Currently reading: Used buying guide: Maserati Biturbo
Maserati’s Biturbo had lofty goals and its fair share of problems. But find a good one, and you will enjoy a rare and interesting break from the norm
John Evans
News
5 mins read
8 November 2021

Back in 2013, the Ghibli was hailed as the future saviour of Maserati: a BMW 5 Series rival that would hit 50,000 sales per year by 2015. But things haven’t worked out like that – and it’s not the first time. 

In 1981, Maserati launched the Biturbo, a BMW 3 Series rival, with the same aim and sales ambitions. However, while high running costs and class-trailing dynamics blunted the Ghibli’s appeal, for the Biturbo it was an even more damning blend of inferior build quality and poor reliability that made sales decline. Thus the coupé version, the mainstay of the line-up, lasted only until 1990 (the open-top Spyder version continued until 1994) and only about 700 Biturbos were sold in the UK.

Click here to buy your next used car from Autocar

Today, few people have a kind word to say about the model. People such as Karl Verdi, founder of Verdi Ferrari, an independent Ferrari workshop: “It was trash: badly designed, badly engineered and loose-feeling. I remember a friend spinning his new Biturbo on a bend and then being all over the place at a track day.” 

‘An owner’s view’ below shows that not everyone is so critical. Furthermore, comb the classifieds and you will find enough cherished Biturbos to make you think there might actually be some merit to it. 

Notwithstanding the fact that everything seems to be getting more expensive, prices are rising too. Not long ago, they started at around £4000, with good cars from £8000, while the best, with decent service histories, started at around £12,000. Now, proper Biturbos with decent histories go from around £12,000. Among the more expensive cars are ratty examples riding on the trident badge, and the ‘one we found’ could be one of those, so we would subject it to a thorough examination.

The Biturbo was launched in 1981 in left-hand-drive form only. It was a handsome two-door coupé powered by the world’s first production twin-turbocharged engine. The naturally aspirated motor had a timing belt and – another first – three valves per cylinder, later increased to four. Be warned: manual cars have a dog-leg first that can catch Biturbo novices out. A four-door saloon followed in 1984. The same year, the interesting Spyder was launched – interesting because it sits on a shortened platform. As a result, it’s more agile than the coupé but, unsurprisingly, less stiff. Today, more Spyders appear to have survived than coupés. 

Back to top

RHD coupés and Spyders were eventually unleashed on sceptical UK buyers in 1986. Powered by a 2.5-litre V6 producing 193bhp, the ‘new’ model was decently quick. A mild restyle followed, then two years later the engine gained fuel injection and an extra 24bhp. At the same time, a 247bhp 2.8-litre V6 joined the range. Alas, it wasn’t enough to lever enthusiasts out of their cheaper and more usable 3 Series, and the coupé passed into the history books at the end of the decade. Today, buy a good one and Loadsamoney’s loss could be your gain.

An owner’s view - David Green

“I own four Biturbos, and I love them. The model has a reputation for rust and poor build quality, but in my view, it was a victim of neglect. The engine was too advanced, panels were welded on rather than bolted and there were few dealers, so cars were run into the ground. They were never intended for Britain’s roads: muck gets flung up behind the headlights and corrosion takes hold. Keep the area clean and rust-proofed and it will be fine. My daily driver is a 2.5 coupé. It’s quick, reliable and rust-free. Prices are rising, so buy a good Biturbo for the right money and you will have an appreciating classic.”

Buyer beware

Engine: A full history with oil and timing belt changes every 6000 and 24,000 miles respectively (the latter can be done in 45 minutes) is the ideal. Oil pressure should be around 4kg/cm at running temperature. Be sure the coolant fan cuts in after idling for extend periods. Check for oil and coolant mixing, for oil staining the rear of the engine and the bulkhead, for noisy cams (caused by oil starvation) and a loose water pump. 

Back to top

Transmission: Manual ’boxes are reliable; the clutch, or rather the slave cylinder, is the weak spot. A short pedal travel points to impending failure. The four-speed auto is more reliable than the three-speed. 

Brakes and suspension: Check the front discs aren’t warped; where fitted, ventilated discs are less prone. Even a healthy handbrake is unlikely to hold the car. Inspect for wear in balljoints and bushes. The trackrod ends wear out quickly

Electrics: Oxidation through the electrics causes problems, preventing current from flowing and causing circuits to overheat, so check everything works. Cleaning contact surfaces helps restore things, but check printed circuit boards aren’t fried. 

Body: Check everywhere for rust, in particular the door pillars and sills, window surrounds, bonnet edges, the battery tray and around and behind the front and rear lights.

Interior: Be sure the electric windows and air-con work and fixtures and fittings, headlining included, are in good shape.

Also worth knowing

Check the original, Swiss-made analogue clock, called the LaSalle, is still in the dashboard. It’s a beautiful thing sought after by automobilia collectors. Fortunately, you can still buy them – at a price. We found a US seller offering an apparently original one, in factory packaging, for £446.

How much to spend

£5000-£7499: LHD cars, including a cherished 1984 coupé with 70,000 miles for £7300.

£7500-£9999: The cheapest UK-registered cars with chequered histories. 

£10,000-£14,999: Tidier UK cars; occasional facelifted (1989) Spyders with sub-50k miles. 

£15,000 and above: Includes a fully restored 1989 2.8 Spyder with 33,000 miles for £19,995. Also a 1990 2.8 replica coupé race car with 100k miles, also for £19,995.

Back to top

One we found

Maserati Biturbo coupe 2.5, 1987, 38,000 miles, £15,995: A low-mile, enthusiast-owned coupé. Ad says new recent timing belts and oil pressure is to spec at all temperatures. Question marks over some suspension mods, a rusty wheel arch and the price, which looks a little strong.

Join the debate

Comments
3
Add a comment…
xxxx 8 November 2021

Not exactly a looker, something Chrysler could have knocked out.

Overdrive 8 November 2021

As the article points out, I know old Biturbo could be a problematic ownership prospect, but I always loved the look and especially the sumptuous wood and leather - with that lovely Maserati analogue clock - interior.

stavers 8 November 2021
Article wrote:

The naturally aspirated motor had a timing belt and – another first – three valves per cylinder

Really?  The bi-turbo was naturally aspirated.

Also, it was definitely not the first production car to have 3 valves per cylinder.  Bugatti touring cars from 1922 onwards (Types 30, 38, 44, 49, 43etc.) all had 3 valves per cylinder.  Maybe not mass production but still over 2,500 of these were made in total.