My Fiero Story
by Paul Vargyas
Updated March 15th, 2014
As printed in NIFE's Fiero Focus
Like a lot of "older" (I prefer
"mature") car enthusiasts, I have owned numerous cars over the years.
I was even fortunate to own Corvette's (1971 & 1975) when I was younger, but
due to family size and various financial obligations, they were not practical to
keep as a "family" car or affordable as a "play" car. As the
kids graduated from high school & college, I was able to again think about
my plans for a sports or "personal use" car. I had always owned some
interesting cars such as:
64 Chevy SS327 4-speed,
65 Chevy SS327 4-speed convertible,
69 Grand Prix SJ 428,
71 Chevy Monte Carlo SS454,
79 Mercury Capri 4-speed RS Turbo,
83 Camaro Z28 5-speed,
95 Bonneville SSEi,
98 Pontiac GTP,
03 Acura MDX
11 Kia Sorento SX
14 Kia Sorento SX
All bought new. Just in case you are interested, (and don’t get bored easy), some of the other "mundane" cars I have owned in between those listed above, include a 53 Studebaker Champion, 85 & 87 Chevrolet Celebrity’s, 88, 92 & 96 Dodge Caravan ES’s, 55 Ford Customline ("3 on the column", V8 though!), 61 Ford Galaxie Convertible, 68 Toyota Corona, 78 Ford Econoline van (which I converted to a "luxury" van), and a 99 Honda Odyssey!) However, I always had a desire to own a "Brand New" Corvette someday. So, in early 1993, I began looking at the possibility of purchasing that new Corvette. However, I found Corvette prices and insurance to be obnoxious, even in a used late model.
At about the same time I happened to read an article in Smart Money magazine that identified the 1988 Fiero GT as one of a list of 10 potential "collector" cars. All of a sudden I realized that this car made sense as an alternative, affordable, 2-seat sports car that would fulfill my need for a sports car. The search for an 88GT began in summer of 1993. As I scouted newspaper ads for a Fiero, I also started to look for a Fiero club where I might find someone who knew something about this car. After calling the Chicago Tribune Auto editor, I was told that there was a club in the area, but he had no knowledge of where it was located. After several calls to Pontiac dealers, I was directed to a GM Tech center in Chicago. A helpful employee there was not sure about a local club, but recalled a name of a Fiero Enthusiast in Adrian, Michigan who had a "Fiero museum", by the name of Harold Hooten. (BTW, Harold passed away in June, 2004), I found his number and when I called him, he told me here was a club in the Chicago area. He gave me the name and address of Jim Hallman (Jim had sent copies of the NIFE newsletter to Harold). When he told me the address, I was surprised! Jim lived about 5 blocks from me! After I talked to Jim, he agreed to look at any Fiero I found. After looking for several weeks I found an 88GT in Naperville IL (the next town to where I lived!). Jim drove and checked it out for me and pronounced it a "good" car. I purchased the Red 88GT automatic for $6000.00 on Sept 22nd, 1993. I read as much as I could about the Fiero, and 2 months later, I saw a local ad for an 86SE with T-Tops that was in very poor condition, having spent most of its life in Florida. It was sun faded and sand was in every corner of the car. I spent the winter literally taking it apart and rehabbing everything, learning all about the construction and assembly of the Fiero. And so the obsession began. I have since owned 168 Fieros. This included 78 various year GT's, 10 Formulas, 3 Pace cars, and numerous 84-88 coupes and SE's. I sold my "original" 88GT to an enthusiast in Ohio in July 1996. I had owned it for almost 3 years.
Most of the Fieros I bought needed work and refurbishing. Many were basket cases and were parted out. As I increased my parts inventory, I was able to use the excess parts to refurbish the Fiero's I found that needed "help". It seemed that once I was identified as someone who "buys" Fieros, I received many calls from owners who were tired of their car, or had incurred mechanical problems that were too prohibitive to repair. These cars were fixed and resold, or parted out if the cost of repairs exceeded any residual value. At one time I had a small warehouse where I was able to do this work, but after about 2 years, gave up this rented space when the need to pay the rent exceeded the fun I was having! Besides, as any long time Fiero enthusiast can tell you, there is very little profit in hauling, stripping, storing and selling parts. I now only keep smaller parts at my home in the "Fiero basement", and handle most of my purchases of cars with a working arrangement I have with Bob Steiger at Twin Lakes Fiero in Paxton IL, which is a 2 hour drive from my home. He has the ability to pick up cars in the area, and allows me to do some "stripping" of an acquired parts car at his shop.
My "real" jobs are as a Real Estate Broker, selling residential Real Estate in Dupage and Will counties since 1989, plus working full time in operations for Baltic Networks, in Lisle, IL, owned by my son and daughter-in-lw. As an owner of Eagle Realty Associates Real Estate, a small 4 person office in Naperville, IL, (630-369-4900), and my work at Baltic Networks, I stay busy most of the year, so spending more than just "hobby" time on Fieros is not cost effective, nor adequate income producing, even as a spare time hobby. I no longer have a great deal of extra time to spend stripping cars.
