Trident Inversion

The Biturbo’s bigger brother appeared very much the sober Italian aristocrat. Unfortunately, both breeding and manners were slightly suspect.

Image: betterparts

The Biturbo could be said to have saved Maserati, yet is perhaps best remembered for its troubled reputation than any commercial, aesthetic or performance-related virtues. Whether such a reputation remains entirely justified is perhaps a question for another time, but what is often forgotten amid the flow of water under the Tridente’s bridge is what a significant step the Tipo AM331 was when first introduced in 1981.

An entirely new type of Maserati, the Biturbo jettisoned the exotica of the Bora/Merak era, returning to a sober pragmatism of something akin to 1966’s Mexico model line. Viewed internally as very much son-of-Quattroporte: (Giugiaro’s 1979 ‘Porte III, that is), its styling, developed in-house by De Tomaso’s Pierangelo Andreani was described by Car magazine as “a cross between a BMW 320 and a Lancia Delta“, which if a little snide, was perhaps only half half wrong. In fact, Andreani’s initial shape was nicely proportioned with sharp, well tailored lines and an excellent stance. In fact, it could be said to have decisively out-BMWed the Vierzylinder, to say nothing of Giorgetto himself.

Image: weilinet

While the Biturbo family (and it quickly became a decidedly fecund one) took Maserati into a more mainstream arena with all the advantages and drawbacks that entailed, the more traditional (and profitable) areas of the Tridente’s business could not be neglected either. One being that of the incumbent Kyalami model, introduced in 1976 during a period when Maserati’s very survival was under threat. This car, a four-seater design based upon cleverly refocused De Tomaso hardware, was nearing the end of its useful life. Kyalami production ended in 1983, meaning the gap between Biturbo and Quattroporte models would have to be addressed. Enter the 228.

By now, pragmatism was a watchword for De Tomaso Group direttore di ingegneria, Aurelio Bertocci, meaning Tipo AM 334 (as it was designated) would draw heavily from the Biturbo well. Based on the stretched wheelbase of the four-door Biturbo models, the 228’s body would be longer, wider and taller than its sibling, as befitting a more upmarket vehicle. Styling, again by Andreani, was very much in the Biturbo mould, although no external panels were said to be shared. The family look was softened, the extremities more rounded and the canopy section enlarged. Additional brightwork was added, in particular, a more regal looking grille. The overall effect was that of a more mature product, albeit one with something of the jolie-laide appearance of the Frua-bodied Maserati’s of yore.

Image: auto-database

Mechanically, it shared most of its componentry with the Biturbo. Suspension was carry-over struts with lower arms up front, while semi-trailing arms and struts did duty at the rear. However, spring and damper rates were altered to cater for the 228’s additional weight. But as with all Maseratis, the engine was the thing and here, the 228 utilised a 2789 cc derivation of the Biturbo 90° V6, itself a distant relation to the Alfieri unit fitted to the Merak series.

However, this powerplant differed notably in that its three valves per cylinder were actuated by single overhead belt-driven camshafts, each cylinder bank being force-fed by a water-cooled IHI turbocharger. Developing 250 bhp and 264lb ft of torque, it propelled the 2788 lb 228 to a top speed of 146 mph with a 0-62 time of under 6 seconds – serious performance for the time. Power went through a five speed ZF gearbox mating with a torque sensing Sensitork differential.

First shown at the tail end of 1984, the 228 didn’t actually enter production until late 1986, although deliveries began in earnest the following year. The first English language reviews appeared in the winter of 1987 with Car’s Giancarlo Perini describing it as “a fast, characterful cruiser that knows how to kick up its heels when skilfully used… a car that appreciates the appreciative driver.” However, his report suggested that in order to get the best from the 228, it required a driver with both confidence and experience.

Priced at a significant premium above its Biturbo brethren, the 228 was also trimmed and specified to a higher order, featuring a notably bigger, airier cabin ambience. Perini noted the somewhat over-wrought interior’s “…sense of opulence, the amusingly ‘antique’ clock , the warm wood embellishment, the ruched leather effect on the seats… It’s an environment where you feel cherished, cosseted.”

Image: only-carz

However, there were few takers, the Biturbo family having already gained a toxic reputation for mechanical fragility and breath-taking repair costs, this before the savage depreciation kicked in. It remains unclear if any 228’s officially made it to UK shores, but given the reported 469 produced up to 1992 when production ceased, it is unlikely. Even in the US market (where the 228 was clearly aimed), less than 100 were believed to have been imported.

Offering customers little by way of visual receipt for the outlay, eclipsed by more accomplished rivals, and never quite able to shake off either the taint of unreliability or the whispers that both it and the Biturbo series that spawned it were somehow unequal to the heritage of the storied nameplate, the 228 remains to this day something of an automotive pariah, assuming anybody remembers it at all.

Car magazine summed up the Biturbo series as “schizophrenic“, which upon reflection seems a fairly accurate assessment. From the outside, restrained, tasteful, elegant. Inside, wildly decadent, sybaritic, almost baroque. In road behaviour too, the cars were well mannered; up to a point, at which they became decidedly leery. Watch that tail.

It could be argued then, that the Biturbo series neatly encapsulates the character of (then Maserati owner) Alessandro de Tomaso. A faint whiff of disrepute, somewhat rough around the edges, but with charisma to burn. There was never a dull moment with de Tomaso, nor was there likely to have been with his best known creations with the Trident badge.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

19 thoughts on “Trident Inversion”

  1. The 228 looks excellent when seen directly from the front: that top photo is lovely. It’s really simple in an elegant way. Side profiles also work well. Note our old friend, the visual link from base of the sideglass to the base of the windscreen. From the front three quarter view it doesn’t hang together so nicely. It’s not wrong, more that it seems like a compromise of the two primary views. This suggests the car was modelled on the front and side elevations with the intermediate views given lower priority.
    Inside: the styles of Italian furniture must have inspired the appearance, as they did in the 70s. This deeply ruched leather is quite acceptable in the context of large rooms. It can be cosy (I found a hotel in Austria with a lounge in that style which held a lot of charm). I guess Maserati chose a look that could be achieved by hand-manufacture as opposed to the tight, tailored vinyl and nylon style favoured by mass producers. Think of this as an Italian version of Rolls-Royce’s trad interiors which were also driven by the need for hand-manufacture.

