Maserati for the Masses (Part Two)

Continuing the story of the Biturbo and the models developed from it.


The 1982 Maserati Biturbo was a fundamentally sound design, but a rushed development programme and hasty scaling up of production to meet strong initial demand had damaged its reputation for build quality and reliability.

In a later interview(1), Giorgio Manicardi, Maserati’s International Sales Manager, laid the blame for the Biturbo’s early quality and reliability issues firmly at Alejandro de Tomaso’s door. Manicardi had wanted to launch the Biturbo at a price of 22 million Lira, but it was de Tomaso who insisted on the sub-20 million Lira starting price. “As a result we lacked the [profit] margin to implement quality controls,” Manicardi contended. Moreover, de Tomaso allegedly maintained an iron grip on the project, to the extent that he rejected importers’ pleas for a cover to conceal the unsightly looking spare wheel, visible beneath the car’s rear valance. According to Manicardi, “not one sheet of paper got moved unless he had said so.”

Despite this early setback, Maserati continued to develop the car. The first significant change was the introduction in 1983 of a larger 2,491cc, 200bhp (149kW) version of the V6 engine specifically for export cars, where Italy’s punitive tax rate on larger engines did not apply. The increased capacity was achieved via an increase in cylinder bore from 82.0mm to 91.6mm. In December 1983, a more powerful 205bhp (153kW) version of the 1,996cc engine was introduced, with a compression ratio raised from 7.8 to 8.2 to one and turbo intercoolers installed. Cars equipped with this engine were given the designation Biturbo S.

Also in December 1983, a four-door saloon version of the Biturbo was introduced. This involved an 86mm (3¼”) stretch in the wheelbase to 2,600mm (102¼”) and a 250mm (9¾”) increase in overall length to 4,400mm (173¼”). The saloon was powered by the larger 2.5-litre engine and was designated Biturbo 425.

In 1984, Maserati commissioned Zagato to build a convertible version of the Biturbo. The coupé’s wheelbase and overall length were shortened by approximately 114mm (4½”) to 2,400mm (94½”) and 4,040mm (159”) respectively. The body needed extensive modification, both to improve structural rigidity and to create a well in the boot for the folded hood. The Biturbo Spyder was a pretty looking car, but very much a 2+2 with its shortened wheelbase. Customer deliveries did not commence until the spring of 1985.


Frustratingly for potential customers in the British Isles, there was still no sign of the Biturbo and its variants being produced in RHD form. With long waiting lists for the models in Europe and the US, de Tomaso had little interest in answering the pleas of UK Maserati dealers. Hence, Car Magazine left it to its Italian correspondent, Giancarlo Perini, to sample the Biturbo S and 425 saloon. His findings were published in the September 1984 issue(2) of the magazine.

The Biturbo S was visually distinguished by the insertion of two NACA(3) ducts into the bonnet to supply air to the intercoolers, black wheels and black-painted lower bodysides. It is a moot point as to whether or not either modification improved the appearance of the car. Inside was largely familiar, although the instrument cluster was now better integrated into the dashboard.

The additional power of the engine was most noticeable above 3,500rpm after which “the little V6 then races on to the 7,000rpm mark with tremendous smoothness and alacrity.” There was little noticeable turbo-lag because the “two small turbos have less inertia to overcome than one big one and spin quicker, thus improving throttle response.” More power made the S model “a slightly more demanding car to drive than the standard Biturbo coupé” especially in wet conditions where “great circumspection is needed to go fast on winding roads in the rain.” The 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time was 6.2 seconds and the top speed was “nearing 140mph” (226km/h). The unassisted steering was criticised for being “extremely heavy in slow speed manoeuvring” and becoming “rather vague and imprecise” at high speed.


Moving onto the 425 saloon, Perini observed that the body aft of the A-pillars was new and, despite the resemblance, shared nothing with that of the coupé. Entry through the back doors was “poor – but once inside passengers are likely to enjoy the space.” Performance was only slightly weaker than the Biturbo S: 0 to 60mph (97km/h) was achieved in 6.5 seconds and the top speed was around 135mph (218km/h). The power delivery was “quieter and smoother” although the saloon felt “less lissom and responsive on tight roads than the shorter, lighter coupé.”

In summary, Perini concluded that both Biturbo models were “impressive cars which should further justify Alessandro de Tomaso’s faith in the principle of a mass-made Maserati.” He did, however, note that the price in Italy of the Biturbo S was now the equivalent of £15,000, almost double what the coupé had cost at launch.

