Before attending my first Dells Run show in 1995, I had seen only a few Fieros, and they were all pretty much stock. I was amazed at the variety and imagination of the modifications I saw, but nothing struck me as much as seeing John Podziemski's yellow convertible. I thought that if I was ever to attempt to create my own custom Fiero, it would be a convertible. I knew I could never touch my original SE since it was in such nice stock condition, still with just over 40,000 miles. Somewhere around this time, the Fiero Owners Club of America (FOCOA) got ten Automoda Convertible Kits. According to the Automoda website, there were 45 of these kits made in two production runs, with units from the second run being "offered to either individual owners, club owners and kit makers for Ferrari 355 and Testarossa replicas". In an article from the fourth quarter 1995 Fiero Owner magazine (from FOCOA), detailing John's yellow convertible build, John stated that in discussions with Fred Scaduto, the designer of the Automoda conversion kit, that of the 25 kits originally built, 15 were in the US and the other 10 went to Canada and overseas. He also stated that there were ten more being built for FOCOA to offer for sale. So depending on the source, there are only 35 to 45 of these kits in the world, not all being Fiero conversions. Wikipedia also lists several other manufacturers of convertible kits (and I have linked to pages where I could find any pictures of each): Conversion Concepts (Carrozza, sold by Holland Pontiac) (75 units), California Convertible Co. (formerly L.A. Machine), L.A. Machine, Brisa, and BoCar Racing out of Caraquet, New Brunswick (which have a sanp on canvas top). I do not have production numbers for all of these other companies. If I get better information I will update this material. Pennock's Fiero Forum also notes that some Fieros were converted by a man named Bill Welch. The listed link to contact him no longer works. I loved the look of the Automoda top retracted, without having the big boot of cloth folded up, and especially I liked the swept top rear fenders that came with the kit that gives the car a complete, streamlined look. The Automoda has the advantage of no bulky retracted top, but I have to admit that the panels are difficult to put in with the compression needed for the weatherstripping, so they'll only go in when the car needs a wash or when I know it will rain while going to a show.
Before I get too far into my story, I want to confess that I was not then, nor do I consider myself now, a mechanic. I had no experience with body work and limited experience with car mechanics, only what I learned to keep my 1973 Buick Limited running. This was all new, but it's something I wanted to try to accomplish on my own, or as much on my own as possible. I've worked for almost 35 years as a mechanical designer, so I can figure things out fairly well, even better if I have a manual. I have had some help with some machined parts and borrowed tools from guys I've worked with, and I've gotten some old-car-guy advice along the way. Ultimately, this project has given me the confidence to do my own mechanical work on my "good car". By the way, this project has taken about 15 years to complete. The two Fieros in the garage have been known at home as "the convertible" and "the one that runs". My daughter told me if I get personalized plates for the convertible, it should be called "MIRACLE", because it would be a miracle if it ever gets finished. Despite this support, the project is finally nearing completion.
After a seemingly endless period of time, I can finally say that my car is finished. Sure, there's some things I want to touch up here and there and change a bit after seeing it all together, but in general it is done. When I put that last rivet into place, I felt more relieved than excited, and then, just tired. I was up four consecutive nights until after midnight trying to get it ready for the 2012 Dells Run car show, and I finished it just in time. Too bad it only made it as far as Oakdale, just east of Tomah. Check out the 2012 Dells Run section for this story!
I found my donor car at P & N Auto Sales, north of Minneapolis. When I told the salesman and current owner what I intended to do with the car, He replied, "That's too bad." I sent him a link to this site but have received no reply. I drove it home on December 7, 1996. It went right around the corner of the garage where it stayed until spring, when the following picture was taken. It was only on the road once from then until 2011, when I drove the bare chassis out of the garage to turn it around in my garage to begin the disassembly of the back end. I sat on a bucket. Even that was fun.
