The Enterra Vipre was developed in the mid-1980s by a group of waiters at the Keg Restaurant on Vancouver’s Granville Island. Somehow they managed to secure a grant from the Canadian Scientific Research Council for $10 million CAD, and perhaps not surprisingly it all went wrong shortly after.
Whoever these waiters were they were astonishingly adept salesmen. Not only did they talk their way into that $10 million CAD government grant, but they also talked General Motors into selling their cars in the USA right out of Pontiac dealerships – with a full manufacturer’s warranty no less.
Fast Facts – The Enterra Vipre
- The first Enterra Vipre was built in 1984, it was essentially a Pontiac Fiero with its original fiberglass body removed, and a new supercar-inspired fiberglass body fitted. The interior of the car was also upgraded, however the drivetrain remained in factory-stock condition.
- As the story goes, a group of automotive enthusiast waiters at a restaurant on Vancouver Island came up with the idea for the Enterra Vipre. They then talked their way into a $10 million CAD government grant, and they talked General Motors into selling the car out of Pontiac dealerships.
- The lifecycle of the Enterra company shares many parallels with the story of Bricklin. Both were Canadian car companies that received millions from the government to build sports cars, and both ultimately failed within a few years. Bricklin’s story occurred in the 1970s and Enterra’s took place approximately a decade later in the 1980s.
- Due to the fact that a new Enterra Vipre cost over $30,000 USD (in 1986 dollars), twice that of a new Pontiac Fiero, very few were made. Estimates vary but 36 and 38 seem to be the most commonly cited numbers.
How To Build A Canadian Supercar
The story of how the Enterra Vipre came to be is fascinating, and it would make great fodder for a fast-paced, Fyre Festival-style Netflix film. We touched on it a little above in the introduction but we’ll go a little deeper into the story here. It’s well worth the read.
Exactly how a group of waiters came up with the idea of starting their own car company may be lost to history, but we do know that in the early-to-mid 1980s the waitstaff at the Keg Restaurant on Vancouver’s Granville Island hatched a plan to launch their own custom car brand and call it Cymbria.
Rather than building a car from scratch as Bricklin has done a decade earlier before collapsing into bankruptcy the team at Cymbria decided too instead base their car on a preexisting production sports car to save time and money.
The car they chose was arguably the hottest American sports car of the time, the Pontiac Fiero, an affordable mid-engined car with a lightweight fiberglass body. Cymbria developed their own custom bolt-on fiberglass body for the car, then they developed a more luxurious interior, they doubled the sticker price, and put their car on the market.
Rather than attempting to sell the vehicle themselves they somehow talked General Motors into selling the car through their own Pontiac dealer network in the USA, with a full Pontiac warranty – that latter element was likely offered as the cars retained their original suspension, braking, and drivetrain systems with no modifications.
By the time the initial problems with the body moulds and ill-fitting panels had been rectified it was 1986 and the company had changed its name to Enterra, possibly as a way to leave some space between themselves and the negative press that the earlier 1984 Cymbria prototype had attracted.
The styling of the Enterra Vipre was perhaps a little misleading. It looked like a mid-engined supercar that was doing 200 mph even standing still. In reality it was powered by the standard 2.8 liter Pontiac V6 making just 140 bhp and 170 lb ft of torque.
The Pontiac Fiero
In 1983 the Pontiac Fiero had just launched with a multi-million dollar advertising campaign that included both title sponsorship of a national Hall & Oates tour, an appearance of the car in a 1983 episode of the television show Hardcastle & McCormick, and it was the Official Pace Car of the Indianapolis 500 in 1984.
The excitement around the Fiero at the time was palpable. It was a small, affordable sports car with a mid-engined design, modern styling, and it was made in the USA to challenge the popular sports cars coming out of Europe.
The Fiero was featured on the influential Car and Driver Magazine Ten Best list for 1984, and it generally seemed like Pontiac had a winner on their hands. For a time at least.
