“Sir, you can’t just pull a Maserati out of a field and expect to drive it.” Oh, but you can, as Tyler Manchester discovered when he answered a Facebook Marketplace ad offering a 1985 Biturbo for a small handful of Lira. The car ran, if barely, and the interior had been removed. But the “Trident Marque” is seductive and Tyler took the plunge.
It’s been said that the only thing Maserati club members loathe more than a Chrysler TC by Maserati is a Biturbo (pronounced bee-turbo). Happily, this petty snobbery helps throttle prices for those of us who are lean of purse but rich in enthusiasm. It’s a genu-wine, top-shelf Negroni at a Wild Turkey price.
The Biturbo was designed to be sold in volumes that no previous Trident car had been, and indeed it was, at least at first. The production run lasted from 1981 until 1994 with around 38,000 units produced, 5000 of which ended up stateside. The model debuted as a grand touring coupe, but sedans and convertibles would eventually join the lineup. Biturbos were offered in the U.S. market between 1983 and 1991. Cars destined for American buyers were ES-spec with a larger displacement and other detail changes. Retail price when new was around $25,000, putting the Biturbo in the same bracket as an entry-level Mercedes. For 1985, your junk bond profits bought 185 bhp, and torque figures circa 225 lb.-ft. It’s worth mentioning that another 25 bhp is available if one jettisons the catalytic converter (assuming you live somewhere it’s legal to modify emissions systems).
“I spent a lot of time tuning the carburetor and fuel settings because it was very finicky when the turbos started spooling,” notes Tyler with amazing nonchalance. Fuel is delivered by a single twin-choke Weber carburetor which is housed in a chic-looking, cast-alloy plenum atop the 2.5-litre V-6. The plenum is pressurized by the two IHI turbochargers from whence the model takes its name. A pair of quick-spooling small turbos were used to help mitigate lag. The engine has a 90-degree V-angle. Each cylinder head houses a single belt-driven camshaft that actuates three valves per cylinder. Turbo boost is managed with a computer-controlled wastegate; maximum boost is 11 lbs. Most Biturbos, including Tyler’s example, have a ZF five-speed transmission, though a three-speed automatic was offered on later models.
Biturbo suspension is by MacPherson struts, coil springs and an anti-roll bar in front. Semi-trailing links and coil springs are used in the rear. The factory never fitted a rear anti-roll bar. Rack-and-pinion steering was not power-assisted on early cars.
Parallels are often drawn between the Biturbo’s styling and the BMW 3 Series of the same vintage. There’s a feeling of tension and urgency in the Maserti’s lines that makes its German counterpart seem sober and sensible. The “Maser” is a muscular abbreviated wedge; it gives the impression of great power concentrated in a modestly sized car. The rear three-quarter aspect shows it at its best angle, emphasizing the pert rear overhang that’s bobbed like a Manx cat’s tail. Relative to the body, the greenhouse is low. If there’s a disappointing angle, it’s the front view or “down the road graphics,” as it’s known in the trade. Other than the grille with its widow’s peak and trident, the front of the Biturbo could belong to many mid-1980s vehicles.
After getting the engine running sweetly and reinstalling the interior. Tyler uses the car regularly. Nearly two years later, it starts when asked and drips hardly anything at all. This isn’t to say it’s flawless; there have been some electrical issues, but most of these have been traced to corroded connections and grounding problems. All par for the course for a car that’s been left in a field.
Tyler gets a great deal of pleasure from his bargain exotic executive express. Torque peaks at 3000 revs, making for powerful midrange punch. However, the lack of a rear anti-roll bar means you have to drive with skill. Once you’ve picked your line, hold it and keep the loud pedal down. Lifting off mid corner is, shall we say, inadvisable.
“The whole experience is exhilarating” says Tyler. “With the V-6 singing and the turbos spooled up, it keeps you engaged the whole time.”
If you want to travel Biturbo style, there are some caveats. While the cars might not be the nightmare their reputation would suggest, it should be borne in mind that they’re still limited-production exotics. That means some parts are very hard to come by or costly, and maintenance is not of the Caprice or Camry variety. Neglect can cost you dearly. One California-based Maserati expert recommends changing timing belts every 6000 miles. Earlier cars are known to develop cracks in rear subframes, and differentials can be a weak spot. That beautiful intake plenum can crack if it’s torqued down too tightly. The finned oil sump hangs low and is prone to damage, so make sure you get under the car and inspect it. Wheel bearings should be packed yearly. Engines are said to be tough, but a routine valve job requires the use of shims. The starter motor is particularly hard to access. Rust is always something to watch for in spite of anti-corrosion treatment during manufacture. Check doors, the cowl or anywhere there’s a drainage channel.
The Biturbo had myriad changes during its production run and it would be impossible to cover all of them in this article. In general, later fuel-injected cars are the most trouble-free, but earlier examples such as Tyler’s 1985 offer superb value. If you can, find a car on which the previous owner has already lavished large sums so you can enjoy the fruits of their largess while they take the hit. Tyler has shown that the care and feeding of a Biturbo is within the realm of a skilled home mechanic. But if you’re not inclined that way, do your research, learn as much as you can about the car, then pull the trigger. An ounce of education is worth a pound of repair bills.
To some, the Biturbo represents cheap backdoor entry into Maserati ownership, but that view completely overlooks the car’s true raison d’etre. With its charismatic force-fed V-6, lively rear-wheel-drive handling and lush interior, the Biturbo offers a thoroughbred driving experience that few cars can match, regardless of price.
Bryan Raab Davis is the cofounder of the popular Facebook group “Malaise Motors” featuring cars built from 1972-1995.
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