The Maserati Biturbo, on the face of it, looked like a crashing return to earth for the iconic Italian supercar manufacturer at the end of the 1970s. In response to a downturn in the world economy and the consequent dip in supercar sales, Maserati radically slimmed down its V8-powered line-up, supplanting them with the V6 turbocharged Biturbo in 1981.
The new car was conceived to fight the upmarket BMW 3-series models in the executive car class, and featured understated but handsome three-box styling reminiscent of the Quattroporte III. Its handling wasn’t as civilised as a 3-series’, however, since lots of power in a short wheelbase, combined with turbo lag, slightly slow-witted steering and rear suspension camber changes could catch out drivers as understeer suddenly snapped into oversteer.
Initially the Biturbo was offered as a two-door saloon, but a four-door and Spyder followed in 1984. The Biturbo wasn’t at first available on the UK market but right-hand-drive models arrived in 1986 and limited sales success in the company car sector followed.
The Biturbo ensured Maserati’s survival and retains that certain something that continues to excite enthusiasts. But buying one can be a minefield – so take care out there.
The Biturbo sits in an interesting position in the marketplace. On the one hand, the standard two- and four-door models were bought new as company cars, and finding a cherished example is next to impossible. On the other, the Spyders tended to be bought as second cars, weekend playthings, and the marketplace today is dominated by great examples.
According to Andy Heywood of Maserati specialist Bill McGrath (above), there’s a corresponding disparity in values. ‘Late fuel-injected Spyders are now changing hands for Â£15,000,’ he says. ‘That compares with Â£8000 for the best coupés and saloons, although you could possibly pick up a carb Spyder at this level.’
Below that, look to pay Â£6000 for the best carburettored Biturbos, budget for Â£2000 to buy you a reasonable ‘going concern’ and pay as little as Â£500 for a project.
At that level you’re going to need to be very brave…
IN A NUTSHELL
The Merak-derived engine is tough and mechanically straightforward. Stories of Â£10k rebuilds are a little wide of the mark, says Andy: ‘Most overhauls are limited to exchanging bearings and gaskets. It’s the later Ghiblis that get expensive thanks to their Nikasil pistons/liners at Â£500 each.’
Engines run a high oil pressure, so are susceptible to oil leaks. But they don’t burn oil, and the bottom end is bulletproof. ‘I’ve never changed a crankshaft,’ says Andy. Overall, they’re easy to work on although, as Andy says, the newer the car, the more awkward it is – for instance, to adjust the PAS belt, you need to remove the radiator. So, if you’re a DIY enthusiast, it pays to get as early a car as possible – the opposite advice for those who entrust their car to a specialist.
Brakes are better on newer models, and early cars are known to chew through pads and discs. The rear axle is delicate and can leak oil, but the differential was made by GKN and reconditioning is straightforward. Manual gearboxes are tough ZF units and just tend to get noisy with age – while, of the autos, the later four-speed ZF is preferable to the early three-speed Borg Warner.
On the electrical side, there were issues with failing relays, although most will now have been replaced. The fusebox’s printed circuit board is susceptible to heat build-up and can actually melt. Resoldering joints may restore normal service, but check everything works – especially the very expensive clock.
As far as rust is concerned, you really need to go for one with as good a body as possible. Generally, Biturbos rust cosmetically around the bonnet, doors, arches and sills (if the car has been badly jacked in the past), but a major worry area is the top of the bulkhead. If it goes here, then you have to pretty much take the car apart to fix it – so feel and examine closely for holes. A damp interior is another, more obvious giveaway.
The Biturbo is an oft-misunderstood car and one that’s rapidly disappearing from our roads – although it was hardly common even when new. It’s stylish and very Italian, and thanks to its wonderful interior and ample performance you’re unlikely to tire of it.
It’s true there are some reliability (and handling) issues to contend with but, if you lavish a Biturbo with the correct attention, which Andy Heywood reckons should cost about Â£2000 per year in normal running, and don’t use it excessively, you shouldn’t find life overly arduous.
There are few cars that combine a lavish interior and electrifying performance with such understated exterior design – and that makes the Biturbo a real Italian car aficionado’s choice.