Curbside Classic: 1992 Maserati 430 4v (AM332) – The Better Biturbo

Maserati are doing pretty well these days. That’s an outlier in the marque’s history though: for most of the 20th Century, Maserati were either about to go under or trying to recover from bankruptcy. This roller-coaster ride took its final dip in the early ‘90s, and it so happens that I’ve scored a few Masers from this troubled time out on the streets lately, so let’s examine the car and the company it almost killed.

After a relatively short (1967-75) marriage with Citroën, Maserati were in their usual state of disarray, eventually getting “rescued” by Alejandro de Tomaso, who revived the Trident with the Biturbo in 1982. Sales shot up dramatically, so much so that the assembly line had to be transferred to Innocenti in Milan using engines and suspension pieces coming from the Maserati works in Modena. Alas, success proved fickle, as the much higher rate of production came at the expense of quality control and reliability, which is what happens when you get a former BL subsidiary to put together an unreasonable amount of (i.e. more than zero) high-performance luxury cars.

The V6-powered Biturbo was initially launched as a two-door (top left), but a stretched saloon variant (top right) was added to the range by late 1983. This was followed by the shortened-wheelbase Zagato Spyder (bottom right) in 1984 and the saloon-based 228 five-seater luxury coupé (bottom left) in 1986.

The frenetic multiplication of Biturbo derivatives carried on like this throughout the late ‘80s and into ‘90s, even as the De Tomaso group sank into a sea of red ink. A limited production variant appeared in the Zagato-bodied two-seater Karif (top right) in 1988, followed by the V8-powered Shamal (top left) in 1990. In 1992, the original Biturbo was heavily facelifted and renamed Ghibli (bottom left) to weather its second decade. The final stretch was to be the Quattroporte IV (1994-2001, bottom right), after which Maserati finally moved on to a new platform.

So we’ll focus on the four-door here, but bear in mind that there was a whole ecosystem of broadly similar Biturbo-based models at Maserati in the darkest days of the De Tomaso era. The four-door was a bit of an oddity, of course, but then when it was created, the only other Maserati saloon was the gigantic (and gorgeous) V8-powered Quattroporte III.

Maserati saw a niche just above Mercedes, BMW and Alfa Romeo in terms of luxury – but well above in terms of exclusivity and price – in the 2-3 litre executive compact field. This particular model of Maserati is so uncommon though, that it’s difficult not to see its competitors in it. The BMW vibe is especially prominent, in my opinion.

It’s a proper five-seater berlina, not a coupé with extra door. The two-door Biturbo’s 251cm wheelbase was extended to 260cm (102.4’’) and the rear overhang also grew a bit to accommodate more cargo space. This transforms the design fundamentally: I’m really not keen on the two-door Biturbo’s chunky profile, but the added length here kind of cures that.

On the other hand, this is the very last and most potent iteration of the breed, and Maserati felt compelled to give it the front end of the Shamal, with a revised grille (which is fine) and headlights (which is really, really not). It looks so amateurish that it feels as if the owner bought a set of aftermarket items and paid a blind mechanic to stick them on the wrong way around. Another facelift gone badly wrong – what else is new?

Partial redemption is to be found inside, with generous amounts of leather, thick carpets and genuine wood veneer. The switchgear and column stalks look a bit Fiat (or just Innocenti?), but one has to make a few sacrifices. The more pressing question is whether it all still works, as the electrics on Maseratis of this era are known to be pretty iffy at best.

But at least, when they worked, these cars packed a punch. The Biturbo saloons naturally had the same engine options as the coupés: a 2-litre (180-205hp) was reserved for the Italian market, exported cars started off with a 2.5 litre OHC V6, known as the 425. In 1987, a 2790cc version of the V6 was created and berlinas so equipped were marketed as the 430, for some reason.

Our feature car is the final incarnation of the 430, with a new 24-valve DOHC V6 providing 279hp, enabling a top speed in excess of 250kph, even allowing for the 4-speed ZF automatic transmission the owner saw fit to order, presumably to keep his left leg rested.

This Biturbo-in-all-but-name should really be compared to AMG Benzes or Alpina BMWs, i.e. the very best European sports saloons, with all the extras. In terms of exclusivity, it’s also right up there: just under 300 units of the 430 4v were made between 1991 and 1993, so I’m really glad I was able to catch this one before its owner returned to free it from its parking space.

Plus, if I had only caught a glimpse of it from afar, I might have mistaken it for a more mundane Mercedes or BMW, depending on the angle. Not the front though – that would have resulted in nausea more than anything. Aside from that sorry face, the rest is actually pretty nice, if a tad anonymous at first glance. The more one looks at it, the more interesting it gets.


Related posts:


Car Show Classic: 1990-96 Maserati Shamal – The Wildest Biturbo, by William Stopford

Curbside Classic: 1986 Maserati Biturbo Spyder – Do You Feel Lucky?, by Tom Klockau

CC Capsule: 1984 Maserati Biturbo Si – Sexy, Immobile, by Jeff Nelson

CC Capsule: 1997 Maserati Ghibli GT – The Last Vulgarati, by T87