Italy has produced some of the most elegant, seductive, perfectly proportioned autos the world has ever seen. To drive a fine Italian car is to experience the Sine qua non–the ultimate expression–of motoring. And something that has absolutely nothing to do with this car. This one was a cut-and-paste job that Maserati fobbed off on a gullible public for a few years before high-tailing it back to The Boot to build other cars, ones where its heart was and where its heritage had always been.
We found this little circle of hell rusting in peace at a U-Stor-It lot in the hills of East Tennessee, and whipped out a camera before it reverted completely to the pile of iron ore from which it sprung. It’s a classic 20 50-footer: looks great from the road, but up close its a family-sized bucket o’ fail. The A-pillars have rusted through and there’s a lot of rocker and (uh-oh) shock tower cancer.
A quick trip in the wayback machine tells us the that BiTurbo washed up on these shores in 1984, with a 2.5 liter V6 and five gears in the box which, in the hands of a capable driver and on a totally flat road… still wouldn’t run without expensive, time consuming repairs for very long. In a word, the M-BiT should have been put back in the oven because it wasn’t even half-baked. Its lack of an intercooler and finicky single-barrel carburetor made taking a long trip in one shot a noteworthy (and infrequent) event, and the inherent oil, coolant and fluid leaks–which remain standard features on Italian cars to this day–didn’t help matters. Add in a weak, apathetic dealer network and less-than-diligent owners, and you have a recipe for a four-wheeled disaster. For a car that stickered near $27k in 1984 (big money in those days and worth about $61k today), owners rightly expected a little more personal attention and, by and large, didn’t get it.
Actually, the Biturbo was aimed at the kind of buyer usually seen spec’ing out a BMW 318/325. The engine and tranny combos were designed to provide the high revving, tail happy scoot needed for capability in the twisties as well as on the interstate–in which regard, Maserati did have limited success. Testers back in the day generally praised the handling, and the engine (when it ran), had more than enough beans for a little back-road fun. Note that phrase: when it ran. And therein lies the problem.
It’s not too much to say that Maserati farmed out development engineering for the Biturbo…to the purchaser, that is. Loose wiring, unconnected vacuum hoses and assorted rattles and squeaks added to the overall misery of ownership. A lot of final assembly was done on return trips to the dealership. Although body fit and finish got high marks, and the interior was exquisite, it was another story in the engine bay. The car’s technical service bulletins made Gone With The Wind read like a haiku. Make no mistake: this car was a tart lemon from build date until the day the exasperated owner finally gave up and unloaded it on an unsuspecting buyer that wanted a Maserati. Lather, rinse, repeat. When Maserati said arrivederci to America in 1991, parts and service became yet another expensive headache.
Given the car’s total lack of build quality and propensity for existential rust-through, there are a surprisingly large number of up-for-sale survivors out there. A recent check of Craigslist turned up a lot of sub-100K examples that “need minor work.” Which begs the question: if these cars weren’t dependable as everyday drivers when new, what are the odds they’ll get better with age? Your best bet is to use one as a weekend cruiser–but stay close to home and put your favorite towing company’s number on speed dial. I’m certain the same advice given when these were new holds true today: buy two–you’re gonna need a lot of parts.