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Maserati Biturbo

Minimum Maserati Published: 12th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Maserati Biturbo

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 2.8 Spyder
  • Worst model: 425 auto
  • Budget buy: 2.5 Spyder
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): LxW mm 4040 x 1710 (Spyder)
  • Spares situation: Good; many prices are low too
  • DIY ease?: Yes, aside from engine work
  • Club support: The club’s focus is largely social
  • Appreciating asset?: No
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Only really nice cars are good buys
Interior looks plush but the trim isn't and is expensive to restore. Typical Latin electrics affect fuse box and electric window Interior looks plush but the trim isn't and is expensive to restore. Typical Latin electrics affect fuse box and electric window
Shape has shades of BMW 3 Series about it; Spyders in most demand but best value could be the four-door. All rust badly so check Shape has shades of BMW 3 Series about it; Spyders in most demand but best value could be the four-door. All rust badly so check
No doubt about it, you get a lot of car for your money with one of the most exotic badges on the block No doubt about it, you get a lot of car for your money with one of the most exotic badges on the block
Engines usually okay but head gaskets and turbos can fail Engines usually okay but head gaskets and turbos can fail
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You really can buy a Maserati for Mondeo money – but is the Biturbo right for you?

Pros & Cons

Fast, cheap to buy, strong image, luxurious
Can be costly to run, can be fragile, looks unexciting
£3500-£18,000

Believe the hype and you get only what you pay for. But what if you want a glamorous badge, comfort and serious performance, but you’re almost potless? Fret not because help is at hand, thanks to the Maserati Biturbo family. Buy one of these and you’ll soon see there’s performance and comfort aplenty, even if the handling is less than pin sharp and fuelconsumption is far from miserly. Running costs can be high too, especially with cars that have been neglected – and there’s no shortage of those. So maybe you do get what you pay for after all…

History

The Biturbo (pronounced Bee Turbo by the way) debuted in December 1981 as a two-door coupé, with a 180bhp 2-litre engine. Available with lefthand drive only, it was joined by the two-tone Biturbo S in 1984. The fi rst of the Biturbo-based four-door saloons, the 420 and 420S, debuted in 1984, in left-hand drive form only and wih 2.0-litre engines. A Biturbo Spyder concept designed and produced by Italian coachbuilder Embo was shown at the 1982 Turin show. But the production Spyder was designed and built by Zagato, which introduced it in 1984. With the wheelbase shorter than a regular Biturbo by 11cm, this initially had the earlier engine, although it was upgraded to a 2.5-litre engine for the 1985 model year.

The 192bhp 2.5-litre Biturbo and 425 saloon reached the UK in 1986 with right-hand drive; the same year saw a choice of Weber-Marelli fuel injection or carburettors for the Italian market. The following year saw the demise of carburettors on Italian cars and in 1988 the UK followed suit. In the same year the 430 superseded the 425, with a 2.8-litre engine. The 2.8-litre 228 also arrived; this was a two-door coupé that was a longer, wider and taller Biturbo. The Karif broke cover at the 1988 Geneva salon. Essentially a Spyder with a fi xed roof, the car used a 245bhp 2.8-litre V6. The Biturbo’s engine was enlarged to 2.8-litres for the 1988 model year, and the car was renamed the 222E. At the same time, ventilated discs were introduced at the front and the Spyder was renamed the Spyder E. Two years later the fixed-head models were axed, but the Spyder soldiered on until 1994. Based on the Spyder fl oorpan,the Shamal is the hottest variant of all. Revealed in 1990, it was powered by a 325bhp V8 – RHD UK sales began in 1992.

Driving

The burning question of course has to be is the Biturbo a genuine Maserati or an Italian take on the BMW 3 Series which shares similar size and looks. Well actually it’s a bit of both! While Seventies Italians have a terrible reputation for offering an appalling driving position, things were improving by the time these cars rolled out of the factory; the Biturbo’s set-up is pretty much spot on. The pedals are well spaced and the stering wheel is within easy reach, while the seats are both comfortable and supportive. Fire up that twin-turbo V6 up front and there’s a fair amount of whining around idle, thanks to various drive belts doing their stuff. Engage the dog-leg fi rst gear and it’s easy to stall the engine thanks to a surprising lack of low-down torque. you soon get used to it though, as you do with the gearchange, which isn’t one to be hurried.
On the move, there’s plenty of poke if you keep the crankshaft spinning above 3000rpm; give it an extra 500 revs and things start to get nicely interesting. Those 3000 revs correspond with 70mph in fi fth, making cruising a relaxed affair – and that’s what this car is best at. While pressing on and the car’s body control is poor. The brakes don’t offer as much reassurance as they should and the steering is nowhere near as communicativ as you’d hope. Still, the trade off is a composed ride that makes Britain’s pocked roads more bearable. Here’s what the American press thought of the car at the time, starting with Car and Driver in 1986. “Although the 425 [automatic] might be a slug from 0 to 30 mph, its true personality becomes evident on the freeway. At extra-legal speeds, it gives you a Superman-like sense of invulnerability; bullies could bounce off its windshield. Rolling along through knots of traffi c, it feels like a mako eating its way through a school of minnows.” Commenting on the car’s tail happiness one magazine added: “ In fairness, the Biturbo E performs well when driven vigorously on winding roads; it requires quite a bit of wheel-sawing, but that’s part of the fun. Most drivers will fi nd the Biturbo E entertainingly manageable in 8/10s driving.” Sounds like our sort of performance car then!

