sports car. The
beauty of Fiero is that it’s all of these cars, presented in a
distinctly dramatic, functionally beautiful Pontiac shape. And best of
all, Fiero is one of Pontiac’s best examples of what driving is supposed
to be all about: pure, unabridged fun!
You are about to find out what makes Fiero work, and why
Pontiac engineers designed it the way they did. You’ll see that Fiero
posesses a rare blend of individual features that, when taken together,
add up to one of the most innovative and exciting cars ever built.
Designing the Fiero
When Pontiac engineers began designing the Fiero, some very
basic decisions had to be made. Since the traditional body/frame chassis
design has given way to the unibody structure on the majority of
contemporary cars, Pontiac engineers could have been content with this
path for Fiero. But, as you might expect, a more innovative approach was
taken for the Fiero: the Space-Frame chassis concept.
To better understand the advantages of the space-frame, you
have to look beyond the automobile for a moment. Think of the basic design
of a typical suspension bridge, which is made up of individual, load
bearing steel supports. Together, these supports form an incredibly strong
The beauty of the space frame concept is that it’s
particularly strong in the places it needs to be, with excess weight being
eliminated from the total structure.
Race cars have used the space-frame concept almost from the
beginning. In a raceing car, structural rigidity is a key concern, but
this strength must be attained while keeping the weight of the car low. A
classic example of the space-frame concept is used in NASCAR® Grand
National racers. Underneath the body panels of a stock car is a complex
network of steel tubing that makes up the actual chassis. These tubes come
together strategically in a skeleton-like manner, leaving spaces, and
saving weight, in noncritical areas.
Given the design requirements of Fiero, the space-frame
concept is an ideal solution. Pontiac engineers wanted Fiero to have an
extremely strong chassis structure, but they needed to avoid any excess
weight that would negatively affect fuel economy. Fiero’s space frame is a
complete success. It’s very strong but well within the original weight
goals. Moreover, Fiero has achieved one of the highest ratings ever
recorded in GM barrier safety tests.
Fiero innovation doesn’t stop with the space-frame chassis.
When Fiero was introduced in September 1984, it was the first 2-seat,
mid-engined production car ever built by an American manufacturer.
Mid-Engine means that the engine/drivetrain unit is
placed behind the driver, but ahead of the rear wheels. Mid-engine drive
layouts have been common at the highest levels of international racing
since the early ’60s, including all Indy-type championship cars and
Formula 1 Grand Prix machines. Pontiac engineers decided on a mid-engine
layout for many of the same reasons that racing car designers do.
One of the design objectives for the Fiero was optimum,
balanced handling performance, so rear-wheel drive was a must. Pontiac
engineers knew that in order to achieve this handling goal, the heavy mass
of the engine/drivetrain unit had to be placed as close to the center of
the car as possible. Given the fact that the Fiero package is compact, a
mid-engine layout became the most logical choice.
Fiero’s engine is mounted transverely, and is very
accessible for routine servicing. The power for Fiero is supplied by
Pontiac’s updated 2.5 liter 4-cylinder, “swirlport” engine with electronic
fuel injection, or a powerful 2.8 liter V6.
In order to take advantage of Fiero’s mid-engine layout,
Pontiac engineers added other significant features to the Fiero. Fully
independent suspension and rack and pinion steering are standard. Because
the heavy mass of the drivetrain is not over the front wheels, power
steering is not required for the Fiero.
Fiero features four-wheel power disc brakes with lightweight
aluminum calipers for consistent stopping performance. A 23mm front
stabilizer bar is par of the standard Fiero suspension package.
The Fiero design features work together to make it one of
the most impressive performing Pontiacs in history. One test drive will
convince you that Pontiac engineers have done their work well.
The Pontiac Fiero Manufacturing concept: Innovative Assembly
The Pontiac Fiero is built like no other car in the world
for one very important reason: its advanced design concept requires the
most advanced assembly technology available. And, in some cases, new
technology had to be designed and created in order to get the job done
Pontiac manufacturing experts played a major role in the
Fiero design process, and they developed entirely new and unique assembly
operations to ensure that quailty was designed and built-in, right from
the start. Since Pontiac’s “home” plant was selected to build the Fiero,
Pontiac manufacturing became responsible for some of the innovative
technology required to build it right, the first time.
Since the space-frame plays such a basis nd critical role in
the Fiero design concept, Pontiac manufacturing took the responsibility
for making it and all other major steel stampings. Over 3900
individual welds are performed on the space-frame during the assembly
Three basic modular subassemblies (front, rear and
compartment floor) are welded together as the first step in the assembly
process. The remaining substructures are attached in a single framing
station, using the Single-Tool concept. While in this single tool
weldment, the space-frame is automatically pierced so that “net”
attachment points for other chassis components (such as the cradle for the
engine/drivetrain) are precisely made.
A unique part of the Fiero design concept is a separation of
cosmetic “fit” from mechanical “function”. In other words, the exterior
body panels and interior trim items are prepared-for all the way through
the assembly process, but their installation is one of the very last steps
in final assembly.
One of the assembly steps that ensures precise fit of the
body panels is the Milling and Drilling of the Fiero’s space
frame. The “mill and drill” machine is a single fixture that prepares the
space-frame for the location of the body panels. This is achieved by
machining, or “milling”, 39 separate body mount pads located on various
points of the space-frame. The machine also uses a “master” gage point on
the door frame ring to locate all the holes on the mounting pads for
precise “drilling”. This process is a worldwide industry first.