Updated: Apr 1
This is the story of a legendary company whose future hung in the balance. This is also the story of a charismatic leader, whose revolutionary idea promises to take the automobile market by storm. This is the story of the Maserati Biturbo.
To fully understand how one of the most controversial Italian cars of all time came about, we need to go back to 1975.
Maserati's parent company, Citroen, had been taken over by Peugeot the previous year. The new management had no interest in Maserati and decided to put the Modenese company into liquidation.
The Italian government practically bailed out the ailing company, which needed a new direction to secure its future: that direction would come from Alejandro De Tomaso.
The charismatic Argentinian entrepreneur believed that Maserati needed to go downmarket to weather the intense social tensions and rising oil prices of the Seventies. His idea was nothing short of revolutionary: a sharp sports-saloon with a lavish interior and ample luggage space, powered by a 2-liters V6 engine to keep Italian taxation at bay. To provide firepower worthy of the Trident badge, the V6 engine would be fitted with not one, but two turbochargers!
That may seem almost mundane nowadays. Still, back in 1982, there simply was nothing like it: turbocharging was just becoming fashionable, but nobody had yet offered a twin-turbo engine on the market.
The Biturbo was launched in 1982, and by the end of 1983, over 7000 cars had already been sold.
1984 saw the debut of the four-door 425 and the elegant Spyder by Zagato.
De Tomaso's gamble was paying off, and Maserati, at last, had a secure future...
... Not really. Soon customers found out the hard way that the Biturbo had been rushed into production and under all that leather laid a car whose build quality was average at best.
In the USA, poorly installed catalytic converters caused Biturbos to go up in flames, together with Maserati's image: by 1987, the marque quietly abandoned the United States as sales had stalled.
By the late 1980s, the Biturbo's reliability issues were cured, and the cars had become much more powerful and better appointed. Still, it was too little, too late: buyers stayed away, and the sharp edges of its design looked increasingly unfashionable.
Maserati was now stuck with the Biturbo, as it couldn't afford to replace it, so De Tomaso sold 49% of the Trident to Fiat, which then completed the acquisition in 1992.
Fiat's money paid for the last, extreme evolutions of the Biturbo family: the 300hp Ghibli and the fearsome V8 Shamal, whose engine would live on in the first Maserati of the new era, the 3200GT.