1985 saw the 2.0-litre engine, in both standard and S forms, introduced to the four-door model for the Italian market only, where they carried the model designations 420 and 420S. 1986 brought a significant mechanical change in that Weber-Marelli fuel injection was introduced, denoted by an i suffix to the model name. A year later, an enlarged 2,790cc engine was introduced, first to the saloon, then to the coupé in 1988. In December of that year a four-valve per cylinder version of the 2-litre engine was introduced, designated 2.24v in the coupé and 4.24v in the saloon.


Finally, in the autumn of 1986, Maserati got around to building RHD versions of the Biturbo for the British and Irish markets. The introduction of the Biturbo marked Maserati’s return to the UK after a five-year absence. Car magazine’s Richard Bremner tested the car in 2.5-litre form on British soil and reported his findings in the November 1986 issue of the magazine. By this time, the UK list price was £23,500, almost double the amount quoted when the car was launched just four years earlier. However, Bremner pointed out that, with only 400 examples earmarked for the UK in the following year, it was “something of a bargain” for such exclusivity.

Build quality had certainly improved since the early days: “the Maserati gives a strong impression of being a beautifully built car. The bonnet, boot and door pressings all sit snugly, the chrome trim is neatly lined up, the paint finish deep and even.” Dynamically, it was something of a curate’s egg, with a “smooth and potent engine [and] a grippy and supple chassis.” However, “the vague steering, the wayward gearchange [and] “the slightly soft brakes prevent you extracting the Maser’s best.” Overall, it was “a svelte long-distance tourer…more suited to the open road than sinuous off-the-beaten-path back routes.”

As the decade progressed, the geometric lines of the Biturbo were beginning to look somewhat dated so de Tomaso commissioned Marcello Gandini to facelift the car. The first makeover was introduced progressively between 1987 and 1989 and included a taller, more rounded front grille, deeper bumpers and side skirts. In May 1988, the Biturbo name was dropped. In future, the cars (excluding the Spyder) would be designated solely by a three-digit number. Confusingly, all coupés, irrespective of engine size, were designated 222, whereas the saloons were designated with a 4 followed by two digits indicating the engine size; 420, 422, 425 or 430(4).


A more comprehensive Gandini facelift was introduced in 1991, which featured more aerodynamic aids including an aerofoil at the base of the windscreen which partly concealed the wipers, deeper side-skirts and a boot spoiler. The most immediately recognisable feature in this facelift were new round projector-style headlights and rectangular driving lamps that sat uneasily together within a moulded plastic surround. The effect of these modifications was, to my eyes, rather disfiguring, giving the car a tacky ‘aftermarket’ appearance(5).

Despite all these (and many more minor) changes(6), sales of the Biturbo-based models continued their slow decline and the model range was rationalised until the saloon was discontinued in 1993, followed a year later by the coupé and Spyder. This, however, is not the end of the story for Biturbo-based Maserati models.

The story of the Maserati Biturbo and its derivatives concludes in Part Three shortly.

(1) Maserati – The Citroën Years 1968 – 1975 by Marc Sonnery. ISBN 10: 0957397801.  ISBN 13: 9780957397804.

(2) On the pages immediately following the Maserati report, Car Magazine printed a review of the new Hyundai Stellar, a Giugiaro-designed car that was a virtual clone of the Biturbo saloon! One imagines that de Tomaso would not have been amused, either by Giugiaro’s cheeky impersonation or Car’s juxtaposition of the pieces.

(3) A low-drag air duct designed by and named after the US National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the precursor to NASA.

(4) Except that the 1988 422 model featured a 2.0-litre engine and the 1987 430 model was fitted with a 2.8 litre unit. No, I don’t know either!

(5) Colloquially referred to in the UK as a “ram-raid on Halfords”, the country’s largest chain of motor accessory stores.

(6) There is little unanimity amongst different sources of information regarding the timing or other details of the multitude of changes introduced during the lifetime of the Biturbo-based models.

Sources: Car Magazine/

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

39 thoughts on “Maserati for the Masses (Part Two)”

  1. Good morning, Daniel. Thank you for the second part about the Biturbo. I sat on the rear seat of a 430 once, but I can’t recall getting in the back was difficult. The 430 was dark blue with a cream leather interior. At the time I absolutely adored it. I’ve never driven a Biturbo, though.

    Looking forward to the third part.

  2. How on earth did they afford all the development work on upgrades to the engines? For such a small manufacturer, it’s impressive if surely hard to justify. All deliciously exotic and charismatic, though, eh?