Finally, in the late spring FOCOA finally delivered the convertible kit which I had waited months for, and was the entire reason for the car project. Since I couldn't schedule body shop time until I knew I had the kit, I wasn't able to get my car into the body shop for the top removal until June of the next year. I also took apart the rear clip to get the taillight housing and the gas cap mount. It must have been a Monday morning car. The outside skin just popped off with a couple of screwdrivers.
Towards the end of 1997, I also took posession of my new engine. This is a rebuilt engine sold through PISA Corp. It wasn't cheap, but I used the information in an article about rebuilding a 2.8 into a 3.1 that appeared in the first quarter, 1997, FOCOA Club magazine to decide if I should rebuild mine or go with the PISA engine. The article had a complete list of parts required, and after doing some shopping for parts, I had an idea of what I would have left over compared to the PISA price for machine shop time. It was a bit more to go with PISA, but as I mentioned before, I'm not a mechanic and the convenience was very appealing. Continuing through the second and third quarter, 1997, and first quarter, 1998, issues, the rebuild article by S. Joe Wynman was very detailed and included an upgrade to the oil pump. It was some time later, when reading the articles again, that I noticed how the machine pattern on my front valve cover looked a lot like the one in the magazine article. By chance, I bought a Fiero book on ebay from Mr. Wynman in January of 2001, and I used this opportunity to ask him about this engine. He told me that yes, indeed the engine I got was the one from the magazine. He sold the engine to PISA who decided, after this engine, not to sell them anymore, so I bought the one and only. He said he wondered where this engine had gone and that many people had been interested in it. So I have complete documentation of everything that was done with this engine rebuild!
Believe it or not, I had some trouble finding a body shop that would cut the top off of a car. I found one on Dundas, MN, a little town just southwest of Northfield, the site of the defeat of the Jesse James gang on September 7, 1876. There were many delays before they could get at my project, and I didn't get to take the car over to the shop until mid-June. They had it for a couple weeks and did a great job of topping off the B-pillars. Later I found out the top mechaism was a bit off of center and required a lot of work readjusting the windows. It was exciting to get the car back as a convertible though.
I remember sighing as I started disassembly, looking at all the corrosion and dirt. It was a lot of work.
The brake lines were even rusting through, and at the time, I wasn't aware of any brake line kits
available so I needed to bend my own, and scour the junkyards for fittings that weren't so badly rusted. I finally got hooked up to the internet in 1998, which made things easier,
even though, at that time, there wasn't that much information out there yet. In this photo you can see the coolant pipe running through the underframe tube.
I was just happy to have the engine out. Now everything had to be taken apart down to the last little bracket and cleaned and painted. I worked through the winter to take everything apart and get it cleaned and painted for spring assembly.
Doesn't this picture look so much nicer than the previous one? In this photo you can see the FOCOA headers. This was a 1987 engine going into a 1986 Fiero so I needed to go back and change the wiring harness for the fuel injectors and, as I recall, I fitting or two on the upper intake. While I had it off I decided to change over to the red wire loom and hose dress up, and use red as the accent color on the car. Later I ran across a very nice top intake from an 86 so I swapped them out to keep my car looking like an 86.
By the fall of 1999 the engine was back in and the car back on its wheels. It was time to cover it up and roll it back into the corner for the winter. At this time I did not have a heated garage so the rebuilding season was limited to warm (or at least not below freezing) Minnesota months.
This was the year to rebuild the front end of the car. This was by no means as bad as the rear end, but I was tired of the rust and grime and was glad to get it finished. I finished replacing the brake lines and I also replaced the fuel pump.
At this point I could also start playing with the convertible parts, like the new rear fenders and deck lid grills. I also started on the interior with new carpeting. The picture shows the original 1986 seats. I've stated that I didn't really care for the speakers in the headrests, but now that my B pillars were gone, I chose to put in older seats and was able to find a great striped set out of an 84.
