The decision was bold, brave and as it turned out, almost catastrophic. After 50 years of success in building fast and fancy GT and race cars, in the 1980s Maserati risked its reputation by attempting to straddle the line between mass production and hand-crafted luxury. The Maserati Biturbo sought to blend Ferrari-standard technology and style with BMW practicality, at the price of a superior Fiat or Alfa-Romeo.
The Biturbo was first introduced as a 2 litre 2+2 coupe in 1981, when high fuel costs and a plethora of increasingly tough emissions controls had created a sort of turbo arms race between manufacturers. The engine, although completely new, was developed on the platform of the Merak V6. The twin turbos gave the Biturbo real performance edge, but the 2 litre version (governed by Italian tax laws of the time) had to be raised to 2.5 litres for the all-important US market.
In Europe, the Maserati Biturbo became a family of cars, with a range of engines and body styles to suit almost everyone. The Zagato-designed 2 litre Spyder convertible, on a shorter wheelbase, appeared to great acclaim at the 1984 Turin Motor Show — but it too had to be modified for the 2.5 litre engine before America got it in 1986, along with the four-door sedan Quattroporte version. So the beautiful, luxurious Spyder, chock-full of inspirational technology, became associated with the same mountain of criticism that the US market heaped on the Biturbo in general.
The engines were brilliant, but the rest of the car had been developed on a comparative shoestring budget, and it showed. Wiring fell apart. Breakdown was endemic. Maserati withdrew completely from the USA, leaving the Maserati Biturbo Spyder as the definitive survivor of its production ambitions. If only in retrospect, America loves it.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Italy
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1984 (until 1991)
ENGINE: 1,995 cc V6 Twin Turbo
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 135 mph (217 km/h);0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.7 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: The extent of vituperative contempt attracted by the Maserati Biturbo may be easily judged by The New York Times’ comment ‘Rust in peace…less durable than some revolving-door Italian governments’; and by its inclusion in the 2004 publication Crap Cars at no.28 out of 50. But the Biturbo Spyder always gets some sort of exemption.