The Biturbo Spyder
"The simplicity of its design is its forté"
An owner's impressions

The Maserati Biturbo Spyder's sleek if somewhat stayed exterior lines by Zagato of Milan, is a rarity on British roads even today. I am perhaps one of the few who consider themselves fortunate to own such a car. It has all the glamour which we have come to expect of Italian Exotica without being ostentatious, in fact even the wife likes it! (a sexist remark for which I apologise to our lady surfers). Far more practical than most, with its flexible V6 engine, convenient, although manual hood (which incidentally is shared with the Aston Martin Zagato Volante) and plenty of luggage space in the boot, which is in itself a contradiction for an Italian sports car, this car oozes class!

The 'Biturbo' Maseratis were originally launched in Italy in the Autumn of 81 as a range of initially 2-litre cars with an unconventional twin-turbo engine arrangement, one turbo serving each bank of the 90' V6. First came the two-door coupé, followed by a four-door sports saloon and in 1984 the Spyder. Maserati sought in their re-emergence as a manufacturer to fit a mid-range niche market somewhere between Lancia / Alfa Romeo and the then Supercars manufactured by Ferrari and Lamborghini.

The 1984 Biturbo Spyder

1984 also saw the introduction of a 2.5-litre (2491 cc) version of unique V6 power unit fitted to the 'Biturbo' range. It was with the introduction to this country in 1986 that the Marque was set to re-establish itself, after a series of set-backs during the following year which prevented progress and after; a company take over, the introduction of a new management structure and the appointment of a twenty one strong nationwide dealership, Neptune's Trident was eventually given a green light. However, by the time the Maserati Spyder eventually arrived in Britain much of its initial appeal had wavered due in part to the initial hype, the inevitable delay and the resultant cost 28,795 (4000 more than the coupé and 9000 more than a BMW 325i Cabriolet). When eventually launched in the winter of 1987/88, it was not exactly the best time to launch a new car and definitely not a convertible in Britain.

Although the front-engined rear wheel drive configuration suggests convention, beneath the bonnet lies a different story. The engine bay is packed with features even more novel than the twin turbos. Each of alloy V6's cylinder heads runs a single overhead camshaft serving three valves per cylinder (a not an uncommon arrangement in Japanese motorcycles and cars, but to the best of my knowledge no other European car featured an arrangement of this kind - two intakes and one exhaust when Maserati adapted it in 1981). The twin 'IHI' water-cooled turbos and 18 valves complimented by an electronic boost control system ensures that the 7.4:1 engine compression is not over boosted at any point in the rpm range.

The 1988 Spyder E

The Spyder may not be considered a particularly fast car by today's standards, the maximum power output being restricted to 192 bhp at 5000 rpm (220 bhp on the Coupé) and 220 lb ft torque at 3000 rpm because the boost provided by the twin turbos to the twin-choke Weber carburettor used on the Spyder, is deliberately restrained to a modest 0.8 bar, giving a maximum speed of 128 mph and a relatively conservative 0 to 60 time of 7.2 seconds. The engine technology employed is aimed at reducing the time it takes the turbos to respond to the throttle (turbo lag) and it works, there is no discernable boost evident but an extraordinarily smooth and rapid increase of power. The result is a car with strong cruising and relaxed mid range performance, the immediate availability of apparently unlimited power is particularly useful when overtaking. There is of course the usual penalty for such convenient horsepower, you can watch the needle on the petrol gauge visibly drop, averaging about 20mpg on 4 star. (Maserati are not noted as being amongst the world's most environmentaly friendly vehicles, but neither are Ferraris).

The suspension is a straight forward configuration of MacPhearson struts and independent trailing arms, with one of the earliest uses of the 'TORSEN' (torque sensing) limited slip differential, (which I believe is also used on the Lancia Integrale) front and rear anti-roll bars complete the undercarriage. Pirelli or Michelin 205 x 55 VR14 rubber on the front 14 inch alloy rims and 225s on the rear significantly contribute to keeping the Spyder on the straight and narrow even when cornering and when it comes to stopping the 282mm front and 272mm rear disc brakes, achieve this function with comparative ease.

The 1990 Spyder iE

Zagato in producing the Spyder did not just chop the top off the coupé, but redesigned the complete car reducing the wheelbase from its contempories 260Omm to 240Omm and the overall length from 4155mm to 4043mm with a resultant drop in kerb-weight to 1086kg, these deliberate physical reductions have resulted in an attractive although rather small car with a most purposeful stance.

One of the Spyder's most attractive features is it's unashamedly luxurious interior; sumptuous hand-stitched leather, (usually avoided in modern convertibles) abounds throughout with walnut and suede inlays liberally applied to facia, centre consul and doors, electric windows, power steering and a most distinctive gold 'Art-Deco' clock placed centrally on the dashboard directly above the horizontal bank of push switches which amongst other things operates the boot and the petrol filler cap, immediately below is the neat array of air conditioning controls, all of which grace the opulent interior.

Instrumentation is comprehensive in the true Italian tradition, seven dials monitor all functions from the engine red-lined at 6,40Orpm to the boost achieved by the twin turbos coupled with the most fantastic array of warning lights, the like of which can only be compared with a tree at Christmas. Two seat squabs to the rear are indicative of a 2+2 configuration that doesn't really work, due primarily to the driver having adopted the Italian driving posture of 'Inclino Orizontale' and there being only one 'lap' type seat belt. Then there's the ZF gearbox need I say more, back to front, upside down, describe it how you will, it takes some getting use to, but once mastered it's quick.

The 1991 Spyder series III

On a 'lighter' note, the ash tray is located centrally adjacent to the hand brake and incorporates the usual cigar / cigarette lighter, ashtray and unusually a cigarette box all of which is covered with a role lid, (under-arm contorsionism is enough to put anyone off smoking) although I must say, it's the same ashtray as that used in the De Tomaso Pantera GT5-S located in virtually the same place. (I can only comment - "that the Italians must have peculiar smoking habits" particularly when you consider the original left-hand-drive configuration.)

Maserati obviously set out to establish the BiTurbo and more particularly the Spyder as a fast tourer in the true 'Gran Tourisimo' tradition, rather than an out and out sports car, thus avoiding the all to common; ride that knocks the fillings out of your teeth and aggressive engine manners, to this end they have succeeded. To the devotee, the 'BiTurbo' in whatever guise, saw the welcome return of a marque noted for its once proud pedigree and motor racing heritage, perhaps one day Maserati will again produce a 'Superear' bearing the Trident for which they were once famed, I do hope so!

Vincent McBride

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