    The later cars were ruined stylistically by the clumsy facelifts – did Gandini really authorise the awful front lamp clusters and oddly incongruous rear lid attachment?

    1. Good morning S.V. The Gandini ’embellishments’ really were an abomination, but if Maserati had no money for a proper reskin, that was the only option left for them

  3. Thank you for this series. Personally, it’s these “youngtimers” I enjoy reading the most about on this site.

    Regarding the Stellar comparison, when I first saw the Hyundai, it immediately reminded me of the 4 door Biturbo. IMO, Giugiaro did a better job with the Stellar than with the mk3 Quattroporte, which to my eyes looks bulky and too tall, although with some much more interesting details.

    1. Good morning boarezina. Here are the Quattroporte Mk3, Biturbo 425 and Stellar for comparison:

      The comparison between the Quattroporte and Stellar is often made, but I don’t really see it because the two are so different in scale. The Biturbo and Stellar really were too close for (Maserati’s) comfort.

    2. Thanks for the insights on this peculiar automobile, Daniel, and interesting to see the discussions ensuing from these two installments. The comparison of the Hyundai Stellar with/between/against (?) the 2turbo and 4porte never came to my mind, and to me they seem fundamentally different in that the Stellar communicates hollow slabs of steel (similar to many larger euro-saloons from the ‘70-‘80s, especially when low on the specifications ladder), while the Maserati’s ooze something like densely packed technology. Stellar thus rather lines up with something like a Talbot Tagora, at least in my perception.

    3. I can see the similarities in stylistic terms, although somehow the higher bulkhead/lower side of the front window make a lot of difference to me, as does the overall stance. I also see the similarities between the Stellar and the Quattroporte because both look a little “fatter”. Back then the perceptions of Maserati and Hyundai were so far apart that the similarities wouldn’t have mattered much anyway. Like Joost, I have to admit I never considered any similarities. Much like I only encountered the apparently famous ad pitting the Stellar against the Sierra on AROnline a few years back.

      Anyhow, what a joy to see all those Biturbos! Even the late model four door you posted in your comment above still looks nice. I like the color-coded wheels as well. The Gandini facelift has about as much integrity as late model Volkswagen Scirocco Mk2s (a car once described in a Dutch magazine as “why would you want to buy something that looks second hand right out of the factory?”). More horrors to come in the next installment, I imagine…

      I think it was part and parcel of ’boutique’ brands (and Italian mainstream brands) to simply apply modifications if and when they were available, probably alternating new and old versions on the same production line. The nomenclature reminds me of 1970’s FIAT (127, 128, 130, 131, 132 resolutely not in order of size or market position).

  4. Searching for informatoin on the biturbo spyder I had the opportunity to drive a couple of times I found the German biturbo forum and their reasoning is:
    The 2.5 litre engine is something to be avoided at all cost because it’s the most problematic version by far.
    Biturbo engines need new cambelts every two years, an engine out job on four valve versions because some work has to be done on the back side of the engine.
    You can buy cars made after 1986 with fuel injection. Their only really problematic area is the electric system where things work on one day and don’t on the next.

    1. Hi Dave. Thanks for the info. It sounds like anyone contemplating a Biturbo or related models should run a mile from it!

  5. In 2004 I moved back to CA from NYC and needed to own a car again. The Biturbo was so cheap then that it was feasible to get a pair: a Spyder as a daily driver and a 430 or 228 for the few times it rained or I needed to carry more than one passenger. Local marque experts assured me that well known mechanical issues are easily sorted but warned that electrical gremlins would be a harder ask. On top of that, it seemed every example I looked at had significant solar damage on the dashboard, door cards and parcel shelf. So I did the more prudent thing and chose the Audi 90 based Cabriolet.

    As this series concludes, will we see any coverage of the bonkers 36 valve development of the Biturbo engine? Or of the Shamal-engined Chubasco, in my opinion the prettiest of the canned late-90’s supercars?

    1. Don’t forget that Audi made millions of only slightly less mad five valve heads

    2. I always thought Audi should have done a five cylinder with five valves per cylinder 😉

    1. Bugger…I knew I should have kept my head down! 😨

    1. Hi J T. I don’t know of an engine with round cylinders and more than seven valves. The only thing I can add here is the Delahaye Titan engine. 4 Cylinders and 24 valves. The thing is this engine is from 1904, so nearly 120 years old.

    2. Good morning all. I’ve nothing useful to contribute here, but I have thoroughly enjoyed this game of cylinder head Top Trumps. Chapeau!

