Styled by Pierangelo Andreani – who also worked for the then parent company De Tomaso – Maserati’s Biturbo was built to plug a gap in the Italian market for a high-performance 2-litre car that avoided the heavy tax levied on larger-engined vehicles.
It was to provide four usable seats, luxury fixtures and fittings, plus performance that could match – if not better – the best from Germany.
The Biturbo fitted the brief well. Its unconventional elegance meant that the Maserati offered more space than most GTs, better still the aggressive looks offered a hint of the performance on tap.
And there was plenty of it. The Maser featured the world’s first production twin-turbocharged engine, which mixed impressive in-gear performance with an unpredictable power delivery that could catch out the unwary.
The Biturbo would be built from 1981-2001, with a bewildering 53 different variants offered over its lifetime.
Not many were brought to the UK, though, with no more than 500 cars being officially imported, and who knows how many of those ended up in a hedge?
Another Biturbo killer is rust and it can strike in areas including the leading edge of the bonnet, the front wings and MacPherson strut tops, subframe mountings, chassis legs, windscreen surround, bulkhead, sills, doorskins, wheelarches and the bootlid.
Under the bonnet, you’ll find an authentic – and complex – Maserati V6 (quad cam on some models) that needs to be looked after properly.
Specialists recommend that cambelts are replaced every 24,000 miles and it is worth checking that the water-pump bearing isn’t wobbly, something that can also lead to belt failure. A damaged manifold is an engine-out job to replace, so ensure there are no cracks.
Oil leaks from the cam covers are easy to fix, but drips from the rear crank seal are not. In addition check for oil seeping from the rear axle, plus cracks and corrosion on the suspension’s aluminium control arms.
The four-speed ZF auto ’box is vastly superior to the three-ratio version, while manuals that suffer from layshaft noise and jump out of gear should be avoided.
The electronic equipment is known to be problematic, too, so check that everything works, while the fabulously appointed interior is costly to restore if tatty.
Also make sure that the clock is there because it’s expensive to replace.
The phrase a ‘leap of faith’ probably underplays the risks of buying a sub-£5000 Biturbo but, if you like a gamble of lottery-like proportions, there’s one to be had.
You’ll have to go to Italy to get it mind, but this four-door version is owned by a fan of the marque who claims that it has covered fewer than 18,000 miles.
A much better example can be found in our own classifieds. It’s a later, larger-engined car with a wood, leather and Alcantara-trimmed interior and a 0-60mph time of 5.7 secs.
The current owner has already had the engine out, which means all that matters has been replaced, including both turbos, the clutch, cambelts, exhausts and much more.
The suspension has also been rebuilt and powder-coated, while the rust-free underside has been sealed. The £9250 sticker price seems like a bargain given what you can expect in return.
In a world where safety, moderation and predictability are key, the Biturbo serves as an automotive tonic. It mixes luxury with a capacity to get you into trouble in a way that will probably never be seen again.
But if an exciting drive and a practical package are what you crave, few can match the Maserati’s charm.