Not long after its release a series of problems that were plaguing the Fiero began attracting national media attention. The cars were prone to connecting rod failure that could punch a hole in the side of the engine, spilling oil into the engine bay and causing fires – hundreds of these fires were recorded.
Other issues included problems with the cooling system, poor handling of the earlier cars caused by the use of repurposed suspension from other GM models, corrosion of the steel spaceframe chassis, failing popup headlight motors, and the use of an insufficiently powerful Iron Duke four-cylinder engine also contributed to the car’s woes.
The 1988 Pontiac Fiero was significantly updated with new suspension, ventilated disc brakes front and back, an improved steering system, and vastly improved versions of both the inline-four and V6 engines.
If this had been the car that Pontiac had originally released the story of the model would likely have been much different, however it was too late for the Fiero – the repetitional damage had been done and the car left production after the 1988 model year.
The Enterra Vipre
When the Fiero was still new and exciting back in 1983 and 1984 many kit car and low-volume automakers hailed it as their savior. Its steel spaceframe chassis, mid-engined layout, and easy-to-remove fiberglass outer body panels made it ideally suited to modification.
Countless Ferrari replica kit cars were based on the Fiero, there were also Lamborghini kits, and kits replicating other models. Interestingly one of those Ferrari replica designs was the Pontiac Mera – it had a bodykit designed to emulate the Ferrari 308 GTS which was being used in the popular Magnum P.I. TV series in the 1980s. 159 of them were made and sold through Pontiac dealers in the USA before the Ferrari lawyers got involved and shut the operation down.
The Zimmer Quicksilver is probably the most unusual of the custom Fieros, it offered a completely new outer body design that was 28 inches longer than the original, it also had a more luxurious custom interior.
The Canadian answer to this Fiero phenomenon was the Enterra Vipre. Its design was clearly influenced by the Ferraris of the time including the F40, though it was carefully designed so as not to be a replica of any single model – therefore resistant to the famously litigious Ferrari legal representatives in the United States.
The first prototype was built in 1984 as the Cymbria Vipre, however the poor fitment of the fiberglass body panels and overall build quality left a lot to be desired. The moulds had to be completely redone, by the time they were ready it was 1986. The car was relaunched, now as the Enterra Vipre, with a price of over $30,000 USD – the equivalent to $71,277 USD in 2023 and roughly double the cost of a standard V6 Fiero.
Despite the fact that the car was being sold through selected Pontiac dealerships in the USA it was a complete flop. The lack of brandname awareness for Enterra coupled with the high price and the fact that the car had slightly worse performance than the stock V6 Fiero (due to to the larger/heavier body) resulted in dismal sales.
Fewer than 40 were sold, though it’s believed that 6-8 cars remained in the factory in partially-built condition when bankruptcy proceedings began. It’s not known what happened to them or how many of the production versions of the car have survived to the modern day.
The Enterra Vipre Shown Here
The car you see here is an original surviving 1986 Enterra Vipre, it’s based on the high-specification Pontiac Fiero SE and it’s powered by the 2.8 liter V6 sending power to the rear wheels via a 5-speed manual transmission.
It has electronic fuel injection, four-wheel disc brakes, rack-and-pinion steering, 15″ alloy wheels, front and rear spoilers, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, cruise control, and an AM/FM/cassette stereo.
The car was bought by the current dealer in 2022 and in their possession the car has had its brakes rebuilt, the paintwork has been ceramic-coated, the engine internals were inspected, the oil and coolant were changed, and the car has been fitted with a new clutch, distributor cap and rotor, hoses, belts, emergency brake cable, transmission shifter cable and linkage, oil pan gasket, oil pump, catalytic converter, and tires.
It’s now being offered for sale out of Totem Lake, Washington on Bring a Trailer, and you can visit the listing here to read more or register to bid.
Images courtesy of Bring a Trailer
Articles that Ben has written have been covered on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, Autoweek Magazine, Wired Magazine, Autoblog, Gear Patrol, Jalopnik, The Verge, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with well over a million monthly readers from around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.