  6. IMHO, styling-wise, the 2.24v and its four-door version were the most accomplished iterations of the Biturbo; they’re what the Biturbo should have looked like in the first place, inside and out. I never liked the De Tomaso-era Quattroporte, though. Or even the one that was based on the Ghibli II. The stories about De Tomaso’s attitude towards product development are appalling and explain how the cars ended up having such a bad reputation.

    1. Yes, it is. There are a quite a few examples of really old engines with more than 2 valves per cylinder, but as far as I know these have 3 or 4 valves per cylinder. There is a photo of the Delahaye Titan on the Internet, but I can’t post it here with imgur.

  7. Hi David

    Apart from the mighty oval piston Honda NR500, NR750 and NR250 twin-turbo, my understanding is that seven valves is at a limit. It seems to be a geometric sweet spot for round piston high rpm engines. Seven circles of equal (or similar) diameter pack into the cylinder bore efficiently and the total circumferential length is at a maximum as a little calculus will demonstrate. Best is the low lift flow is really good, right from when the valves lift from their seats. Manufacturing something like this is a little vexatious though.

    I’m not aware of gasoline or gas oil engines with a higher valve count than either the Honda or the Yamaha, although I was told about a marine engine with ten valves per cylinder. It was a bunker oil burner of very low rpm, being a ship’s main engine. A little unusual for a ship’s prime mover, it was four-stroke. I’ve not seen it, nor any pictures of it though.

    Regarding six valves per cylinder.

    There was to be a Britten motorcycle engine with six valves per cylinder. It was to be featured in the next iteration of the bike, along with mush needed geometry improvements for the front suspension. This engine had four inlet valves and two exhaust valves per cylinder, so that was a little different. The premature death of John Britten ended the project unfortunately.

    1. Yes, I’ve been fortunate to visit the Britten factory when John Britten was alive and since. The earlier Brittens, indeed almost all of them used two Judd V10 Formula One pistons and matching combustion chambers with four valves, which is partly why they need rebuilding after 5 hours running. As John Britten said to me, ‘There’s no point reinventing the wheel’. For much the same reason the bikes also had a stock Suzuki GSXR 1100 gearbox and Kawasaki ZXR 750 clutch.
      And oddly enough, he did try reinventing the wheel. The Britten was the first motorcycle to use carbon-fibre for the wheels. All the wheels hand-made at the Britten factory in Christchurch and aren’t really any lighter than magnesium wheels but are about 400% stronger.
      (And on another note, my brother was working for the freight company and personally helped pack up and air-freight the tenth, and last, ‘production’ Britten to it’s new owner in Italy.)
      The six valve head was for the ‘next’ Britten a super mono single cylinder engine, the development of which was curtailed by John’s death.

      John Britten was an absolute genius and is sorely missed by all who knew him.

      Some videos for those interested,

      One of the best articles written on the bikes.

      For those unaware, even thirty plus years later, the Britten motorcycle is still one of the most advanced and innovative motorcycles ever made. It has no frame, everything is fixed to the hand-cast fuel injected, (when everyone else had carbs), engine, the rear suspension is in front of the motor, working by linkages with the front suspension shock situated above it. The front suspension is by double wishbones acting through slim carbon fibre ‘forks’, much slimmer than telescopic forks and with anti-dive built in. There is no lower fairing as it would make the bike too wide and the radiator is under the seat, ducted so that the heat output can energise the departing airflow, reducing drag, which is why they can exceed 300km/hr on 180 bhp.
      If one was to come up for sale which is at the moment, very unlikely, there is a strong chance they would fetch more than $US 1 million. In the 1990s they appeared out of nowhere, (aka NZ) and thrashed the factory Ducati teams and all others in the ‘Battle Of The Twins’ racing series.

  8. David

    That is pure gold. Thank you for providing it.

    I recall John Britten was scheming up a city car made of wholly recyclable materials, organic wherever possible. Were you aware of the project?

    The tragedy of his death was compounded by a liquidation of the operation. The motorcycle and automotive engineering projects did not survive him for long. It is interesting to enquire who controls the IP and what happened.