Work sort of ground to a halt during these years. A divorce at the end of 2000 stopped progress for a while. Fortunately I got to keep the car and my dream could go on. I did a little more work on the interior, like installing a lighted rear view mirror since I lost my courtesy lights when the top was removed. A few years later I met someone special and was remarried in 2005. We moved into a home that was only a few years old. It still had a lot of projects for us to do before we were happy with it. It wouldn't be until the summer of 2008 when progress could start again. I didn't mind the delay, but it did make me wonder if it would ever get finished.
Some progress finally seemed to be getting made again in 2008. I finally got to start using some fiberglass to put the pieces together. Again, this is somthing that I had never done before, and it was easy but messy. Here I am attaching the new upper rear fenders supplied with the convertible kit to the tail light housing that I took out of the original rear clip.
With the fenders finally in place, I could start working with the convertible top canvas. It is sewn to the frame mechanism and stapled around the bottom to a hard rubber strip that runs across the sides and back of the mechanism. You can see my striped 84 seats in this picture.
Life happened again in 2009. On the same day in early February that I lost my job, my wife's mother passed away. She lived in her own house, so I took advantage of being off of work to repair, clean and paint it to get it ready to sell. The house sold in late spring, just as I had finished up, and the same week I started working full time again. I also found out that I would qualify for school funding, so at the young age of 52, I found myself back at school for computers. Initially it was for computer networking, but web design caught my attention and I made that my goal, and this web page is one of the results. Work, school and a two-year-old kept me from getting anything done this year.
School continued into 2010 with me working half time at my design job, and taking summer classes. That gave me about six weeks in late July and into August to get some work done! It was time to work on the headliner and gasket and trim around the removable top, even though I didn't solve the gasket problem until 2011. It is interesting that John told me in his kit he received the rear gasket but not the front, and it was just the opposite for me. I had to piece together some of the headliner to fill the hole left by the courtesy lights, and reinforce some of the cracks since it was deteriorating. Next, I fashioned a base where I could add the fabric and padding out of a piece of aluminum angle. Once the headliner was complete I could finish the interior.
This was the year I was going get the engine running right. It would start fine but then die after warming up. My OTC Monitor scan tool told me
all the sensors were reading the correct voltages, but I decided to replace them one by one.
If it didn't have any effect, fine, I would have an extra one to take on the road, which I had planned on doing since my throttle position sensor fell apart on me once at the Dells. I first
suspected the O2 sensor, and with a quick change, it settled down and purred like a kitten! So, finally, after 15 long years it was ready to at least test drive.
There seemed to be a lot more heat in the engine compartment than with my 2.8. After doing some research on the internet I decided to attempt a front hood vent. I already had an extra hood in case I ruined one! I just looked at the pictures out there on the internet and did a little measuring and started cutting with a box cutter. I wasn't scheduled to go into paint until the fall so I figured I had the time to play around. I cut out the bottom section and pried it loose, and used a heat gun to help bend the top section down. I sanded around the area for the fiberglass and started gooping it up. I had a vision about what the openings should be like. I'd been noticing other Pontiac vehicles and I tried to copy the shape of their vent openings. I filled in the bottom side with more fiberglass and filler. For being a novice, I'm happy with the way it turned out.
That was so much fun that I looked around for rear vent options. The one I liked was the 1979 Mustang hood scoop. It basically just replaces the hump on the deck lid.
I decided to fiberglass in the scoop and I hope that the gas shocks I added under the the rear deck won't crack the seams.
It just looks a lot smoother with the body work done. I looks great and it is totally functional. You can see the heat rise out of the
vent after running the engine. It is all open underneath in the vent area. The modification happened so fast I never even got to take pictures.
While I was still waiting for paint there were still things that could be done. My rear deck lid was droopy, and although I know I could just adjust the springs, I thought gas lifts would be neat. The passenger side lift was tighter space-wise since the shock tower seems to be closer to the edge of the vent bracket. Please click here for a detailed list of parts from a great source.
I also figured out how to put them on the hood. It took a couple tries to get it right, and I think I need to up the capacity another ten pounds per strut, but here's a photo showing the front installation. Please click here for a drawing of the bracket I used and a list of parts from a great source. I thought about making and selling these but there is a little finesse needed to get them in the right place and I didn't want to have someone buy a kit thinking there wouldn't be any extra detail work.
