By on April 3, 2012

Dan Neil says the Maserati Biturbo is one of the worst 50 cars of all time, but I still see Biturbos in the junkyard every year or so. This probably means that Biturbo owners cling to their dead, hopeless project cars for decades before reality— in the form of angry landlords and/or spouses and/or homeowners’ associations— summons the tow truck.


No discussion of a Maserati is permitted without reference to the “my Maserati goes 185″ Joe walsh song, so let’s get that out of the way.
The Biturbo couldn’t go 185, or even close to it. The factory claimed a respectable-for-1984 134 MPH top speed, no doubt using the same math that led the LAPD to claim that Rodney King’s first-gen Hyundai Excel reached 115 on the Foothill Freeway.
But still, it had a beautiful leather and big Maserati badges that told mid-80s businessmen that you’d made it (i.e., you’d skimmed a middling quantity of cash in a “dead horses for dead cows” loan swap involving Lincoln Savings and Loan). I was a college student in the S&L-scam nexus of Orange County, California, during the Biturbo’s heyday, and I recall seeing plenty of these things cruising Newport Beach. Then… they were all gone. The economy slowed down, the FSLIC hammered the many hundreds of crooked S&Ls, and Biturbo owners could no longer afford to pay Tony to fix it again.
A big part of the problem with the Biturbo, apart from the terrible build quality, was the blow-through carburetor fuel-delivery system. Even super-penny-pinching Chrysler was using electronic fuel injection on their turbocharged cars by 1984.
I’m not sure if this is a clock or a lap timer, but I had to have it. We’ll resume the Name That Car Clock series very soon, I promise.

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35 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1984 Maserati Biturbo...”


  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    The auto version of 1984′s SHEENA, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I know a guy who is still driving one of these things. Amazing! Didn’t they also have a tendency to catch on fire, explode or whatever?

    Question: were all of the blow-through carburetor turbocharged cars a disaster? I recall the final iteration of the Corvair was the “Corsa” model, rated at 180 hp and using a turbo. I’m certain that car was not a fuellie.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the Corvair was draw thru, with the carb before the turbo.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      The Corvair used a side-draft Carter in a “suck-through” arrangement, and there were no emission controls back then.

    • 0 avatar
      akitadog

      DC Bruce, might your friend live in the Adams Morgan/Mt. Pleasant area? I’ve seen a Biturbo parked on Columbia Rd. more than a handful of times.

    • 0 avatar
      conystan

      Actually I own one from 1985. I learn my self to fixed. You o fined an automechanic not a partschangemachanic ! remove the turbo, open the carb and most important modify the vacuum system in order to simplify it!
      You will get a reliable car,economical and nice. To go in city 0-50km/h and express way to 120 km/h (maximum 180) 2.5L engine and standard transmission it is more like enough ! Real man drives stick !

  • avatar
    Tomifobia

    Dan Neil is one of the 50 most overrated journaleists of all time.

    There, I said it.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    I worked for a guy back in the mid-’80′s who really wanted one of these. He dragged me off to a Maserati dealership to check one out. I really didn’t like it but I figured I’m not going to rain on his parade, if he wants to buy it, let him knock himself out.

    Anyway, I think the car was priced north of $25,000 so he thought his wife should at least get a look at it. So she goes to the dealership and immediately proclaims that it, “Looks like a Nova!” So much for that purchase.

    She actually saved him a lot of torment; every review that I ever read about one of these claimed horrible reliability.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Back in the day, I wanted one of these in the worst way. Good thing that never happened.

  • avatar

    I know these are terrible but I still want one. Seems to me finding one with a broken timing belt (expensive to change and needed to be done often – another downfall) and swapping in a more modern V6 like a Nissan VQ would be fun.

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      Nah, the only good thing about the Biturbo is the engine. The handling and brakes were only mediocre.

      Fitting the fuel injection system from a later model (’87 on, I believe), or perhaps using just the later intake manifold and going to Megasquirt, is the way to go.

    • 0 avatar
      talkstoanimals

      I happen to know a guy who is dropping an Audi 2.7T motor into a Biturbo. Of course, he also happens to be a former Audi and current Ferrari/Maserati mechanic, so he at least knows what he’s getting himself into.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        He can have my 2.7T, sitting blown in the shop, along with the radiator fan that grenaded and precipitated the incident. Those two overblown, underengineered monstrosities would be a perfect match for each other!

        The Maser’s lush leather upholstery was seductive, though. Like sitting in a catcher’s mitt, minus the tobacco spit. I wanted one, for a minute. Then I was grateful for how the Biturbo made my SAAB 9000 turbo seem sensible and reliable, by contrast.

  • avatar
    elmwood

    There was near-mint 1986 Maserati Biturbo convertible, 34K on the clock, at an estate sale in Buffalo this past weekend. The asking price was $9,000.

    Do not want.

  • avatar

    There was a moment in the early-mid ’90s when these things seemed to be advertised everywhere in “runs, drives” condition for a few grand. My buddy and I used to joke about buying 10, on the hopes that we’d have one that actually ran at any given moment. I actually went and drove one, just to see what they were like. Nasty, nasty cars… but secretly, I’d still love a Shamal (sort of a BiTurbo evo with a V8 and E30 M3-like body flares/kit), if I ever could find one in the US that actually ran.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      I remember the same thing, only that it lasted up through the mid-2000s.

      I used to read the newspaper classifieds left in the breakroom as I ate lunch at work, and I’d marvel “Wow, look at this, a 1984 BiTurbo Maserati for only $4500″ and actually think for a moment about going to look at it. And then that moment quickly passed!

