FIERO STEERING WHEELS by Tom Derr
A quick tour through the RPO code books will provide five different steering wheels (N36,N46,NK3,NK4,NP5)listed for the Fieros. The table shown provides a brief description, colors available, and years of production information. The pictures should bring all into focus as to which steering wheel is which.
The N36 is described as "rally, four-spoke vinyl", I like to call it the "wheel of broken ears." You know, it is the one with the grey oblong ears hanging on each side. This wheel offers some of Pontiac's greatest engineering, at least until the first time you hit the horn in panic, then half the engineering is on the floor. The ear sets are, however, easily replaced. They are listed in the "P" Parts Catalog as part #17989706 at $12.55. Availability may be more of a problem. I have repaired numerous sets by salvaging an ear, or set, from boneyard donors. The left and right ears are interchangeable if you don't mind one of the little horn graphics being upside down. Of course you could paint over both if it bothers you that much. A word of caution, these buggers are like the ashtray lids, they break easily upon removal. When I want an ear off a donor horn set, I sterilize my wire cutters and cut it out. Similarly on the set getting the transplant, I surgically remove what is left of the ear mount taking extreme care not to damage neighboring tissue. I'll put a light coat of grease on the replacement ears and pop it in place on the horn assembly.
The N46 is really two slightly different wheels. On the '84/'85 Fieros the four spokes were even all the way across the wheel. In the '86/'87 Fieros the outside ends were enlarged. Even though Pontiac calls this the "deluxe" wheel, it is the bare-bones naked base wheel. Unlike the "ears" wheel it is extremely durable. These wheels have a tendency, however, to hold dirt. Any good vinyl cleaner will make it look new. Don't treat them with Armor-All or other vinyl dressings unless you like the excitement of going around corners with a slippery grip steering wheel.
The NK3 wheel is the sporty formula 3-spoke wheel in vinyl. Like the "deluxe" wheel it is extremely durable. It provides a better grip and is more comfortable than the "deluxe" wheel because the rim is thicker and somewhat softer.
The NK4 wheel is not related to the NK3, but is the leatherized version of the N36 "ears" wheel. N37 might have been too logical of a code to use. This wheel has the same problems as the "ears" wheels, but is more comfortable and easy to grip - the leather makes the ring thicker and softer. The leather on this wheel can take some heavy use. I've seen 80 to 100,000 mile veterans that are still wrapped tight and holding their dye very well.
The NP5 wheel is the top-of-the-line, leatherized version of the sporty NK3. In '84/'85 Fieros, the spokes are a little different than the '86/'87/'88 GT's. The earlier wheel has a seam in the middle of the spokes in the front, while in the later version, the seam moves to the back of the spokes, and a thumb notch is added. The leather on these wheels loosens rather easily, and the dye wears through fairly quickly. I've seen many 30 to 40,000 mile wheels looking like a barber's poll on top half of the wheel. If you loosen your grip and don't use the wheel to support the full weight of your arms, the loosening of the leather can be delayed significantly. Also, using a quality leather dressing on a regular basis helps extend the finish on these wheels. Since these are the most exclusive wheels, and also because they deteriorate the most, they are the most sought and hardest to find. When Pontiac still carried them, they sold for $299. A fellow named Chuck Gaines (541-388-5407) will re-wrap your leather for $150, or install new leather for $200. Highly recommended by the Corvette folks is Barb Pelton (248-681-4336), but her turnaround may be several months. On occasion, Mr. Mikes (800-924-8858)has done wheels for those purchasing his leather interior package, even though he doesn't advertise leather wheels.
Removal of the above steering wheels are done in the same fashion. Pop-off the hub cover, I use a popsickle stick so I don't damage the hub or hub cover. Disconnect the contact assembly by turning the black plastic shaft about a quarter turn counterclockwise. Remove the nut retainer clip from the end of the steering shaft with needle nose pliers or a small screw driver. Use a 21 mm, or 7/8 socket to remove the hex nut. And use a steering wheel puller with two three-and-a-half inch long 5/16" bolts with 18 pitch threads to pull the wheel. Be careful not to loose the horn contact assembly and spring as you remove the wheel from the column. Installation is the reverse. When replacing the wheel, be sure to align the contact assembly access hole in the steering wheel with the contact assembly's plastic housing on the steering column. The nut is torqued to 30 foot pounds.
Repairs are not complicated or time-consuming if you have the intelligence of the average carrot. Other than replacing broken "ears", the next most common problem is poor electrical contact, usually caused by rust. Although I do remember cleaning one corrupted by a soda - a sticky affair for sure. Occasionally the spring will break and need to be replaced. Generally, just a few passes with some sandpaper or a scratch-pad, and a good wiping with alcohol will restore proper electrical contact. For those vinyl wheels where the paint has worn through, a new coat may be in order. This is a good time to use that hot pink color your wife has been requesting. Or you could use MarHyde's "Walnut Brown", #2111 (about $3.85 at PEP Brothers) which is a close match for the original brown. Actually it is a little darker than the '86-'88 brown, and a little lighter than the '84-'85 brown. But it is real close to either, and it is not likely that anyone could perceive the difference. The difference would, however, be perceptible if used on a portion of any of your panels or consoles. So unless you have a real disaster to patch, I wouldn't recommend doing a partial patch job. In grey, Dupli-Color puts out a vinyl and fabric spray called "Charcoal Gray", #VS11. I found mine at Parts America for about $3.75 a can. The color is almost a dead match for the gray used on the Fiero wheels, but is "flat" in appearance. I've been looking for an equally correct color that has more of a sheen to it. No success yet.
Crossover wheels can be found in most compact and mid-size GM wheels. They all mount the same. Be sure you get the contact assemblies as they usually differ. Some of the '80's Pontiac wheels are almost identical to the Fiero wheels. The only difference in most of these wheels is the higher wheel hub (about 1-1/2 inches) assembly. Even the colors match. You can, of course opt for a different color if so desired. In the base four-spoke vinyl wheel like donor cars would be the '84-'88 Pontiac 1000, Pontiac 2000, Phoenix, Pontiac 6000, and the Sunbird. For the "ears" wheel, likely donors would be the '87-'88 Sunbird, Grand Am, and Pontiac 6000. For the three-spoke wheels (leather or vinyl), the likely donors are "84-'88 Pontiac 2000, Sunbird, Phoenix, Pontiac 6000, and the Firebird. For the three-spoke wheels, the hub assemblies can actually be switched with the Fiero three-spoke wheels if you want to stay with the shorter Fiero hub. All that is involved is drilling out 4 aluminum rivets to remove the plastic trim ring, and then unscrewing the "T15" TORX screws and switching the hub mounts. The plastic trim ring can be riveted back on, or screwed, or even glued if desired. Obviously the rivets do the best job. Make sure that the ring is installed in its original position or you won't be able to align the horn button properly. Junkyard prices for wheels are usually in the $25 to $50 range - a little more for really nice ones or leather ones. If you have a "you-pull-it" type of junkyard nearby, the prices are usually in the $5 to $15 range if you can find one. And one last point, if you are going out in traffic, don't forget to use your steering wheel.