Home » The Desert Does Weird Things To Cars: 1984 Pontiac Fiero vs 1991 Toyota Previa

The Desert Does Weird Things To Cars: 1984 Pontiac Fiero vs 1991 Toyota Previa

Sbsd 7 11 2024
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Welcome back! I’m sticking with the oddballs today, with two vehicles that hail from the Tucson, Arizona area. Both have been somewhat re-imagined by their current owners, but both are claimed to be reliable runners. Which one of these altered beasts will appeal more to you? We’ll find out shortly.

First, let’s finish with yesterday’s scruffy classics. I expected this one to be a fairly even matchup, despite the price difference, and I was right. In fact, several of you wanted a “both” option, which doesn’t happen often; it’s usually “eww, neither one.”

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Vidframe Min Bottom

Ultimately, the Studebaker pickup took the trophy, and I think I agree with that. I do love ’60s Volvos, especially Amazons, but the draw of that old Stude is too strong. Besides, it would be fun to take it to shows and events and watch people scratching their heads over that shift pattern.

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Now then: I’m not generally one to modify my own vehicles; I tend to leave them in their as-designed form and just fix or upgrade things as needed. But I appreciate those who take a car and make it their own, especially an old cheap car that no one really cares about. I can’t say I always like, or understand, their choices, but I admire their spirit. Today, we’ve got a minivan that has been modified to go off-road, and a sports car that looks like it has been, but I think it’s less modified than it first appears. Let’s check them out.

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1984 Pontiac Fiero 2M4 – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.5-liter overhead valve inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: Oro Valley, AZ

Odometer reading: unknown

Operational status: Runs and drives well

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When Pontiac introduced the Fiero, the official line was that it was a “commuter car.” And sure, it was small and got decent gas mileage, so you could make that argument. But one look at it – the low-slung wedge shape, the midship engine placement – and you knew Pontiac’s engineers meant this to be a sports car. It took several years and a lot of refinements to make good on the promise of that shape, but it got there in the end. By 1988, it was a pretty respectable sports car. Never, not once during its five-year run, did anyone claim it was an off-roader, however.

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The owner of this car isn’t the first one to give a Fiero a more aggressive stance; a quick Google image search yields jacked-up Fieros of all types throwing up roostertails of dirt. It makes sense; a Fiero works well off-road for some of the same reasons a Beetle does: it’s lightweight in the front, with all the weight in back over the drive wheels. It has a space frame with separate removable plastic body panels, so it’s not difficult to lift it a little and add clearance for bigger tires, much like a Beetle’s separate fenders.

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But looking at it, I don’t think this Fiero’s suspension has been altered. It looks like the only modifications are the larger tires and the bolt-on fender flares – and a couple of cherry-bomb mufflers, which probably don’t improve the drone of the Iron Duke four-cylinder much. However it may sound, the seller says it runs and drives well. I don’t know what’s going on with the taillights; if anyone else can figure out what the hell that’s all about, please enlighten me.

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The speedometer and odometer are broken, but the seller has installed a GPS unit to keep track of speed. It also includes the original wheels, if you prefer those to the wagon wheels. I’m not sure if the flares can be undone, however.

1991 Toyota Previa LE – $1,600

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.4-liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Vail, AZ

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Odometer reading: 381,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

You might guess, by the Gambler 500 logo on the door of this jacked-up Toyota Previa minivan, that you know its story. But no; there’s so much more to it than just a 500-mile jaunt through the woods. Apparently, this van was the transport of choice for a Rat Race-themed bachelor party road trip. The seller and five of his closest friends drove this van from Sacramento to Las Vegas to Silver City to Tucson, about 1,000 miles in total, and apparently it didn’t even hiccup.

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The Previa is an anomaly in the minivan market; while most automakers were following in Chrysler’s footsteps with a transversely-mounted V6 driving the front wheels, Toyota laid a four-cylinder almost on its side and stuck it under the front seats, driving a more truck-like solid rear axle. Some Previas were supercharged and/or all-wheel-drive; this one is neither.

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It has been lifted, and wears some seriously oversized tires; in fact, the seller says they’re a little too big, and rub the fenders even though they’re cut back. Some slightly less ridiculous shoes are probably a good idea. The front bumper has also been augmented with an obviously homemade brush guard and skid plate. If I’m not mistaken, those are street signposts – hopefully acquired through legitimate means, but I doubt it.

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Obviously, it’s beat to hell on the outside, and has been painted with house paint. You’re either willing to put up with it or you aren’t. The seller claims the interior is in “pretty decent shape,” but that the air conditioner doesn’t work. After hauling six guys on a 1,000-mile road trip in the desert, it may be in decent shape, but I bet it smells ripe.

Cars like these are a hard sell, and I realize that. But they’re also fun to write about, and sure to stir up some colorful comments. And that, folks, is why I do this. If you want good car-buying advice, read Consumer Reports. I’m here to show you the dregs of the used car market, so we can all point and laugh together. So what’ll it be – the poser Fiero, or the half-dead Previa?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
1 day ago

Definitely the Fiero- those are fun when they don’t catch fire and it doesn’t look too bad…will get some actual brake lights! That egg van is atrocious- no thanks even though it was one of our family vans growing up

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 day ago

I always wanted to el Caminoize a Previa, but they are always too nice or too far gone. Hmm.

First Last
First Last
1 day ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

omg yes!

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 day ago

Both of these models in stock or near stock condition would get my attention. Nuff said.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 day ago

I know it smells crazy in there but I’m still going Previa.

Number One Dad
Number One Dad
1 day ago

I’ll pay $1600 just to pick my kids up from school one time in the “HONK IF UR HORNY” van

AlterId
AlterId
1 day ago
Reply to  Number One Dad

It would be worth it, because they. their mother, their school and whatever your local equivalent of Child Protective Services is called would all prevent you from ever having to do it again.

Last edited 1 day ago by AlterId
D-dub
D-dub
1 day ago

Only one of these vehicles will not give you herpes during the test drive. I vote Fiero.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 day ago
Reply to  D-dub

Ida know. The Fiero looks like it’s just a real small van. Didn’t you spot the shag carpeting on the seats? That’s still gonna need a blacklight scan.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 day ago

After acquiring my brother’s ’91 Previa from his estate, I had to vote Previa. Even in the stock form, it works great on wonly unpaved roads. One just has to recognize that the rear shock mounts are very low, and large rocks have to be avoided judiciously.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 day ago

Nope.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
1 day ago

Yesterday, “both” was a super viable option. Today my reaction to both is just, “eww!” even though unmolested examples of either would pique my Autopian urges.

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