Chevrolet‘s soon-to-be-revealed mid-engine Corvette has nearly 70 years of Corvette history to contend with and learn from, but there’s another history lesson hiding in the halls of General Motors. Thrity-five years ago, Pontiac introduced the Fiero, America’s first and only mass-production mid-engine car (until the mid-engine Corvette gets here).
The Fiero’s story is long and complicated, but it contains a number of important lessons for the mid-engine Corvette. Here are the three biggest, straight from a former owner.
Build the Right Car the First Time
When the Fiero debuted in 1984, it was a cheery little economy car with a 92-hp four-cylinder engine and Chevy Citation and Chevette suspension parts. It wasn’t the car Pontiac wanted to build, but it was the car GM’s management would approve. It took years of work and untold millions to make it a proper sports car. By the time that happened, sales had plummeted and the car was canceled.
Chevrolet, thankfully, has never had to lie about what kind of car the Corvette is, but there’s still a lesson here, and it’s a classic: You only get one chance at a first impression. The car that debuts on July 18 needs to be awesome. It can’t be the cheap one or the one with the wimpy engine. It doesn’t have to be the almighty ZR1, but whatever model it is needs to impress and set the stage for future higher-performance cars. There are a ton of expectations for this car, and Chevrolet can’t afford to blow the intro, or the better cars coming later will never get the chance.
Get the Story Straight
John Z. DeLorean proposed a mid-engine Pontiac back in the ’60s, but it took two decades to make it to the road. Along the way, smog laws and the oil embargo happened, vaporizing any support for new sports cars among GM’s board. Pontiac had to pitch the car as a cheap, fuel-efficient runabout to get it approved, and first-year marketing reflected that. A sporty GT model was quickly introduced in the second model year, but by then the public knew it as an economy car, not a sports car, a reputation it would never fully shake.