Editor’s note: A more condensed version of this article was originally published on May 6 2017.
The introduction of the Maserati Biturbo in the Autumn of 1981 came as something of a shock, both for marque aficionados and industry watchers alike; Maserati, une grande maison, as former Citroën President (and Maserati overseer), Pierre Bercot might have put it, was at the time more associated in the mind as purveyors of automotive exotica of the most rarefied variety, with a hitherto unsullied pedigree and bloodline second to none. Hence the advent of a compact sports saloon bearing the fabled Trident of Bologna appeared incongruent to some, a matter of profound embarrassment to others.
But there was little room for sentiment or much by way of respect for tradition in the mind of Alejandro de Tomaso as he moved heaven and earth during the late 1970s to first re-establish the Maserati business on a firmer commercial footing, while simultaneously, expunging every trace of double chevron influence from the Viale Ciro Menotti. A cultural revolution then, as much as it was a creative one. But today we must ask ourselves how much of a departure the Biturbo actually was?
Because Pierangelo Andreani didn’t exactly pluck the Biturbo’s bodystyle from thin air. Like anyone in his position, he was working, not just to a strict brief, but with the combined weight of history and marque heritage upon his shoulders. No small task then. But perhaps we should briefly examine what might have been present upon the Andreani moodboard as the Biturbo came into being.
Sobriety in style was not a wholly new direction for Maserati. Its traditional customers tended to be from the ranks of older money, clientele who favoured discretion and anonymity over overt expression. Certainly, neither the putative Maserati owner, his wife nor indeed his mistress would have been strangers to the products of the house of Chanel, and in 1966’s Maserati Mexico, they could drive the automotive equivalent of Coco’s little black dress – courtesy of carrozzeria Vignale.
In the wake of the social unrest across Europe in 1968, the jet-set saw fit to avoid flaunting their wealth. This would became a more acute issue in Italy as the post-1973 oil crisis plunged the country into economic shock, while as the decade wore on, politically driven unrest saw the wealthy and powerful being targeted by extremists for assassination or kidnap. Keeping a low profile would become a matter of life or death and this rectitude was reflected to some extent in the sober style of the 1976 Kyalami, from the house of Pietro Frua.
Three years after the debut of the Longchamps-based Kyalami, a further illustration of Maserati’s future direction was first shown. With de Tomaso having axed the previous incarnation primarily on the basis of its double chevron heritage, Giorgetto Giugiaro’s somewhat brutalist body style for 1979’s Quattroporte III set the tone for what followed, and it is here that the foundations for the Biturbo’s style can truly be laid.
Not that Andreani was looking wholly inward. The Biturbo was a good deal more compact than previous Maserati four-seaters and entered the market at the lowest price point of any bearing the Trident in its (then) 67-year history, so it is hardly surprising that he may too have cast an eye amid the cheaper seats. In size and overall feeling, the Biturbo appeared to have cleaved to the template set by BMW with the 3 Series model. Compact, sporting in nature and somewhat close-coupled. A car which straddled the concepts of sports saloon and coupé.
Most observers would undoubtedly cite the later E30 generation dreier, but given that this iteration was not released to the public until November 1982, any serious resemblance could only have been coincidental. However, the previous E21 model could certainly have provided some inspiration, certainly in spirit.
Lancia’s Giugiaro designed Delta of 1979 could also be said to have lent a certain tacit inspiration, especially in terms of surface treatment and around the nose; both designs having to reconcile a traditional upstanding grille with a modernist wedge shape and detailing. Incidentally, the Delta bodystyle itself was distantly related to an earlier ItalDesign (Giugiaro) concept car – the Maserati Medici of 1974.
The final piece of today’s moodboard is perhaps a little tenuous – at first glance at least. The Mercedes C123 coupé was introduced in 1976 and was designed in the normal evolutionary Sindelfingen manner under the leadership of Bruno Sacco. With its upright and resolutely formal looking canopy, it presents about as dignified a demeanour as any indulgent luxury coupe could offer. Far removed from the dynamism and latent acceleration embodied in Andreani’s Biturbo. Yet, if we examine the side profile of the later Maserati 228 (the Biturbo’s slightly younger, slightly brawnier brother), we can see (faint) reflections of the Mercedes treatment in the manner in which the DLO is handled. Coincidence?
Of course, this selection is not only wholly subjective but by no means exhaustive (or even all that accurate). You may choose to disagree with some of the chosen vehicles, or feel impelled to suggest others. Please do feel free. But regardless of what may or not have inspired Pierangelo Andreani in his Biturbo quest, one thing is certain – his Giugiaro impression was note-perfect.