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3,500 Original Miles: 1986 Maserati Biturbo Spyder

Maserati Biturbo Spyder

When I opened a submission from Jim C about a late ’80s Maserati Spyder, I was prepared to see the product of what is in my opinion one of the worst decisions the Italian brand has ever made. I was even prepared to smash the back button if I found the nightmare that is the Maserati branded Chrysler Lebaron. Had Jim not made the promise that I would find something rare and unusual I would have skipped over this one entirely and saved myself from the fear of having to see such an abomination. Thankfully I didn’t skip it and while I had my mouse hovering over the back button I didn’t have to click it, since what I found was this 1986 Maserati Biturbo Spyder. With only about 3k built over a ten year period and just 275 of this specific model, this is a rather uncommon car to find here in the States and this one looks to be in surprisingly nice condition. Have a look at it here on craigslist in Minneapolis, Minnesota with a $2k asking price. Special thanks to Jim C for the tip!

Maserati Biturbo Interior

We tend to avoid featuring cars this new, especially ones from Italy, but the Biturbo has always been of interest to me. They are notoriously problematic and the boxy design won’t win many beauty contests, yet there is something about them that intrigues me. Maybe it’s simply the fact that they are exotic or perhaps it goes much deeper than that. The first true barn find I remember ever coming across was a four door Biturbo. I couldn’t have been much over 10 years old, but I still remember that Biturbo. It was under the care of someone who knew nothing about Italian cars or how to keep these machines running, but he was proud of what he had hiding in his barn. That may have been the experience that sent me down this road, I don’t know, but the experience has stuck with me and ever since I’ve had an appreciation for these cars.

Maserati Biturbo Motor

As I stated earlier, the Biturbo was known to be a rather difficult car to keep running. For an Italian engine, this small V6 is actually quite durable, but the inclusion of two turbos means it can be difficult to tune and that it will require considerable maintenance. Later fuel injected cars are known to be more difficult to repair, but are much more reliable. The carbureted motors tend to be more enjoyable to drive and are easier to maintain. The seller claims that this one starts and runs, but they state that one of the turbo wastegate valves is bad and the exhaust is blowing blue smoke. And this brings me to the reason so few of these cars are still on the road, repairs can be expensive and difficult to perform. While the twin turbo system is a brilliant piece of technology, it adds an extra layer of complexity. Not only do you have two turbos to wear out, access into the motor is limited due to the hoses and extra plumbing. If you know how to work on one of these engines than getting this one running great again could be a simple task, but a major undertaking for the rest of us.

Maserati Spyder Zagato

While the engine might have a few issues that will deter most buyers, there is one thing this rare spyder has going for it. It is likely the most solid one I have ever seen. Like most Italian cars, the Biturbo is known to have major corrosion problems. The seller claims there is no rust, of course I would want to inspect the underside for myself, but from what can be see it does look rust free. If the mileage really is less than 4k miles than I could see the claim being realistic, but I would want to see some proof that the mileage isn’t closer to 104k. These were actually very comfortable cars with decent performance. They weren’t meant to be a sports car, but a capable GT car and they do a great job at that if you can keep them running at peak performance. This one could make for a great starting point if the engine problems aren’t too serious. Of course it will need an owner who is capable of keeping up on the maintenance and is alright with people mistaking it for the Maserati TC (aka the Chrysler Lebaron).


  1. Mark E

    You’ve hit on the two reasons I’d pass on this one: the legendary problems and expenses of a Biturbo and it’s similarity to the Chrysler TC (aka LeBaron) which was done with Maserati. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_TC_by_Maserati

    If I wanted a nice convertible with a sexy Italian body it wouldn’t be much more to get a Cadillac Allante and the maintenance costs and reliability would be orders of magnitude better!

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    • Mark E

      PS: Just looked at the ad and since it’s located in the southern metro area it would not be too far for me to take a look at if anyone was seriously interested and needed more info.

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    • Kelli

      Just got an 87, garage kept with 24k miles. Mint interior, mint top both original.