Prices

Cheap Biturbos abound and servicing needn’t be costly either, but a lot of examples on offer are pretty ropey. Buy well for occasional use and you’ll be fi ne – it’s worth engaging an expert for peace of mind. Bill McGrath Maserati can help here with a full inspection for £172.50. Cars suitable for breaking fetch up to £500, while projects cost as much as £1000. Usable coupÈs and 425s fetch £2000-£3000 while decent 222Es, 228s, 430s and carb Spyders are anywhere between £3000 and £8000. Really nice 222s, 430s and good Karifs or Spyder Es are £7000-10,000 while the very best Spyder Es and Karifs can be worth as much as £12,000. Big thanks are due to Andy Heywood at Bill McGrath Maserati for all his help in compiling this article. Started in 1976, Bill McGrath Maserati is the UK’s premier classic Maserati specialist, based in Herts. See http://www.classicmaseratis.co.uk for more.

What To Look For

  • The Biturbo’s body wasn’t galvanised, so rust is likely – is it Italian after all. The areasmost frequently affected are the bottoms of the doors, the tail edge of the bootlid and the leading edge of the bonnet and front wings.
  • The sills, wheelarchesand trailing edge of the bonnet are also susceptible to tinworm, although the Spyder’s sills were reinforced to compensate for the lost stiffness in removing the roof. As a result they are less rot-prone than those on fi xed-head cars.
  • If you’re looking at an early left-hand drive car, scrutinise the fl oorpan carefully. By the time the cars were offi cially imported into the UK they were much betterrust-proofed, but early cars are likely to have been reduced to breaker status by corrosion striking the fl oorpans.
  • Biturbos are notoriously tail happy, and over the years many of them have done some off-roading. Poor accident repairs are common, so watch out for poorly fi tting panels. A worthwhile check is to inspect the base of the A-post, looking for a ripple in the front wing.
  • The Biturbo’s V6 engine is pretty much bulletproof – as long as the service intervals have been adhered to. Make sure the car has a Maserati service history and check that the service book shows an oil change every 6000 miles along with a timing belt replacement every 24,000 miles. If the belt is due for renewal it’ll cost around £300. Also make sure the car has had synthetic oil at each change – anything else isn’t up to the job of protecting the engine.
  • Rebuilding or replacing the Biturbo’s twinturbo V6 is an expensive proposition, so it’s worth getting an expert to check its health. Whether the engine is fuelled by carburettor or injection the costs are pretty much the same. That means a rebuild will setyou back £5000 and a second hand engine £1000-£2000.
  • The two IHI turbochargers aren’t prone to failure and don’t generally give problems. Post-1984 cars have water-cooled turbos which are generally the longer-lasting of the two. Replacing them costs £1500-2000 – if you opt for reconditioned units. Go for new ones and it’s £3000.
  • Check for oil leaks as gaskets fail. Most likely place is the gasket between each cam carrier and cylinder head. Check between the engine and bulkhead – it’ll be obvious if it’s wet with oil. Reckon on spending£160 to fi x each side.
  • With the car so close to the ground there’s a danger of the sump grounding, so make sure it hasn’t been bashed. Although the sump is unlikely to split open, the aluminium cooling fi ns will be looking the worse for wear and there may be oil leaks giving the game away. There’s also a sensor on the crankshaft that can take a pounding if the sump is grounded – hit it hard enough and the engine will grind to a halt…
  • Exhausts rot through quickly so check that a stainless system has been fi tted. Designs vary between the carb-fed and fuel injected cars, but expect to pay around £550 in the case of the former and £765 for the latter models.
  • Most Biturbos had a five-speed manual ZF gearbox, although very late cars feaured a Getrag unit instead; the former is given away by its dog-leg first gear. From 1985 there was a three-speed Borg-Warner auto which was upgraded to a four-speed ZF with the introduction of the 2.8-litre models. Make sure you drive a 2.5-litre model with the ‘box; you’ll probably quickly conclude that the ‘box isn’t suited to the engine.
  • A Sensitork limited-slip diff helped put the powerdown, but it’s this that is the car’s Achilles’ heel. Because there was no breather system, the diff tended to overheat when the oil seals were blown out under pressure, but a breather system is now available to alleviate the problem. If the car you’re looking at has a noisy diff, bear in mind that rebuilding it will cost £940.