  • avatar
    Bushwack

    Buddy had a BiTurbo. For its time, it gave the best neck-snapping acceleration available. Coast at 15 MPH then floor it. If you didn’t know what was coming, you’d hit your head hard against the headrest. Interior was extremely plush but poor workmanship and materials revealed itself less then 3 years after new. Find one in great shape as it does have some ‘collectability’ value.

  • avatar
    DaveDFW

    I thought the four-door versions of the Biturbo were better-proportioned cars. Still angular and wedge-shaped, but not so stubby.

    These had beautiful interiors, unlike anything else on the road. Unfortunately, the interiors were also quite delicate so they didn’t last.

    Didn’t the Biturbo engine have some internal fine-mesh screen that required periodic cleaning, a maintenance step that was often ignored?

  • avatar

    I saw three of these in the junkyard on one day a year or so ago.

    Man, I miss LA junkyards.

  • avatar

    A Biturbo ran in the very first 24 Hours of LeMons race. It was actually fairly reliable and not too slow. This is similar to the street-versus-track experience of the Alfa Milano, which is terrible on the street and bulletproof on the track. Now two more teams are building Biturbos. We’ll see if the first one was a fluke.

  • avatar
    whitebear

    In 1985, only the purchase of a Merkur XR4ti prevented me from buying one of these. Thank Jebus.

  • avatar
    svenmeier

    Actually the Biturbo isn’t that bad if you know how to maintain it and especially if you know where to have it serviced. There are quite a number of these and their resulting versions (Ghibli II and such) in Zurich where I live. One of the biggest Maserati clubs of Europe is in Switzerland and there are a number of Biturbos that show up at these events (I’ve been to three in the past).

    I actually am friends with a Biturbo owner who has replaced certain electrical components with modern systems and his Biturbo has been trouble free since. The original electrical systems were poorly constructed and put together and that was the reason for their nuisances.

    The Biturbo engine needed a check-up and overhaul at 40,000 km. If this was ignored then problems WOULD arise. My guess is most mechanics at the time didn’t know this because Maserati themselves weren’t aware of when the engine needed to be overhauled. The Biturbo engine bay was also very unfriendly. I believe in order to change the spark plugs the whole engine had to be removed form the compartment. Maseratis were always difficult to service and I believe that many owners simply didn’t bother to have them properly serviced because of cost reasons (a Maserati service is expensive, so many people will try to avoid it for as long as possible).

    The same was true in the ’70s with the Citroen SM. A brilliant car that was pretty much let down bu the Maserati engine at 51,000 km, when the timing belts tended to go. This wasn’t known at the time to both Citroen and Maserati mechanics and gave the car a poor reputation. Nowadays with modern materials and maintenance, Citroen SM’s are very reliable cars. In fact this man has over 250,000 km on his 1971 SM. Watch the video, language is German though.

  • avatar
    claytori

    It is not uncommon here in Canada for a “Road Warrior” to log 50,000 km in a year. That is an absolutely silly life for a timing belt or requirement for an engine overhaul.

    • 0 avatar
      svenmeier

      The materials used for the timing belt weren’t the best and that’s what caused catastrophic engine failures if they weren’t inspected and changed. 50,000 km in those days was generally inspection time for many European cars. I don’t see any reason for someone not to visit their dealership for a major overhaul and inspection at this mileage.

      A Maserati Biturbo with a modern timing belt constructed out of better materials won’t have this problem. The same is true for the Citroen SM.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I always thought this was Maserati’s bad attempt at a 3-Series. It’s quite tempting to buy one as a weekend project car since these really reasonably priced even the Spyder but the maintenance can be a bit much. Head gaskets, fuel and vacuum lines, electrical etc. mean you will have little time enjoying it.

  • avatar
    Maintainer

    Ted Nugent also had a thing for the Maser.
    The BiTurbo was a perfect lesson in unplanned obsolescence.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    At some point in the eighties I had a boss , a bit of a pretentious jerk , who had one of these , a couple of years old at that point . He made a big production out of calling it , and having everybody else call it , a “bee-turbo “. You can imagine how well that went down . His was possibly the same exterior color as this one but with a maroon interior , and as it wasn’t brand new was already giving him problems . Remember a ride with him once with a lot of parking garage squealing of tires but also it stalled out a couple of times . In the seventies I bought a Maserati bicycle , kind of similiar to their cars . Thin paint with same orange peel problems and early rust and overpriced , just like their cars.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    The fact that parts have been removed from this one indicates that there are still people engaged in a futile attempt to keep other Biturbos alive. I can’t say it any better than the following quote from a 2006 NY Times piece on the Biturbo: “Michael Sheehan, a broker in Newport Beach, Calif., who specializes in sales of Italian sports cars, said: ‘The best use for any Biturbo is as a parts car to keep others going. Unfortunately, that only perpetuates the madness.’”

  • avatar
    and003

    I wonder if the body is salvageable. I’m thinking if I had the money and means, I could give this car a custom chassis to which more reliable parts and a more reliable twin-turbo V-6 could be installed. I could also give it a custom interior.

  • avatar
    BartTheCat

    As usual, snide commentary and very little to no direct experience with the car itself.

    I have an ’89 spyder, a very reliable car after the fuse box issue is dealt with. Engine is bullet proof, no leaks. Of course you need to be able to futz around with this and that mechanically, but other than that a reliable and very quick car.

    • 0 avatar
      olidlavoie

      Hi, I just bought a Biturbo as a project, it’s running perfectly ad has 53000miles, what is the problem and solution with the fuse box? I certainly do not want mine to catch on fire! you can email me @ olidlavoie @ live . ca


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