The Road Less Traveled by Christopher Sass

What is it about people who take the road less traveled, to paraphrase Robert Frost? What makes them choose it? Why do some people desire to be different? These questions can be asked about many aspects of our lives, however the road to which I refer to deals with our choice of cars. For instance, what makes someone drive a new Beetle or a thirty-five year old Volkswagen Microbus? Why would someone want to drive a Hummer or a Geo Metro convertible…in pink? What spurs this decision to be different; to not fit in? More to the point, why do we drive Fieros?
Certainly, any car that can hold only one other person beside the driver and carries very little cargo is not an easy car to live with, particularly if it is your only car. The cars that meet these specifications generally fall into the category of "sports cars" whatever that may mean; and there are as many definitions as there are people to ask. And a sports car is designed for one purpose; to carry two people at relatively high velocity not from point A to point B, but around the points by means of the most indirect twisty route available. Yet despite their limitations, people do drive these types of cars and have done so for almost sixty years. Now most of us do not strictly fit this profile because we have other vehicles about. We have mini-vans that can hold eight people; or pick-up trucks that can carry large payloads; or sport utility vehicles that can go anywhere; or simply four door sedans necessary to carry a family of four-point something people and some of their belongings from one place to another by the most direct route. All of these are good logical devices, especially those that can perform multiple tasks, as evidenced by the plethora of vans, trucks and SUV's as well as the newer "cross-over" vehicles that take up so much real estate on our roadways. So again, why a sports car?
The question holds more validity for those of us that did or do own such a car, like our Fieros, as our only means of personal transportation. Why own such an absurd vehicle? Why own a Fiero?
First we must agree that the Fiero is uncommon; that it is the road less traveled. Despite the sales numbers, particularly in 1984 through 1986, when dealers couldn't keep a Fiero on their lots, the numbers are small. Especially when you consider the sales numbers of the Ford Taurus and the Toyota Camry, which sell over 350,000 and 400,000 units annually and even the mini-van (Chrysler alone has sold 8 million in seventeen years, or about 470,000 a year). There were only a total of 370,168 Fieros produced in the short five-year life span. There are even less in existence today. Why would a person gravitate to such an uncommon car? It's not simple to understand. The best selling car war has been raging for over a decade. It is an accolade to strive for if you are an automobile manufacturer, and there is a comfort level achieved in owning the "Best-Selling Car". "It's the best selling so it must be good." And it probably is good. "The Jones's have one so why not us." Safety in numbers? Certainly. Maybe one reason to choose a Fiero is so you won't see one at every other intersection. You eschew the 'safety in numbers' comfort level to stand out. You say, "Look. I think differently. I'm not one of the herd. I can make my own decisions, and they can even be irrational." But why take the risk?
If the stories I read in the Meet A Member (NIFE) and How I Met My Fiero (Michigan Fiero Club) are any indication, many members did not even think about purchasing a Fiero until we were fully into the 1990's. Their reasoning may be different than those of us who fell for the Fiero when it was first introduced. Consider that over 136,000 of us took a chance on a brand new untried product from a manufacturer who did not have a great track record with small cars. Indeed, even in the face of unpopular media coverage regarding the problems with the Fiero, they continued to be bought up at a rate that surprised GM. If you believed the bad publicity, and evidently most of us didn't, 1 out of every 400 cars, or one quarter of one percent of all Fieros produced in 1984 were in danger of bursting into flames before, or more accurately, behind your eyes (maybe you'd catch a glimpse of the flames in the mirrors, I don't know). If you think about it, that isn't a high percentage, except if you had a car that actually caught fire (do you know of one?…I don't); however the media seemed happy to create controversy with headlines like "Ill-Fated Fiero, Recalled Again, Returns to Haunt GM" (Wall Street Journal). What I do know is that my Fiero and I were the butt of many a joke in those days.
So this little upstart hits the market and sells well for a couple of years and then sales of new Fieros fall off. But the cars continue to resell. And the owners are not easily categorized: male, female, young, old, middle aged, professional, nonprofessional, stade, and radical. Many of us own more than one. Some of us own too many. The cars we often get to see are cared for in a most unnatural manner, at least in the eyes of the general car driving public. There are Fieros that only have mileage in the double and triple digits. There are Fieros that have never experienced rain or snow. There are Fieros with hundreds of thousands of miles on the odometer, a tribute to the design and build quality, that are in better condition that the average one year old car with 12,000 miles. The non-car guy (gal) public can not understand this phenomenon with any car and it seems even more ludicrous with a Fiero.