In July of 1994 at the Indianapolis FOCOA Nationals, I met a owner of a Medium Red Metallic 88GT 5-speed with a tan (Beechwood) leather interior that he had taken out of storage in his warehouse in Joliet, IL for the first time since he bought the car in August, 1988. It had 300 miles on it, most of which were the miles he had just driven from Chicago to Indianapolis. The MSRP sticker was $16,603.00. The car had been stored in a giant "baggie" in a heated garage. In January of 1995 the owner called me and told me it was for sale. It now had 752 miles on the odometer. I bought the car on March 11th, 1995, (because I hated to see someone else have it!) and then only drove it to car shows (Nationals, Dells run, and local shows) for 3 years. With the leather interior, it still smelled new!! In 1998, it now had 3570 miles. It had all the options except for a rear defogger, and had a sunroof, instead of T-Tops. I sold this car to a fellow club member in March 1998. Why? I had shown it at all the important Fiero events, including 3 Nationals, 3 Dells runs, etc. and won many trophies. Everyone in our club and area had seen this car, and I did not want to drive it and take a chance of any stone chips or damage, it was too neat & nice. Time for someone else to enjoy it as I had!
In November 1996, I bought an 88 Formula 5-speed T-Top sight unseen from a dealer in Tennessee; it was advertised in Hemmings. After owning several Formulas, I decided that I needed a "FUN" Fiero, one that I could tinker with, add "stuff", and not worry about driving it if it rained! I had several things I wanted to do that I did not want to do with the 88GT. I also decided I wanted a T-Top with a 5-speed. This car met the criteria. The T-Top was verified as # 568 of 1252 built by Cars & Concepts in Brighton, MI. for Pontiac. With 67K, it was as nice as the dealer and former owner had attested to, so I had another "nice" Fiero.
Then in the spring of 1998, I got interested in a V8 conversion. My "story" about this conversion, along with the costs to do it can be found in my article "V8 conversion, my story" I was not sure I would like the V8, so I did not want to put it into my real "toy", the 88 Formula T-Top. So, I proceeded with the V8 install in another 5-speed Formula that I had just bought. It was completed in late August 1998 at V8 Archie’s shop. As it turned out, I enjoyed it! It was a 5.7 new crate 350 with tuned port injection. I drove and showed this car in the fall of '98 and spring of 1999. The Formula T-top car remained in storage. Then in late June 1999, a fellow club member called and asked if I would be interested in selling the V8 Formula. Charles had seen and driven the car, and he was too busy to build one. We worked out a fair price, and on July 5th, I was "V8less". I then decided to take the T-Top Formula up to Archie’s and told him I wanted a V8 install in time to go to the Fiero Nationals in Columbus, Ohio on August 12th, 1999. It had 71,200 miles on the odometer at the time. I spent some time "helping" (he charges extra for the owner to "help"!) install the engine, poly bushings, Koni struts/shocks, plus made all the arrangements to get the few "extras" I wanted this time. The base SBC 350 crate engine was fine, but I ordered Sanderson headers, which I had "Jet Hot" coated, had the lower intake manifold "powder coated", and had the rest of the top end polished and chromed. I also ordered a set of chrome SLP Siamese air intake tubes from Street & Performance, all in the spirit of slightly more power. (As V8 owners know, you can never have too much power!) The 350 SBC engine in my Formula made about 275HP, far below some of Archie’s higher HP installations. However, I always wanted this car to be as much for show as "for go". We finished on August 11th, and with 38 miles on the engine I left for Columbus, Ohio, and the FOCOA Nationals. 1000 miles later we were home with not a skip of the V8 heartbeat. This car went to various shows in the area, and won numerous trophies. Show goers are always surprised to see the 350 in the engine bay. The usual questions? How did you get that in there? Is it easy to install? How fast is it? How much does it cost? Pictures of the car and all the interior modifications and engine install can be found at "My 88 Formula". Since the engine conversion, I did add a complete Mr Mikes leather interior, re-covered matching GT steering wheel, GM CD player, digital gauges, glovebox, my own designed "PONTIAC" taillights, PIAA driving lights and Koenig 17" Toxxin wheels While I do a lot of my own work on my Fiero, I don’t tackle major engine or major suspension work. My forte is interior, body panels, electrical, and accessories. My daughter, Valerie drove a (Dad supplied) 87GT through most of her college years and graduate work, so she is real familiar with the Fiero! My son Brian also at one point owned a low mileage 87GT with custom wheels, complete Mr. Mike’s interior and a custom stereo system for over 5 years. Short on time to enjoy it, so he sold it to a NIFE member in spring 2005.
I sold the V8 Formula in September of 2005. Why? On to another project! It still is in in our club and in the Chicago area, so I have the opportunity to see it occasionally!
