Pontiac Fiero-based replica cars talk a lot of visual smack with their racy bodywork, but rarely back it up. Fortunately for us all, the current owners of this Fiero-based Ferrari F40 replica did the right thing and took it racing. Hey, replica owners everywhere: put up or shut up.
Ratsun Racing has a knack for locating bizarre bodykits, as they’ve been racing their delightfully strange Datsun B210ZX in 24 Hours of Lemons races for years. To be honest, a bad supercar replica is the only thing that could have outdone that strange retro kit, and fortunately for them, there was a particularly mangy “F40" for sale on Craigslist near Houston back in May 2016. (You can view the whole Craigslist ad here, if you’re curious.)
The Fierorrari was bizarrely hard to purchase, as the seller yanked the ad shortly after posting it due to what he claimed was multiple scam attempts.
Fortunately, one teammate’s brother lived in Houston, and was able to track down the car anyway, and spoke to the wife on the phone. The seller was MIA, but the wife wanted it gone not just yesterday, but probably years ago.
From there, it became your typical bizarro Craigslist transaction where the seller knew what he has, but didn’t really seem to want to sell it, as Ratsun Racing team member Allen Wilson explained to Jalopnik via email:
Ironically, the seller in Houston would not meet with us in person, and would only speak with us over the phone. We had to deal with his wife face to face. The whole thing seemed real shady, and the seller in Houston originally wanted $3500. I offered him $500. We came to an agreement on $1030. Why $1030? Because due to the nature and behavior of only interacting via phone, I wasn’t about to pay cash. I offered him $1000 for the F40, but only via PayPal. He agreed, but only if I also covered the 3% PayPal fee which brought the total to $1030. Luckily, his wife had a valid title ready when we picked up the car.
Fortunately, the transaction seemed to work out just fine, as they were able to rescue the F40 from the owner’s backyard patio, where it had been sitting on blocks for an indeterminate period of time. It was hard to tell if it had ever run in its current incarnation, as it had a window sticker from the year 2000. Some clever online research into the car turned up photos of it on a trailer in west Texas, but no evidence of it running.
Having learned their lesson somewhat from the B210ZX, the Fiero was torn down to a bare shell before getting built back up again. Wilson explained that it was just as gross on the inside as it was on the outside:
We think the car was under water at some point because we found tons of silt under the carpets when we pulled them. The interior was also full of mold, and there is a visible water (rust) line on the F40 style wheels that came with the car. (I didn’t know genuine alloy wheels could rust.) We also found an entire pueblo village of dirt dauber wasp nests throughout the entire car and under the dash. We must have pulled out over 50 dirt dauber wasp nests out of that car, which tells me that it had sat outside in a very hot climate for a very long time.
Gross. Even after all these discoveries, Wilson told Jalopnik that the car’s charm was in its rattiness.
“My vision for the F40 was to keep it as ratty as possible,” Wilson said. “That weathered, half-ass-finished look in the original Craigslist ad is what gave me the idea.”
Surprisingly, all of the Fiero’s original crash structures were intact under the impressive bodywork despite the evidence of sketchy weld work on the car, but in order to go racing, they still needed to install a roll cage.
The main hoop and A-pillars were ordered from Roll Cage Components, and then the correct tubing for the rest of it came from Metal Mart.
Friend of the team Gerald Reining helped them install it all, which ended up having NASCAR-style door bars that extend out into the door shell on both sides of the car, an X-brace for the main hoop, a horizontal bar to mount harness shoulder belts to, and rear diagonal bars that ran the cage to the rear shock towers.
As with any good Craigslist buy, it came as a work in progress, with a GM 350 create engine connected to the original Fiero Getrag transmission. The carburetor had been pulled off in an attempt to install a tuned port injection setup that appeared to be from a Corvette. The Ratsun team was smart enough to throw all this “work” out of the car in favor of the supercharged 3800 engine from a Pontiac Grand Prix GTP.