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  2. rancho bella

    are the parts worth 2K………….? I’d be surprised. I just wonder, when a manufacturer thinks to themselves…………..”this could be a winner”…………..then comes all the R&D and BAM !!!!!!
    Target jokes of the automotive community that continue to this day. I can’t recall the last time I saw one on the road……..and I’m in SoCal where they once roamed…………..

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  3. Dave Wright

    One of the worst cars ever produced…….right up there with the same period Lancias and a Yugo one thing can be said for it, with the cars that rusted away and were crushed for scrap….it will be rare. At least the Chrysler T/C ran well and was inexpensive to repair. While it was not a sports car it was a pretty face that could be kept on the road.

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  4. Rick

    Those were scrap then and they’re scrap now.

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  5. Tom999p

    Huh?? These look NOTHING like the Maserati TC, the only thing similar is the color… By the way, there’s no such thing as a biturbo with 100k miles, next to impossible… Also, this car has too much wear to only have 3500 original miles; I had one with 25k miles and the interior looked less worn than this…

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  6. Mudpie

    Was that year a Chrysler/Maserati design? My neighbor has the hardtop version. POS.

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  7. Dave Wright

    The Chrysler T/C was a spiffed up K car. Upgraded interior, removeable hardtop, Italian leather interior. K cars were great. We used them as company cars for many years. Cheep to maintain, easy to fix, the later fuel injected ones with the U.S. made engines were the best. The Mitsibishi engine was really bad. The PT cruiser is also a K car platform. The American engines were designed by the VW/ Porsche design group. It was a non interference engine, if you blew a timing belt, we could install a new one and back on the road in under 2 hrs. This car is very different. Everything about it was poorly designed and manufactured.

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    • Mike G

      Completely untrue,….as usual. There are many interference engines, has nothing to do with being poorly designed.

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  8. Dave at OldSchool

    ……….I have an 87 (injected) …

    Ad says ” it runs” …LOL… just starting this car is like playing Russian Roulette…seller hasn’t changed the timing belt recently….. most of these motors self destruct without regular timing belt change…

    Rings are probably stuck..adjusting the valves will not eliminate the blue ( oil) smoke..

    Pass… it’s a money pit that is totally unreliable………
    AND…where’s the gold clock ?? that’s the only thing that is worth anything !

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  9. Peter J

    Just for clarification, the Maserati TC doesn’t share one external body panel with the Chrysler Lebaron that I know of. The body was made in Italy including the inner structure.

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  10. MIke G

    I have an ’89 Spyder and they are a very fun car that like most period Italian cars have various issues that need to be attended to. I’m so tired of people with nothing more than heresay experience commenting on what “horrible cars” they are. The ’84 had some head gasket issues, and up until ’87 they were a sealed carb, which can be a challenge when they have a vacuum leak. But from ’89 on, they are very fun cars to own that got sleeker as the years went by. i have mine running about 275 hp at the wheels and get comments on it all of the time.

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  11. Dan h

    That (what looks to be a Nardi) steering wheel is the only item of value.

    Wrenching on that motor would make me go insane and now I’m going to have nightmare’s about it….sigh.

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  12. Slim Chance

    These were one of the worst automotive jokes played on the buying public second only to the Yugo. They were junk when new on the showroom floor.

    This one is in a barn for a reason as it wouldn’t even make a good manure hauler.

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  13. Brad Member

    I’m with Mike G. Awesome cars! One of the highest output per Liter for many years. Suspension akin to BMW, Engine way ahead of its time… fix the electronics to digital from analog and you’re good to go! Plus no one makes a seat like Zagato does.

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  14. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    2k too much.

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  15. Robert J.

    In case anyone is thinking; Well, I could drop a GM V6 in it and have a great car, forgetaboutit! The digital electrics under the dash on this car are profoundly, astoundingly, prohibitively complex. Only electrical engineers need apply. Great price though!

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    • Robert J.

      You could, theoretically, rip out the gauges and install a lovely modern set of digital/analog gauges in it.
      In this Maserati you would have to fabricate an entire dashboard to do that. I doubt that it will happen but if it did there would be some joy in giving everyone the three fingered (Maserati) salute as you zip on by.

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  16. boxdin

    I think its a fine project as long as you know its gonna be trouble. Mentioned already a GM V6 nice 4.3 or so would make it fly. Rare it is !!

