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Tesla-Swapped Pontiac Fiero Is Like a Tesla Roadster From an Alternate Timeline

A Rimac on a budget still rips.
A red Pontiac Fiero with a Tesla logo hovering above it
Nick Bradley

Let’s face it: If you want a Tesla Roadster, you’ll either have to shell out six figures for the old model or wait ’til the sun blows up for the long-promised new one. Of course, if you don’t mind your Roadster being based on another company’s car to begin with, you could always cut the line by just building one yourself. Maybe, for example, by cramming the guts of a Model S into an under-appreciated classic sports car, like a 1988 Pontiac Fiero GT.

Spotted prowling around chargers in Colorado, this Pontiac might be the oldest car you’ll ever see wearing a Tesla badge. It’s no cheeky upbadge (or downbadge, depending on your opinion) though, because it’s powered by the guts of a crashed Tesla Model S 85. Between its classic 1980s wedge shape and all the cutting-edge technology on board, it’s hard not to consider it a sister car of the Back to the Future DeLorean.

The car’s owner, Tim Bradley, explained that this Fiero was the cream of the crop when he bought it. It was the final-year 1988 GT with the revised suspension, plus the top powertrain, with a 2.8-liter V6 and a five-speed Getrag manual. It had only 14,000 miles when he purchased it, which he did because it was the exact spec of car he met his wife in. Bradley enjoyed the Fiero as-is for a few years, until one evening when he was having dinner with his nephew Nick, who works at Classic EV Conversions. You can see where this is heading.

Lamenting how difficult it was to change belts on the Fiero, Tim joked about how his EV-swapped 1966 VW Beetle was now quicker than his sports car. Nick countered with a tease about turning the Pontiac into an EV too, but the joke quickly turned serious. A few more what-ifs later (and surprisingly, no drinks at all), the Fiero was on a lift with its drivetrain out, getting measured up for conversion.

Donor parts came from a wrecked 2015 Model S 85D, whose 16 battery modules would be arranged in the Pontiac just like Tesla did with the Lotus Elise: five in the frunk, 11 in the engine bay. Despite tipping the scales 700 pounds heavier than a stock Fiero (around 3,650 or so), Nick Bradley said the weight distribution is better than stock, and that the Pontiac “handles way better than it did from [the] factory.”

That required custom rear coilovers though, not to mention tons of engineering specific to this conversation. Tesla’s software-locked inverter had to be substituted for an aftermarket one, with open-source control electronics, though the original Tesla battery heating and cooling carried over. While it isn’t able to tap into the Supercharger network any more, it can take 10 kilowatts through its J1772 port (the type used on most Level 2 chargers).

Because it’s still mostly a Tesla, its range approaches that of the original Model S: Tim has pushed it out as far as 230 miles. Nick says it’s much quicker than a stock Fiero, too—its power output isn’t known, but even its single small Tesla drive unit is more than capable of spinning the rear wheels. Tim reckons it could hook up better with wider tires, and improve on its zero-to-60 time of 4.9 seconds. One thing that isn’t lacking is top speed, as Tim Bradley says he’s broken 100 mph, and thinks the car could do 120.

Making the electric Fiero usable has also required rethinking the interior, turning the tachometer into an ammeter and relocating the shifter to a knob on the dash. There’s now a middle cupholder in its place. It still looks mostly original though, minus the taillight that reads “electric” instead of Pontiac. And it makes people wild.

“Red lights now have people rolling down their windows to ask what it is,” Tim Bradley said. “After I tell them, the responses have ranged from ‘cool’ to ‘that’s badass’ and ‘awesome.’ Had one red-light offer to buy it. Granted, it was a teenager that likely had no money!”

Because the roof still pops out, you can pretty much consider this Fiero EV a fanmade Tesla Roadster. So far, it’s the only car built this decade worthy of being called that, with the real Tesla four years late and without an ETA in sight. Of course, you could always just lop the roof off of a Plaid, but that just isn’t as cool as throwing its drivetrain into a Fiero.

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