A reader named Dan reached out to me recently asking if I could help him get his late father’s V8 Pontiac Fiero back on the road. I said sure, and drove to his house, only to find what is certainly the most amazing Fiero I’ll ever see in my lifetime.
“My father died in a house fire on November 29th, 2018. I’m still in the process of setting his affairs in order which includes managing his small collection of vehicles. Included in this collection is a 1988 Fiero GT,” the email began.
After describing that the car had a 355 cubic-inch small block Chevy motor in it with Hilborn fuel injection, as well as two interior panels allegedly signed by auto legend Carroll Shelby, Dan told me that the car has been sitting since his dad experienced an apparent ignition system issue four years ago.
The email continued: “So here’s what I’m asking. I’ve done a lot of basic stuff (bolt-ons, brakes, oil, etc.) but I’m not really an engine guy. Nor have I done stuff like dropping the gas tank. There’s a mechanic that I could drop the car off to that Dad trusted, but I kind of wanted to take a stab at it myself, for the old man.”
That line right there, “I kind of wanted to take a stab at it myself, for the old man,” hit me hard in the chest-region. There was no way I wasn’t helping.
When I arrived at Dan’s house, I found a bright yellow sports car with a huge, meticulously cleaned, clearly rather expensive Chevy V8 motor shoved into the tiny engine room:
It’s a bit of a packaging nightmare in some ways, but the good news is that the engine cranked just fine, and as I hooked a spare plug up to an ignition wire to check for spark, the engine actually fired up. This surprised me, as I had thought the car had no fuel. Dan had told me he’d tried siphoning the old gas, but the hose had always wound up bone-dry even after he shoved it in as far as possible.
So that leaves us with the task of draining the tank (the engine fired, but while it was fairly quiet, it wasn’t running particularly smoothly; we’ll definitely need to get the old fuel out as soon as we can).
We don’t really have a great way to get the Fiero up high enough to drop the tank fully, so our plan is to simply jump the fuel pump relay and let the car dump gas into our jerry can.
We actually tried unhooking the fuel filler hose from the tank, and dropping a hand pump inlet hose in, but that filler hose is just packaged too tightly to the chassis; it won’t disconnect from the nozzle on the tank. Dan and I also attempted hooking our hand pump to the fuel filter (which we noticed was leaking—we’ll need to address that, too) and sucking gas straight through the in-tank fuel pump, but the flow rate we were seeing meant it would have taken many hours to remove even five or six gallons.
We also drained the oil (which looked fairly clean), but since the filter that Dan bought wasn’t the same size as the one I had to stab with a screwdriver to remove, we’ll have to wait until next week to complete that job.
Once we get some new oil in that engine, and some fresh gas in the tank, we’ll crank the V8 a few times without the fuel pump relay in place to get oil circulating, and then we’ll fire the car up. Hopefully it idles beautifully, and—after perhaps greasing some joints and checking the brakes—Dan can drive it around the block, and we can determine what else this 1988 Pontiac Fiero GT needs to become the best version of itself.
Last night, Dan told me why he won’t just sell the car or take it to a mechanic. If he sells the car and buys a new one, the new steed will only ever be “the car I bought with dad’s Fiero money,” Dan told me. And that won’t sit right with him. And if he takes the car to the mechanic and spends loads of cash on it, it could be a burden to him and his family, and that’s not what he wants from this car. He wants to enjoy it like his dad would want him to.
So Dan’s going to turn some wrenches, and—though I’m not well-versed in performance cars—I’m happy learn about this amazing machine with him.