  • The propshaft can also cause problems. This feeds into the diff via a torque tube, in which the splines wear. Check for clonks when taking up drive. If the splines aren’t worn it can be fi xed for £200, but once the splines have been eroded it’ll cost £600-700 to fi x.
  • Power assisted steering was fi tted to all UK cars, although early imports may not have it fi tted. Carburettor cars have the steering rack mounted on rubber bushes, which rot if the engine leaks oil onto it. Thiswill cause the rack to move on its mounts – it’s mounted on the subframe. This gives the impression of a worn rack, but it’s the mounting bushes that need to be replaced. Fuel injected cars used solid rack mounts so weren’t prone to this.
  • Carburettor cars have a pair of track rod ends, which are durable. But fuel injected models were fi tted with six track rod ends, four of which wear quickly. If there’s play in the steering they’re probably due for renewal, at a cost of £250.
  • The suspension is very reliable, being of a straightforward design. But the car’s wayward handling may mean the rear suspension has had a heavy knock, so check the angle of the back wheels and make sure they’re not out of kilter.
  • Carburettor cars used solid discs all round, and the front ones can wear ridiculously quickly. One hard session on a track can scrap a set of front discs, Fuel injected cars sported ventilated discs at the front, they’re not so prone to warping with hard use.
  • Even when adjusted properly, the handbrake mechanism is notoriously poor, so don’t be surprised if the car isn’t retained on a hill.
  • Fuel injected cars were fi tted with 15-inch wheels, with a five-bolt fitting. Because earlier cars came with 14-inch wheels and a four-bolt stud pattern there’s no interchangeability between the different generations.
  • Check that all the electrics work – it’s likely that many things won’t. Electric windows, starter motors, air-conditioning and warning lights can all play up. The fusebox is a printed circuit board, which often burns out. Replacing it costs around £408, and it can almost be treated as a consumable item.
  • The electric windows are especially worth checking,because each winder mechanism costs £200 to replace. Buy a four-door Biturbo and it could cost the thick end of £1000 to get all the windows working properly!
  • Some cars had fused relays which had a habit of packing up. Because the cooling system’s two fans were operated by these, blown head gaskets and potentially wrecked engines could result if there’s a failure. So if idling the engine for any length of time (such as when checking the condition of the turbos) make sure the cooling fans cut in.
  • The corduroy fabric used to trim early cars is hard to source and expensive. Similarly the 425’s interior was produced specially for that car. The Alcantara trim used on the seat bolsters of some cars doesn’t wear well.

Three Of A Kind

BMW M3
BMW M3
After the raw four-cylinder E30, the six-pot was a far more civilised machine that’s dynamically rather better than theBiturbo. It’s better built too, and like the Maserati therewere two-door, four-door and convertible options. Unlike its predecessor, the E36 was designed for the road rather than the track, but there are plenty that have been thrashed on circuits, so watch out for tired mechanicals and poorly repaired crash damage.
Porsche 944
Porsche 944
It may look like nothing more than a bodykitted 924, but the 944 is much more than that thanks to its 2.5-litre four-pot that’s effectively half of a 928’s V8 – this grew to 2.7-litres then a full 3.0-litres. Beautifully engineered, great to drive and practical too thanks to the hatchback confi guration, the 944 is one of the most sensible, dynamically capable and prestigious classics around. Watch out for tired cars though; repair bills can be eye-watering
Lancia Gamma
Lancia Gamma
Not an obvious rival, but in reality, most Maserati owners would consider only Italian machinery. The Gamma is just as quirky and under-rated as the Biturbo, but as with the Maserati you’ll have your work cut out trying to fi nd a good one. Go for the coupé and you’ve got at least a fi ghting chance of turning one up as they’re not collectible; the saloon edition is pretty much universally unloved, but major corrosion is likely to affl ict any example you fi nd.

Verdict

If the Maserati name conjures up images of speed and desirability, why is the Biturbo, which offers both, largely forgotten? The high price andpoor reputation guaranteed relatively few UK Biturbo sales; out of a total production run of around 30,000 cars, just 700 or so examples were sold in the UK. Many of those have been terminally crunched or broken for spares, with really good survivors few and far between – so happy hunting. But if you get a good one you’ll love it.



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