    1. I had heard of it, but after his death everything apart from actual ongoing work and completing contracts was pretty much cancelled. This included the actual work that brought in the real money which was property development, and in Christchurch any possibilities left up in the air came crashing down in a very literal way in the earthquakes. ( I live over 1000 km away and we felt the ground shake here, some of the vertical and horizontal accelerations recorded in Christchurch exceeded 2g, so damage to buildings that survived were often so badly damaged that they were beyond repair and had to be demolished- and right now only about half have been fully replaced, leaving a strange place of literally empty streets.) And then there are the insurance hassles to sort out, involving the billions of dollars in claims and disputed payments. e.g.
      IMHO without John’s personal drive, and he was very driven, there isn’t the energy to get things done that he provided. He used to work himself very hard, often to exhaustion, (His quote on it, ‘Fatigue is a drug’) But his widow Kirsten and a large band of supporters and friends have done much to keep John’s memory of his many accomplishments. The single, which was, conceptually originally, half of the V-Twin, is in the Motorcycle Mecca museum way down in Invercargill, with Bert Munro’s famous Indian motorcycles, (See movie,’ The World’s Fastest Indian’) This single, radical for 1995, let alone now, as you know, sported 6 valves, 2 exhausts, and 4 intake valves, 2 of which operated at low revs for increased low end torque, the other 2 cutting in to give good breathing at the top. No more development has occurred on this as far as I know. All I.P. as far as I know is owned by the Trusts formed after his death and controlled by his family including the name,
      The one Britten V1000 owned by the NZ government is at Te Papa museum in Wellington, a city I often visit and I always make a point of stopping to see the exhibit. Just lately the bike has been partially disassembled for maintenance and some repainting of the dayglo pink parts but is still on display in a huge glass case, seeing the ‘naked’ bike really shows it’s unique design, such as the radiator position and suspension.

      And the Facebook page is well worth a visit, it has a lot of information about previous and current events.

    2. Hi David. I’ve taken a look for your comment but it’s not in our pending queue or in spam. I’m afraid it never got to us.

  9. JT, I don’t know of anything about a car, but after John’s death there was a lot of re-assessment. Certainly much of the possibilities left up in the air were brought crashing down in a very literal sense by the Christchurch earthquakes. This very much included the Britten organisation, the wealth of which was/is strongly tied up with property development. Much of the drive, and impetus of Britten, the company, came from Britten, the man, and he was very driven. He often worked to a state of near exhaustion, (his quote on the matter, ‘fatigue is a drug’). IMHO without his focus the remaining management couldn’t do the job he had done, something common in organisations suddenly bereft of a charismatic leader. After the earthquakes, much energy has been spent in Christchurch on fighting over the billions of dollars in insurance claims as much damage was done, (damage caused by lateral and vertical accelerations during the quakes of 2g or more), many buildings being so badly damaged, that despite still standing, were unsafe and had to be demolished, to be replaced later. This has left the city with whole streets now of no buildings standing, waiting for the rebuild and have left a city I used to know well as a strange and unsettling place.
    The single cylinder project, being worked on at John’s death, with it’s two exhaust and four intake valves, (two only opening at low revs to enhance flow speed and thus torque, with all four opening at higher revs to increase power), was left uncompleted, it being enough work for the company to complete the 10 V1000 twins that were made). The sole engine made is now at the Classic Motorcycle Mecca Museum way down south in Invercargill along with a V1000 and the earlier Ducati based aerodynamic experiments, as well as Burt Munro’s Indians (see the movie ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’ starring Anthony Hopkins)
    The one Britten owned by the NZ government is at the national museum, Te Papa, in Wellington and I always make a point of seeing it when I am in the Capital. Lately it has been partially disassembled for cleaning and repainting of the fade-prone dayglo pink parts and has been on display partially disassembled so that it’s suspension and cooling systems are clearly seen.

    The Britten Company itself still exists but seemingly only to sell merchandise like clothing, which is done in a desultory fashion, things being often sold out for long periods such as now. (Wearing a Britten tee shirt being one of the few things giving you simultaneous acceptance to H.O.G, Ducati, Ullysses Club and MotoGP events). Best to stay in touch with the Britten World through their Facebook page.

    And more background here.

    1. Hi David

      Got it.

      Thank you again!

      Note that John Britten died in 1995 and the Christchurch earthquakes occurred 2010 and 2011. All John Britten’s projects were long closed down by then.

      There is a most excellent book I’d recommend on this topic. It is, “John Britten”, written by Tim Hanna. The story is not a simple one. The author invested five years in research and conducted numerous interviews with all the people intimately involved. The book discusses the bad side as well as the good. It is not a hagiography. Highly recommended if the truth of the story is what is sought.

      That insurance story you linked to does not seem to show successors/assignees/beneficiaries in a good light, or is that a misunderstanding?

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