Let’s get this out of the way: The Maserati Biturbo has a bit of a bad reputation. Well, that might be an understatement—really bad is more like it. More than one Maserati mechanic of the 1980s and ’90s probably sent their kids to Harvard purely off the repair bills footed by Biturbo owners. And yet, there are plenty of passionate enthusiasts out there who love these cars. Now values have been growing, too, including a whopping 44 percent in the last quarter.
In the early 1980s, turbocharging was still a relatively novel technology in production cars. Two turbochargers? Well, that was difficult. Remember that turbocharging setups in modern cars are managed by sophisticated computers and direct injection, neither of which were available in this era. When Maserati strapped a pair of turbos to the aptly-named Biturbo’s V-6 engine, it was a first for a production car—and for good reason. The company wrapped this drivetrain in a distinctive in-house design and presented the world with a relatively affordable (for a Maserati) luxury sports car.
The car was a strong seller initially. The North American–market 2.5-liter, all-aluminum V-6 produced 185 hp. Quite impressive considering that in 1984, the car’s first year in the United States, a Corvette made 205. Later cars had 225 hp, benefitting from intercooling, fuel injection to replace a finicky Weber carburetor, and a displacement bump to 2.8 liters. With its unique looks and potent engine, the Biturbo offered a characterful alternative to the German sedans that were quickly grabbing U.S. market share.
It wasn’t long before consumers discovered the fly in the ointment: reliability. Once again, context helps. At this point in the 1980s, a few years before the Japanese brands redefined the segment, consumer expectations for reliability in a sporty luxury car were still reasonably low. Italian sports cars on the whole are famous for being fiddly, and many are extremely rust prone to boot. So, the fact that these attributes apply to the Biturbo is not noteworthy. Where the problems are amplified, however, is the frequency at which issues can arise if cars are not religiously maintained. Compounding the problem was the fact that the Biturbo was a “down market” model for Maserati, and many owners thus did not have wallets ready for the wallop of an Italian exotic’s repair bill.
That caveat is still relevant today when we talk about the Biturbo. A standard Biturbo Coupe can run as little as $12,000 for an exceptional example (and trust us, you really do want an exceptional example). A striking Zagato Spider will run you around $25,000 for a prime example. Considering the widespread appreciation for Radwood-era cars, that’s incredibly cheap—a contemporary Volkswagen GTI in top shape can stretch you closer to $30,000. Consider that the market’s attempt to price in the cost of ownership. The reliability issues that have plagued the Biturbo since new have been compounded by the difficulty of finding the necessary components to keep one in top mechanical shape. Sellers who know what they have are not likely to part ways with their parts cheaply.
So none of this deters you: those boxy ’80s lines beckon and you’ve found that you can’t resist the allure of an Italian car. You want a Biturbo. Hey, we get it—each of us at Hagerty has our own niche tastes, too. And judging by the recent uptick in value, for both Spyders and coupes, you're not alone. We'd simply say that the usual advice when shopping for a classic—buy the best and most mechanically-sorted example you can find—becomes an absolute must. Don't settle. There are loving owners out there who have taken care of their Biturbos, and as a result have few issues with them. If you vet the seller as much as the car, you'll have yourself a cool, reliable Maserati you can enjoy without breaking the bank.
Also know that you are investing in a car that is for your own enjoyment rather than something that will necessarily yield a return down the road. (This is always healthy advice, but it’s a bit amplified in this instance.) The big rise in value with these cars has more to do, we wager, with the market as a whole being up than what we would call a resurgence in interest. The pace of appreciation we’ve noticed lately for this entry-level Maserati is unlikely to continue. What we can guarantee is that there aren’t that many ways to get a more exclusive car for less money. That in and of itself might just be enough.
I wish luck to the brave souls who buy one today. Hope the parts and mechanic are readily available.
My mechanic likes to say “A small block Chevy will slip right in there.”
He’s proven it, too. It’s one of those midwestern sayings like “Good eatin if you fix ’em right” — can apply to anything that walks or crawls.
A friend made a very good living inserting small-block Chevy/trans into Jaguar sedans and the occasional Bertone. Even a Austin-Martin once. He finally retired to a warm climate somewhere.
Highly similar, slightly larger, Bertone coupe styling can be had in the Volvo 780 turbo with the 188hp bulletproof red block four cylinder… I’ve had three personally. Very unique nicely styled executive luxury pavement eaters… I still would rock a well maintained biturbo… I’m an import but and have always liked them… Was even one a few years back in a local junkyard with a donation vehicle lot… I didn’t go for it…!!!
Highly similar, slightly larger, Bertone coupe styling can be had in the Volvo 780 turbo with the 188hp bulletproof red block four cylinder… I’ve had three personally. Very unique nicely styled executive luxury pavement eaters… I still would rock a well maintained biturbo… I’m an import nut and have always liked them… Was even one a few years back in a local junkyard with a donation vehicle lot… I didn’t go for it…!!!
No matter how many kind words promote, these are really terrible cars. Unless you have really deep pockets and are really stupid dont buy one.
Dave, my ‘85 Biturbo is well maintained and runs like new, purchased in CA and drove it back to Nashville with no problems. Has been very reliable for the 2-3k fun miles I drive each summer. Very rude of you to assume collectors are stupid, more than just petty to express it here.
I’ve read before that most of the problem came from not intercooling the turbos until 6 years into the car’s run and a hot engine is an unreliable one. But then when they finally did, they replaced the carb with a troublesome unit that caused other issues. Likely there are other problems, I’m not an expert.
All too bad. It’s a sharp looking little car for the era, and I like the eccentric interior.
Bought an 84 carbureted for my sons first car. Put Amsoil in engine and transmission which dropped operating temps 10 degrees. He drove enthusiastically and we never had a problem with the car. It was an automatic which had external adjusting screws to set upshift rev points and speed of change. They were set for performance and since no one in his circle could get near the Maserati performance he didn’t bother thrashing it anymore. Unfortunately a lady did an illegal manoeuvre which wrote off the car.
Overall we cannot say anything bad about the ownership other than a seam in the rear seat letting go!
Classic cars are Not about quality—(For the most part) -It’s all about having something “”Different”
Exactly! A point lost on those that can only like certain manufacturers.