I am not the most knowledgeable old-car enthusiast out there, but I know what I like. And I like the Mercedes 380 SL. I saw this beautiful white coupe in Kalamazoo, Michigan on a recent visit. It's the kind of car that just 'works' for me. It's long and low, with just the right proportions of hood length and trunk length to go with the small cockpit. The RWD platform moves the rear wheels towards the middle of the car and the front wheels towards the front bumper, giving it a great stance.
I've never closely studied Mercedes' different models, so had to look up a bit of info on the 380 SL. It was built in the first half of the 1980s, and came fitted with a 3.8L V8 engine putting out 215 horsepower. A convertible was available, but I actually prefer the look of this fixed-top coupe version. The prominent, protruding bumpers and large, blocky headlights and taillights are throwbacks to a different era, but I think that this car has aged very well, and is a true classic nowadays.
If I were looking to purchase a classic car, I don't know if I'd actually consider an old Mercedes. There are a bunch of old cars that I'm more familiar with and would be more inclined to buy, but I sure am glad these old Mercs have their fans still. This white SL was clearly well taken care of, and likely has many more years of motoring ahead of it. Who knows, maybe when the time comes to buy something I'll stumble across another 380 SL and decide to take a closer look.
1988 Pontiac Fiero GT. For as long as I can remember, that has been my dream car. Sure, I've always liked many other, more expensive, more exotic cars, but the Fiero GT has remained one of my favourites since I first laid eyes on it. A sporty, compact 2-seater with the engine in the rear, the Fiero has entered the history books with a questionable reputation. Those that loved them loved them alot, to the point that even today, almost 30 years after it went out of production, it still has a huge fan base. The other portion of the population is less kind to the Fiero, thanks to an unfortunate reputation as a car that could catch fire. While there were several high-profile cases that earned the Fiero this bad reputation, statistically, it was shown that the Fiero didn't suffer significantly more engine fires than anything else on the road.
But enough of that. I'm definitely in the first camp of Fiero lovers, the ones that appreciate the car because of its quirks, not despite them. The very low-slung design of the coupe, coupled with the placement of the engine behind the driver, meant that the Fiero handled a bit like a Go-Kart, and held the road extremely well. However, the relatively pedestrian source of much of the suspension and driveline components (the Chevrolet Citation and Chevette donated many parts!) also meant that the acceleration and handling of the original models left a little to be desired. I myself found it quite entertaining, but if you hit a bump in mid-corner, things got a bit wonky. The first model only came equipped with a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine, which didn't really have its place in a car that looked so sporty. Legend has it that General Motors wouldn't approve a Pontiac sports car that might rival the legendary Chevrolet Corvette, so the Fiero was designed more as a commuter car than an all-out sports car.
Back when I was in college I finally was able to realise my dream when I purchased a 1984 Fiero. The 4-cylinder, 4-speed manual had seen better days, and I only got to drive it for a few months before the engine conked out. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed my Fiero, and I viewed the engine dying as a minor inconvenience, not a catastrophic event. It was enough of a taste to make me a Fiero fan for life. Besides, every car fan knows that the BEST Fiero is the 1988 GT model. The 2.8L V6 was much more powerful, and improvements to the suspension made it a significantly better handling car. It is commonly said that by 1988, in its fifth model year, GM had finally gotten the Fiero right, and then promptly cancelled it! An automotive mystery and frustration for the ages, to be sure.
I have been participating for years on an automotive forum, and more than a decade ago made the acquaintance of Ken, from Michigan. Back in 1988 Ken purchased a brand new Fiero GT, and has kept it ever since. When he heard that I was coming to Michigan this month for work, he kindly invited me to see his car. We first joined another forum member, Jason, in a visit to the Gilmore Car Museum near Kalamazoo. We spent a great day checking out some truly impressive old cars and displays. But obviously the highlight of the day was getting to see Ken's Fiero.
When we got to his house he opened the garage door and handed me the keys. It had been over 10 years since I had laid eyes on a GT, but I was instantly reminded of how much I loved the design. More substantial than the 2M4 (2-seater, mid-engine, 4-cylinder) model that I had owned, the GT had a more prominent rear end with full-width taillights, 'flying buttress' side rear windows, and a smoother, more pronounced front end. When I climbed inside I saw that it was identical, apart from the addition of a few extra gauges. I fired it up and got to hear the excellent growl of the bright-red V6, something most Pontiac V6s of the era were known for. At that point I could have left happy, but Ken told us to feel free to take it for a drive! I didn't take much convincing, and I got to enjoy an awesome tour around the neighbourhood. Even Jason, a 2015 Ford Mustang owner was impressed with the sound of the car, and the way it rode and handled.
We spent a good moment in the driveway discussing the car. It had 75,000 original miles, and ran like a top. The years hadn't been kind to the paint, which was starting to fade a bit, but overall the car was in excellent shape. It was pretty clear Ken wasn't looking to sell, and I didn't think it would be polite to steal the car of someone so kind, so I handed him back the keys knowing that one day I would buy my own Fiero GT.
I snapped a few pictures, but in my excitement didn't think to check them. They didn't turn out all that great, but you can still get a peek here. Most of you will shake your heads wondering how anyone could be so enamoured by a car like the Fiero, but you don't choose what you love. It still makes me giddy like a little boy to see this car, and I left with a big grin on my face. As if that wasn't enough, Jason even let me try his Mustang out! It's a very different beast, with more than double the horsepower, so I was feeling pretty spoiled after my automotive-themed day.
You never forget your first love, which is why I am so excited to have had this chance. Thanks Ken and Jason, it was a super weekend, and it rekindled my love of the Fiero! Time isn't the friend of old cars, but there are still Fieros to be found. At some point, somewhere, somehow, I WILL own one of these GT models. Some dreams should come true!
Welcome! My name is Paul, and I am an old-fashioned, low-pressure, low-buck car fan with lots of automotive stories to tell!