As owners, we have different ideas about what a Fiero should be. While one owner's eyes sparkle at a blue Fiero, another turns away. Where some can't imagine driving one with an automatic, others delight in its ease of use. And some feel strongly about the original coupe design, and others won't even look unless it's a fastback. Some owners are not even satisfied with having a Fiero, a rare car in the realm of uncollectable cars that are actually used as transportation. These Fiero owners have a desire, an urge, a need, to make their Fieros different from the few Fieros out there. They make them faster, lower, tauter, and flashier. Some cars are in better condition than anything that rolled off the line and others can't even be identified as Fieros. Most of the time the craftsmanship of these cars is astounding. God is in the details. The human hand and possibly even the soul has touched and massaged these vehicles. Apparent pride and concern are evident here - something not found, recognized or appreciated in a world that embraces mass production so that everyone on the block can lease a new one every 36 months. You can't get this kind of detail, individual achievement or independent effort from a new car. Indeed, the unenlightened crowd, if they know what a Fiero is, certainly shake their heads at any person investing that much time and effort in a Fiero.
But the Fiero is destined to be, and may already be, one of a handful of cars that maintains a strong constant following by a fanatical bunch of enthusiasts. The following doesn't include those who bought a Fiero new and three years later sold it, never to drive another one again. They didn't get "it". The Fiero belongs to those of us who bought it new and still own it. Those who have owned ten or twelve in the last twelve years. Those who own two or three or fifteen. And those of us who stick by it, despite what everyone else thinks. We get "it". We "got it" immediately and rolled our eyes when they said it was a commuter car. We knew it was something else.
There are even people who understand, but have never owned one. I am pleased to say that I am again getting nice comments from non-Fiero people. In the beginning, everyone wanted to know about it and liked it. The first year I had mine, I had, on two separate occasions, people ask me if it was a Ferrari. Unknowledgeable? Yes. Impressed? Yes, indeed. In the intervening years, the image became tarnished by misinformation and maliciousness. One spectator at an informal car show looked at me squarely and said to his partner, "The Fiero is a piece of crap. It's just a Chevette with a different body." However, I am glad to report that I am once again having people stop and ask questions and compliment the Fiero. To some it's little more than a curious footnote in the domestic car industry. To others it represents a glimmer of hope of what was and what can be.
So what is it about Fieros? Is it the mid-engine placement? Is it the plastic body? Is it the sporty pretense? Is it because it's different? Yes to all and then some. It's a little bit of hope. It's a little bit of excitement. It's a little bit of soul-stirring magic. How else can you explain the fact that there have been other cars that fell squarely within this segment, but do not have such a fevered following? The Mazda Miata has it. The Toyota MR2, Honda Del Sol and Fiat X1/9 don't. It's a bit of hope that someday it can happen again. It, being that a team of people came together to recognize that there was a diverse group of people, us, who needed this car. It's excitement. Excitement that speaks of jettisoning your other vehicular requirements to place "Fun to Drive" at the top of the list. And it's magic in driving a car few others will even obtain and could not conceive of owning. Not because they can't, but because they don't get "it". There's the magic. The Fiero is different. Not different because it is audacious, for it is not. It's not a street legal race car. It's not beyond the average person's financial stratum. It's not threatening. It's not the fastest, most expensive, biggest, loudest, or wildest. It's different in a subtle way. And we owners are different. And we bask in that fact. Yes, it's a little bit of magic, because even to this day, fifteen years after first driving one, I still get a charge out of seeing my Fiero. I still like to look at it. I marvel at its engineering, its appearance and its form-following-function shape. I still feel proud when someone comments on my Fiero. I still get a thrill out of driving my Fiero. I get "it". For those of us who get "it", those of us who took that road less traveled, the magic will last forever. We have no regrets that we didn't take another road, because the road we chose is long, and we hope we never reach the end.

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