Pontiac Fiero is certainly not the first marque that comes to mind when the subject of off-roading comes up. But when you listen to Dan Campbell tell the story of the genesis of his new, inexpensive Jalapeño kit, logic comes into play and the project seems quite natural.
Dan reasons that like the original donor-car darling of the kit car businessthe ubiquitous Bugthe Fiero makes a lot of sense as a donor because its body panels are easily removable and can be replaced with something much more exotic. And, as with the VW, the Fieros motive power is in the rear and its suspension is independent, so why couldnt the little Pontiac be as effective as all those dune buggies and sand rails blasting across the desert? Pretty sound logic if you ask us. Of course, some of the thinking in this regard is contrary to the other low-slung exotics offered by PISA.
Dans Jalapeño project actually began in 1994 with Art Center (Pasadena, California) student Aaron Hawkins making some concept drawings of a sporty utility vehicle, but the project was shelved until 1998. It was begun again by generally roughing out a foam shape, only to be shelved once morethis time to wisely determine if the donor was, as suspected, off-road worthy. It apparently was capable of off-highway use, so after a years delay in R&D, Carl Colemans Arizona Prototype took on the project to develop the vehicle you see here.
When you consider the design of the Jalapeño, which reminds us of some of the rallye cars that run in the Paris-Dakar international event, it appears Dan might have been psychically connected to some Detroit automotive designers. It has the flavor of such new-fashioned concept cars as the dual-purpose Jeep sportster and the recently unveiled Chevy Borrego XUV, among others.
Preparing a Fiero donor for the Jalapeño kit is fairly simple, requiring removal of the body panelsexcept for the doors, the roof, and the rear deck, all of which remain intact. The chassis has to be altered by cutting off about 12 inches of the front of the car. In addition, the bulkhead in front of the spare tire must be trimmed to clear the electric fan since the radiator also has to be slightly repositioned. A new front bumper adds reinforcement to the trimmed chassis. Repositioning the radiator to a more upright position is a simple matter of utilizing the stock lower brackets and adding a 45-degree bracket to hold the top.
To achieve the full-on, aggressive, rock-crawling appearance, PISA chose to lift the Fiero by using a Ryane Motorsports beefy suspension kit. The front setup features tubular upper and lower A-arms with coilover shocks, while the rear is fitted with tubular lower control arms and coilovers. Of course, you could maintain the stock suspension for a less-aggressive or street look. The off-road look was enhanced further with the addition of a set of 15x7 American Racing Neptune polished alloy wheels shod with 30-inch BFGoodrich mudders. To illustrate how the Jalapeño can have a completely different personality, PISA did a quick-change on the wheels and tires to give the car a more hip and trendy street look.
A set of 20x8.5 Epic Marquis 810 chromies, wrapped with V-rated Toyo Proxes S/T (265/50-20) rubber, along with some other subtle accessory gear changes, certainly give the car an alternate personality. To mount the big wheels PISA uses 1¼-inch-thick wheel adapters, which also change the bolt pattern from stock Pontiac to more common 5 on 4½-inch or 5 on 4¾-inch lug patterns.
The basic Jalapeño kit ($1,995) consists of seven fiberglass body panels: the front clip, the front clip mounts, the quarter-panels, the rear bumper, and the center roof panel. PISA wisely offers a bunch of accessory items so that a home builder can tailor the car exactly as he wants. Among the metal accessories are powdercoated, mandrel-bent 23/8-inch tubular bumpers, a rollbar, side nerf bars, and a skid plate. PISA also carries the Ryane suspension components, the Baja-style headlights, the turn signals, and the Petersen LED taillights. The cars look could be enhanced even furthersuch as our photo modelswith the addition of PIAA Ion Crystal foglamps and rectangular backup lights mounted to the rollbar, and headlight grilles. For more of a street look, PISA offers smooth rocker panels without the nerf bars and simpler, less-aggressive front and rear bumpers.
As with PISAs other Fiero-based kit cars, the Jalapeños interior can either be left stock or completely disguised with one of the companys interior kits. Our cover model was fitted with the wraparound dash covered with black vinyl, stitched with French seams. The stock door panels were replaced with PISAs Euro Door Panels and the seats were covered with black leather. The company even offers replacement digital instrumentation for an added custom interior touch.
The rebody you see here was based on a 90,000-mile 88 Formula model that was picked up for $2,000 and was in rather good shape. Its powered by the 2.8 V-6 with 140 hp backed up by an automatic transmission. The Formula has better brakes and better suspension than other Fiero models. PISA left the engine stock but added some chrome componentsa plenum chamber, valve covers, and a throttle bodyfrom Nolan Concept just to dress up the engine compartment. The exhaust system was left stock except for the addition of a pair of big chrome exhaust tips under the rear rollpan.
PISA painted its prototype Jalapeño yellow, which was a great color for stopping showgoers in the aisles. It was also a natural choice for an off-road vehicle named Jalapeño. So, when it came time to paint the dual-purpose model for this story, the choices were difficult. Dan settled on Bright Amber Pearl with iridescent ghost flames. The thinking was that the color needed to say dirt and asphalt. We think the choice is a winner. It particularly looked at home among the saguaro and scrub desert-scape near Phoenixboth on and off street.
Its refreshing indeed to see something totally different come upon the kit car scene, particularly something as cool as this Jalapeño. Its perhaps even more significant when you consider that it is an easy, entry-level project that wont break the bank to build. And on a head-turner scale, its sure to be right up there at the top since there is little on the road that can match its looks, at least for now.