Via Biturbo

Pierangelo’s moodboard.

Image: Favcars

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.

Sobriety, beautifully tailored. The 1966 Maserati Mexico. Design by Vignale. Image:

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.

1976 Kyalami. Image: maserati-alfieri

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.

Elegant brutalism. 1979 Maserati Quattroporte by Italdesign. Image: momentcar

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.

1976 BMW (E21) 3-Series. Design – In house. Image:

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.

1979 Lancia Delta. Image: autowp

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.

1976 Mercedes CE. In house design. Image autoevolution

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?

1987 Maserati 228. Image: auto-database

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “Via Biturbo”

  1. Was the Biturbo’s allegedly underdeveloped chassis down to being derived from an existing model or being a bitza from the outset?

    It is a pity that Maserati under De Tomaso were never able to acquire the 260-280+ hp 4-litre V8 originally intended for the Quattroporte II and tested in the Citroen SM V8 prototype, nor ever considered a non-turbocharged entry-level version of the Biturbo powered by a 150+ hp V6.

    Quite like the overall look of the Maserati Biturbo and related models, especially as it indirectly gives one an idea of what a turbocharged 4WD 2/4-door Lancia Prisma Integrale Evo could have resembled had Lancia been willing let alone allowed to develop more sporty versions of the Lancia Prisma.

    By the way do any books exist about Maserati under De Tomaso? Know there is one book about Maserati under Citroen.

    1. There is a book dedicated to the Biturbo and variants up to the 4 Door and Zagato Spyder, covering all development and technical aspects. It does not include the 228, Shamal, Ghibli variants.

  2. Thanks for that. It’s a curiosity that on its own the Biturbo makes you think of the archetypal simple oblong saloon. Obvious, even. Then as this timely study shows it is not so clear where its roots lie. The car manages to carry a feeling of Maserati but doesn’t have any directly translated elements barring, at a push, the window frame. Gandini really hacked it about.

    I feel there is a size missing between the Biturbo and the magnificent QP.

    1. That’s interesting, Richard. A Biturbo is smaller than an E21 3 series and the Quattroporte is slightly bigger than an E23 7 series. There was room for a 5 series. The question is, was Maserati too small to have another line of cars, or should they’ve produced a 5 series sized car instead of the Biturbo?

    2. Freerk, you’re right, Maserati probably should have developed the Biturbo as an executive-sized alternative to the BMW e12/28 rather than a junior exec pitched against the e21/30. A bigger car could have justified the price premium over more mainstream competition. And it would have been easier to stretch it into a Quattroporte successor and/or cut it down into what the Biturbo actually was.

      And history repeats itself: FCA should have bet Alfa Romeo’s rebirth on a 5er sized Giulia instead of the 3er we got instead, for all the same reasons. Porsche set the template with the Cayenne and a larger AR Stelvio aimed directly at that SUV could have been the money spinner to put the business on a secure footing for future growth.

  3. I think the clearest reflections of the Delta can be seen in the Biturbo’s bumpers. Isn’t the Delta a lovely thing? We should be grateful to Hyundai for reproducing it at 120% scale in the shape of its Ioniq 5.

  4. Good afternoon Eóin. What a lovely collection of designs you have presented us with today. I’ll take the delightful Kyalami, thank you.

    I owned a Delta 1500LX for a couple of years in the mid-1980s and it was a very nice car, sharp looking outside, in white with the same alloy wheels as seen on the example above. It had a smart and comfortable interior with nice checkerboard velour upholstery, very different to the austere Golfs of the day.

    1. Nice article, loved the Biturbo and this phase of styling (e.g. Alfa 90). Fear that if I drove one it might be a real letdown though. Always wondered about the relative restraint of the exterior compared to the interior which looks very extravagent, but you prompted me to check the Quattroporte III and it looks like most of the Biturbo’s interior was taken from that car, which makes sense.

  5. If the Biturbo, due to the special circunstances in those years in Italy, was styled to be a luxury car with a certain restraint, it also makes sense that its interior was luxurious and extravagant. At least its owner could enjoy the car (and the lire spent) in the privacy.
    Anyway I doubt that anything with a trident at the front and a “Maserati” logo in the back could go unnoticed. I wonder if the Biturbo was a favourite for car thieves.

  6. The 1979 Lancia Delta surprised me – for some reason I´d forgotten it went back that long. That makes its shape all the more impressive as it doesn´t look so aged as some other cars from the same year. I do have to wonder about the likelihood that Maserati´s plainer cars fooled anyone with a mind to kidnapping or even just the public at large. A Biturbo would definitely have stood out on a street of Italian cars. All pricey cars in that period were distinctly different creatures from the mass produced products of Renault, Peugeot, Opel and Ford. These days you really have to unlock the cans of tasteless excess to get a car interior to look properly more lavish than a well-trimmed Skoda or Volvo. Yes, you make a RR interior or MB interior to look lavish but they are in plain bad taste; in 1983 a lovely interior could still be a tasteful one.

  7. The fit and finish of the Biturbo’s exterior panels and trim, including the crispness of the pressings is beyond that of any contemporaneous mass produced product. Especially note the lack of any seams, cut, or shut lines in the vicinity of the A-pillar.

    The view under the bonnet wasn’t ordinary either.

    Could we discuss a difficult topic though? Switchgear, electrics, window winders. The mournful slow moaning of a dying electric motor. On the showroom floor. Laboring, barely alive. Crestfallen, dream shattered.

    1. That’s a great view, gooddog, and one I remember well from my visit to the Maserati dealer, back in the day. Thanks for sharing it here. I’ve always been fond of the Biturbo something that didn’t go unnoticed in my family. My brother gave me Maserati keychain, he had bought at the Maserati dealer in Prague. I’ve been using it ever since.

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