A Fiero by any other name

Pontiac Fiero logoHave you ever looked closely at the Pontiac Fiero emblem?

Close enough to wonder what it depicts?

Look again and you’ll see a horse in the center.
That’s right, a horse.

However, that’s not just any horse. It’s a mythical winged horse that goes by the name of Pegasus. Wondering what it’s doing in the Fiero’s emblem?

Read on to find out and to see the origins of GM’s beloved P-car from sketches to clay, to the final product (and early glass-back and convertible prototypes that didn’t make the cut).

Long lead time
sketch aBelieve it or not, Pontiac made its first substantial steps toward their unique sports car in the fall of 1978. That’s when they submitted their engineering package to the General Motors Design Staff’s Advanced and Experimental Studio, and their unit Advanced III Studio. The premise was for an affordable–under $10,000–two-passenger, mid-engined sports car.

sketch bJumping on the rare opportunity to design such a vehicle, Advanced III Studio wasted no time and had full-sized tape drawings worked up to show to management.

By mid-February of 1979, multiple clay models, scaled at 1/5 size, were finished and being tested in wind tunnels. (This was just prior to the GM Tech Center’s installation of their own wind tunnel, in August of 1980, which subsequently permitted on-site testing and supported full-sized models.)

sketch csketch d

Continued work and troubled waters
Satisfied with the aerodynamic qualities of the scaled models, Pontiac gave the okay for a full-size clay model to be built in the middle of March, 1979.

March 1979 - clay 1The full-size model was to be used in a presentation to GM’s board. It was at this point that Pontiac christened their little car, and they called it Sprint. In this image to the right, from March of 1979, the first full-size clay is shown.

June 1979 - clay 2The full-size clay, shown in the image to the left, is from June of 1979. The full-length belt line has been added and was actually implemented as a visual trick that designers used to downplay breaks in the body panels.

Designers continued to work on the shape over the course of the next year, eliminating details such as the wide hood vents (not easily seen but discernible on the front end of the first clay, shown above, and yellow-colored clay, below). Also, the side-mounted, horizontal vents that were proposed just behind both doors were replaced with solid panels.

August 1979 - clay 3In late August of 1979, revisions had been made to yet another full-size clay model. Still named Sprint, this third clay model incorporated strange-looking split-bar taillamps and the return of the on-again-off-again body-side vents that were vertical this time.

August 1979 - clay 4September 1979 - clay 5

By late 1979, the chief designer of Advanced III Studio, Ron Hill, wanted to add a bubble-back rear window to the car which was still called Sprint. In December of 1979, they finished a full-sized clay model with a large glass hatch.

December 1979 - clay 6The bubble-back version never made it to the final proposal stage because of issues it caused with engine accessibility and the additional costs it would incur.

This clay version also introduced glass quarter windows. The reason that design element didn’t make it to production (abandoned in December of 1979) was because the car’s metal structure had already been finalized and the required change to the C-pillar (needing to be thinned) could not be implemented in time. I say it was a lucky break because I think that window would have homogenized the car’s profile.

February 1980 - clay 7However, this final clay model of a glass-back version of the P-car, completed the first week of February 1980, has a handsome profile. Of note, this was the last full-size clay produced by Advanced III Studio, prior to the changing of the guard (described on the following page).

Ramping up to final presentations to corporate management, the P-car’s program had already been cancelled and reinstated, twice. And those flip-flops wouldn’t be GM corporate’s last act of indecision regarding this model.

However, by the third week of April, 1980, the corporate powers that were, apparently liked what they saw and green-lighted the car for production.

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