The Supercharged 3800 swap is a fairly common one among Fiero owners, as it only requires some light tweaks to the engine and transmission mounts and one axle, and wrecked Pontiacs are a common find in Pick-N-Pulls across America. All of those tweaked mounts are even sold together in a kit, should you also choose to 3800 swap your own Fiero. For the axles, he used a driver’s side axle from an automatic Fiero and a passenger’s side one from a Pontiac Grand Prix GTP.
To keep things relatively simple, they also used the Grand Prix GTP’s 4T65E-HD automatic transmission that mates to the 3800 engine. While an automatic in a Fake-40 may sound like even more sacrilege, all the parts were absurdly reasonable—a must for a budget-limited Lemons build.
“I think we paid $198 for our entire motor (with the supercharger) and another $98 for the transmission,” Wilson told Jalopnik.
Because the car was all so scuzzy and was likely partially underwater at one point in time, though, the wiring harness absolutely had to go. Once again, it was GTP to the rescue.
“We also swapped the entire Fiero wiring harness for the one that came out of the donor Grand Prix GTP,” Wilson told Jalopnik. “Headlights to taillights (including the gauge cluster) is now Grand Prix GTP. So the car thinks its a Grand Prix. It just doesn’t realize that it’s really a Fiero in a Ferrari fat suit.”
Next up were the brakes, which were swapped for a Wilwood big brake kit in the front and in the rear, a set of rotors, calipers and pads from a Grand Am. The front suspension was upgraded in order to accommodate the Wilwood kit, however, the Grand Am rotors—which were the same size as the Fiero’s, only vented—bolted to the stock Fiero location without any modifications.
Wheels were a bit trickier, as they wanted to keep the F40-style wheels that came with the car, but no one makes Lemons-legal tires (which are street tires with 190 treadwear or greater) that fit the meaty 12-inch-wide, 16-inch rims in the rear.
They ultimately found a set of Hoosier 355/40R16 wet racing tires to put on that would allow them to show off the car on its original wheels when the car went through inspection, but a staggered set of 18-inch eBay XXR 555 wheels were bought to actually race on. They kept the staggered setup—8.5-inch-wide wheels up front and 10-inch-wide wheels in the back—but could then at least find and buy normal, Lemons-kosher Dunlop Z2 Star Spec tires for the car.
Wilson says it took them exactly 602 days to finish the Fiero before it went racing at Nola Motorsports Park. One major issue was the Fiero’s miserably small nine-gallon stock fuel tank, which forced them to stop way too often to fuel. A full tank only lasted 45 minutes to an hour on track, so the team plans to install a fuel cell in the future.
That wasn’t the only drama they encountered, though. The automatic transmission started overheating on the first day of the race, forcing them to move the transmission cooler further from the exhaust. Shortly after it was back out on track, the driver’s side steering knuckle broke, collapsing the right side of the car. Much of the rest of Saturday afternoon and evening was spent rebuilding that piece out of the broken pieces and a spare piece of roll cage tubing.
They thought Sunday would run smoothly after the fixed knuckle was on, but then the passenger’s side steering knuckle broke. Fortunately, having fixed the other side the day before, they knew what do and fixed it using another hunk of cage tubing with ninety minutes to go in the race, allowing it to take the checkered flag—a feat I couldn’t even pull off in my own race car that weekend.
Yet despite all of these issues, the car went on to win Lemons’ highest prize—Index of Effluency. That isn’t a race win, but it’s the prize given to the car that’s most in the spirit of the Lemons event: an oddball and/or terrible car with an over the top theme that holds its own on track. Fieros have traditionally done very poorly in Lemons for some reason, so in that context, this F40-bodied one actually held its own fairly well.
The team installed two Kirkey racing seats in the car, though, because the team would like to get it street legal. They may even take it on a Lemons Rally someday—the cross-country scavenger hunt road trips that spun out of the racing series.
Until then, I’d like to see more replica supercars hit the track. Want to prove that all the racy faux-Porsche 917 bodywork belongs on your crusty Beetle? Race it.
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