Since I was enamored with NIFE, joining as member #71 in 1993, I was voted in as Membership Director and Treasurer in 1994, a position I currently retain. We are on member 1488+, so I have been in contact, through the club, with over 1400 NIFE member Fiero owners through the years! I maintain membership files, renewals, new member applications, and do all the mailings of the newsletter with help from Jim & Jenni Hallman at "Magazine mailing" time. I also do the entire club banking and file our annual corporate taxes, plus handle all the club merchandise inventory and shipping..
I became very interested in how the Fiero values were holding up, since I had originally bought my first Fiero as a result of the "collector" car status projection in Money Magazine in 1993, so I began publishing a Fiero Price Guide in 1996. I have continued to update it every year, and numerous Fiero owners throughout the country have used it as a reference guide. This annual guide is sent to all NIFE members with the March/April issue of Fiero Focus Magazine each year. It is also kept updated on my web site.
After 20 years of Fiero "Frenzy" I still have enthusiasm for the Fiero. Granted, the Fiero does not fit the mold of the true American performance sports car, yet the Fiero V6 is one of the few cars of the era that comes to mind as being new, different, ground breaking, performance oriented, plus the advantage of just plain fun to drive. I think that this car would have evolved into a real high quality sports car, had GM let it live on. In its present form, even though it is 20-25 years old, the Fiero still gets a lot of looks! Fortunately there is still a good supply of parts available, with several after market suppliers stepping up to produce discontinued parts. The various Fiero Forums on the Internet have also contributed to a continuation of "Pontiac Excitement" through an interchange of help, tips, information and parts. I have been asked several times over the years if I will ever get tired or give up on the Fiero as a fun car to own. Times & circumstances change over the years, but at the present time, the Fiero community has supplied many long term friendships and fun that continues to keep my enthusiasm at a positive level.
And by the way, that "New" Corvette I always wanted? I bought it in March of 2000. A brand new C5, Silver, with most options. A fine car. Sold it in March 2002. It had 1850 miles on the odometer. Why? I guess it was too refined, solid, big car feel, quiet, rattle free…I guess it was just another (albeit FAST) car! Plus, I achieved my dream of owning a new Corvette!
Being an car enthusiast, I was enamored with another car in the spring of 2002. I placed an order on July 1st, 2002, and on December 20th, 2002 took delivery of a new 2003 Nissan 350Z Performance model, 6-speed, Daytona Blue, 287HP. I had the OE wheels chromed and added a Borla exhaust system. Another nice car that I enjoy along with my V8 powered Fiero. In June of 2005, I sold the Z with 2800 miles on it. Again, like the Corvette, I enjoyed it for 2 1/2 years, but I drove it, and it was not practical for any daily driver, so the value to me was the ownership of a fine sports car!
What can I say? I just like cars! I just recently added up cars I have owned… (not including any Fieros), 21 bought new, 11 used, total 32. Is that a lot? I have no idea!
My next car? A 2011 KIA Sorento SX bought in April 2011,which replaced my (bought new) 2003 Acura MDX. The MDX went 125,000 trouble free miles. The technology in the newer cars like the Sorento SX is remarkable. 279HP, Traction control, Dynamic stability control, side airbags, Navigation, Bluetooth, Sirrius, proximity start (push button start), chrome wheels, etc. A far cry from the 80’s! Plus 20MPG around town and 28 highway!
My wife Barb, drove the 98 Grand Prix GTP (Supercharged 3800!), up until June June 16th, 2009. We decided that we needed a new car for her since the buying incentives were at their best..
So, we began shopping. I wanted smaller, more fuel efficient, and most of all a great price. We looked at Malibu, Aura (Saturn), and Pontiac. While we liked the Saturn, we got the best deal at, of all places, Pontiac! Even though Pontiac became history in June 2010, the price offered and the buyer incentives offered were too good to pass up. The dealer held the car while I put the GTP up for sale. Within 5 days we had a buyer. It only took one look at how the car was maintained, and it was sold. The buyer saw it on cars.com. I took delivery of the new Pontiac G6 GT on June June 16th, 2009.
While all this was going on, in November 2012, I had the opportunity to purchase a low miles 2006 Pontiac GTO. This was the last year the GTO was made, and were actually produced by Holden in Australia. With only 10,000 miles, 6-speed manual, with a 400HP engine, it was a great car. I kept it until late spring of 2013, driving it sparingly in good weather. Why? I always wanted a modern GTO! What better reason did I need?
In December of 2013, my local dealer called me to offer a deal on a new Kia Sorento SX. They were trying to make year end sales goals, so I made a deal on a brand new 2014 Kia Sorento SX, same model as the 2011, but with more technical advancements! I liked the Titanium Silver color, and the dealer had the one I wanted on the lot. What a coincidence! I took delivery on December 7th 2013. Horsepower now up to 290 with direct fuel injection and a few other goodies like remote start (great in the winter!), memory seats, blind spot radar, etc.
Is there a "dream car" out there I would love to have? Not really. I like all the new technology, but the sound and torque of my Fiero V8 is something that I don’t find in the new high tech machines!