  2. Simple, closed alloy wheels – how I miss them nowadays! They make a good addition to the unadorned lines of that Maserati. Other than that, I still like the Biturbo’s sharper lines and more compact stance better.

  3. The 228 also appears to have continued the tradition of ill-fitting rear view mirrors. Did those units come courtesy of Vitaloni?

  4. I am oddly fond of Maseratis from this era, in particular the Gandini-designed Quattroporte and Ghibli. Deeply flawed, of course, but – as you say -certainly charismatic.

    1. I share your feelings, Jacomo. Until a few years ago, one of these Quattroportes used to park in my neighbourhood quite often. In its pale green metallic livery, it was a rare and pleasant sight.

  5. I have always been fond of the exterior of the Biturbo. It is an impressive feat to give character to what is for the most part a rectangle. But the over-stuffed seats are inharmonious with the rest of the car’s aesthetic and knock the car down a tier.

    1. They should have been more
      flat. As I said, they were inspired by interior design and borrowed those padded shapes from sofa and armchair themes.

    2. This Maserati appears to be accessorised with a waste bin in the passenger footwell. Is it available for private hire?

  6. I find myself very conflicted about these.

    I agree with Richard about the frontal aspect. It is indeed elegant and the air intake below the bumper is almost concept-car clean. I am less sure about the profile – it’s not wrong, exactly, but the lengthened boot somehow disrupts the proportions sufficiently to make them less pleasing than the standard Biturbo.

    In the scheme of things, however, this is a minor quibble. The bigger problem for me is that that the ‘first generation’ of Biturbos and derivatives – effectively, anything up to but not including the Shamal – feels like a weird half-way house of 1970s and 1980s cues. The shape is acceptably contemporary 1980s in surfacing and proportions, but the detailing feels like a throwback – the grille, headlights, bumpers, fuel cap and valance are straight off something launched half a decade previous. And, to be honest, I find the treatment of the first-generation’s upholstery simply ghastly, like something Iacocca would have approved on one of his most deluded days. I would happily make space for a Shamal, or mid-1990s Ghibli, especially a Primatist, the latter for its fabulous interior treatment:

    But these? Schizophrenic is the word, indeed.

    1. The seats, as Dinger pointed out, are the main problem with the interior. That blue interior is staggering. The seats forms are much less bulky and it hangs together better.

      About the car´s blend of 70s and 80s, I suppose this is to be expected for a small company. High technology dependent on large investments tilted the playing field against smaller firms who could not keep up. When everything was hand-made (more or less) and technlogy was simple, a cheap car and a fancy car were different in degree and not in kind. By the late 80s this wasn´t true and all the leather and walnut in the warehouse could not hide the fact that Rolls-Royce, Aston, Maserati et al were maybe nicer but not better than than high-end volume-produced cars from MB&BMW&VAG

  7. has a 1995 Maserati 228 for sale. I notice the interior is thoroughly tidy with “normal” chairs and it all hangs together acceptably. It is on sale east of Wupptertal which is too far to go and have a look. It has 19,000 km and they want €27,000 for it.
    That isn´t cheap at all but it does have the special clock everyone likes.

    1. What is the general consensus on The Clock supposed to be? I grew up fascinated and impressed by it in equal measure, but the tedious motions of adulthood inform me that it is generally viewed as a bit crass and vulgar.

      I still like it anyway.

  8. There are one or two people who really hate the clock and think everyone agrees with them because the clock is a bit silly. But really most people like the clock and pass off their admiration under the cloak of “it´s only a bit of fun” and “it´s so bad it´s good”. In truth, the clock is super and only a general consensus that it might not be so viewed means people hide their real opinions. I love the clock.

    1. When these cars were new I thought the interior ambience was the height of style and refined taste, but at the time, rouched leather upholstery was all the rage – (it was around my neck of the woods anyway). I also loved the clock. Thirty years later, I still don’t have a problem with the clock, but the seating elicits 1980s suburban flashbacks. Neither in fact would be a dealbreaker – after all, Biturbo ownership would come with bigger and more ruinously expensive fish to fry.

      (Interestingly, the interior image uploaded by Dinger above is clearly an early example with the digital clock.)

      I think Andreani did a great job on the original Biturbo’s styling. It’s got lovely proportions and is very tidily detailed. The 228 is a little odd looking, which makes it perhaps, more intriguing – to me at least – but an early-series Biturbo is the one I’d like to smoke around in. Marcello Gandini probably didn’t have much of a budget to work with, but even taking this into consideration, his restyling work was not a visual success, only making matters worse, the more he did.

    2. The clock is awful. And I’m no stranger to the crass and vulgar. Or the silly. Or the gynaecological. Or the Eye Of Sauron. Its presence really was the thing that put me off asking for a drive (which would probably have led to a purchase) in a Quattroporte IV.

    3. Sean is one of the vocal minority. However, despite its tininess, DTW is a broad church and we welcome a wide range of viewpoints, from mine to the out-and-out wierd.
      Could you not have removed the clock or painted over it?

    4. The car was spoiled in my eyes by implication. Anyway, I think the answer to that might be involved in this month’s theme. The QP IV I looked at was an Evoluzione which, in theory, shouldn’t have the clock.

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