I added a reproduction subwoofer under the dash but it still didn't have enough punch. I have seen speakers in the glove box door at shows,
but instead of buying a kit, I thought I could use the console door itself. I looked for a sub with a shallow depth and found the Kicker 6-1/2".
It gives the bass nice little punch for its size. I had already installed an extra amp for the front woofer, so I only needed an extra set of wires
to connect this new speaker. The installation went pretty well. For more details on the installation, click here.
While I was waiting for paint, I got some more maintenance work done. I rebuilt the door hinges and the headlight motors.
There is a lot of information available on the internet for these procedures so I won't go into details. Here is what I found on
the drivers side motor. The driveshaft had corroded inside the housing and had chewed an oblong hole. I think this one could have
failed at any time so I'm glad I decided to take the time to do this. It's not that expensive to buy the rebuild kit through the
Fiero Store, and it is not a very difficult procedure.
I saw many exotic conversions and modifications at the shows, but I really just love the original Fiero design, especially the notchback coupe, so I decided to add some modifications but keep the appearance as what a stock Fiero convertible would have been. The FOCOA side scoops were in the original Fiero design. Later I decided to remove of some of the engine heat and add the front and rear vents and scoop.
Here was the car at the paint shop. I got it back with 2 weeks left before the 2012 Wisconsing Dells Run trip This was cutting it much closer than I had hoped, but at least after all this time I was happy to get it back!
After 15 years, here is the finished car! The paint job wasn't perfect since I think the painter was so rushed, but it looks great from a couple feet away. That's not good for shows, but OK for normal viewing. It might make it look like this was an amatuer job, but remember, that is exactly what it is. Ninety-nine percent of everything I did on this car was really the first time I attempted it. In all it was a great experience but I don't think I'll ever attempt anything like this again. But then, now that I have a Fiero convertible, why would I need to?
Here is a quick walk-around of the convertible. Sorry, no exciting music.
2013 was going to be the year that I got the engine running the way it was supposed to. It never had the power that I expected and it began starting very hard. I contacted Ryan Gick at Sinister Performance, the person who reprogrammed the computer chip for my 3.1 conversion, and he was most helpful. With the readings form my old OTC Monitor 2000, we found an exhaust leak that was causing the O2 sensor to signal the computer to add more fuel. After that was fixed, the readings were then indicating that the computer was subtracting fuel because it was still running rich. I suspected a leaking injector since the car had sat around for so many years during this project, so I pulled the rail out and turned the key on to pressurize the fuel system. Fortunately I had placed baggies around the injectors since after only a couple cycles, I found a teaspoon of gas in two of the bags, and another one was wet.
I took the rail to a local shop and got to see them flush out the injectors and watch the spray pattern. After I placed the rail back in, it ran like a totally different car! I got it fixed just in time, as you could guess, for the fall rainy season and only got to drive it twice before it went to sleep for the winter. Spring promises to be lots of fun!
The Fiero 2M6 appears as usual on the right corner of the rear deck lid, but in red, and on the left corner it has decals that read 3.1L SE. I love the SE body styling, with the forward sweeping tail lights, and I want to make sure I don't lose that identity. I also have the 3.1L decals on the sides of the rear deck scoop and SE decals on the front quarter panels behind the front wheels. I've always loved Pontiacs and I think that the arrowhead symbol is so recognisable, and since I lost my arrowheads when the top was cut off, I placed medium size arrowhead badges on each of the rear quarter panels on the scoop. That might be a little out of place with all the sleek and streamlined modifications seen on the custom Fieros today, but the Fiero, as timeless as the design is, is still a car from the 80's, and I want it to look like a car from the 80's.
ps - Thanks to all who actually read through all the text. It got to be a long story, but this is 15 years condensed into one web page. This car has been more than just a "project car in the garage". It's been more of a story that has paralelled the events in my life and has been part of me now for over a quarter of my lifetime.
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