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  17. Catfishphil

    Since it doesn’t run well, this car might be more fun to just keep in the climate controlled garage with the top down. Just sit in it and enjoy the luxurious interior (was the rich Corinthian leather something it had in common with the Lebaron?). Perhaps that’s why the interior looks rough. Lounging in the Maserati to watch movies in the garage (and doing whatever else comes to mind) might be more fun than driving it with the problematic turbo setup. Check for popcorn and er, empty wrappers under the seats.

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  18. Jimbosidecar

    I raced a Bi-Turbo in the Firehawk Endurance Series (races from 6-24 hour lengths) When I was first approached, I questioned if it would even run for 6 hours. It did> But it had maybe the worst handling attributes I had ever experienced in either race or street cars. Lots of under steer entering a corner and terible over steer exiting the same corner. Scary, white-knuckle ride for sure.

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  19. Seguin

    My 430 also ran poorly. The main issues these suffer from are poor valve adjustment jobs (they were one of the first three-valve production engines) and bad tensioner bearings…they can skip teeth and bang up their valves.

    Beautifully built vehicles, though, and absolutely nothing in common with the TC.

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  20. Tim S

    Did the 80’s produce any more than a handful of cars that will ever be considered “great cars” ? with the exception of a 911 or E30 M3, the 80’s were an abomination of mustangs, miatas, Fieros, 300zxs and things like this Maserati.

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    • Dave Wright

      You are right, but I think the trend started in the early 70’s with the onerous EPA and DOT regulations. It took 20 years for the technology to catch up and make great cars again.

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  21. Alan (Michigan)

    I have two experiences with the Biturbos, both owned by members of the SCCA region I have been a part of for 30 years. The first was owned by a doctor, who had it tuned and the suspension modified to compete in autocross. I rode in it with the club member/mechanic who had installed a set of coilovers…. It was amazing. The car won a divisional championship against much smaller/lighter competition (CRX, etc.)
    The second was bought as a daily driver and weekend track car. Tracked a couple of times, and fun, I was told. But as a DD it failed miserably, and seemed to just “not run” whenever it was in the mood to be stubborn.

    This car could be cool to drive occasionally, IF: The owner was willing to spend as many hours working on it as driving it. Because of the age of the cam belt system, that should be replaced immediately prior to anything other than driving it onto a trailer. The smoke is possibly due to a blown turbo bearing seal, so that would mean at least one turbo rebuild.

    The odo has too many digits to have been flipped over, would have to go a million miles…. Nope! A personal inspection would reveal whether the interior issues are due to wear, or just age/drying out.

    For the initial investment, plus some money and time-consuming maintenance, this could be a fun nice weather cruiser. Different, rare, and pretty cool for under $5K total. I really don’t understand all of the negativity here. The seller is not asking $20K!

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  22. Jason

    The mileage obviously isn’t only 3K.: “I have seen the speedometer dropout due to a loose electrical connection on the tranny”

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  23. John M

    If you have a really big boat, you might want to consider this. It would make a fine mooring anchor.

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  24. ConservativesDefeated

    Brutal but accurate comments! Even the seller who seems to have the mechanic chops to work on it hasn’t driven it………….which speaks volumes.

    On the other hand, at this price you could take it on the Baja 500……for a few yards.

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  25. AW240Z

    Another former BiTurbo owner chiming in. My car stories around this vehicle could keep a room full of people in stitches for hours. What it did to the person who took it off my hands is another couples of hours of laughable misery. Suffice it to say the last and final owner after me (the car was mercifully put out of it’s misery) suffered the final indignity when after a year and half he finally got it running. With the help of a Maserati mechanic it actually ran one day. Upon asking the mechanic (who also owned one) how reliable it would be now that it was sorted, the mechanic replied “if I can get a tank of gas thru mine without a breakdown, that’s a good week”. Please reference the following video for the ultimate statement on what to do with a BiTurbo. AW

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  26. Pete

    I own a Maserati Biturbo and believe it to be one of the best value classic cars for the money.
    The issue you have is that it has carbies and it has 4 lugs on the wheels which tells me, keep away. Any of the biturbo models with 5 lugs tell me it has a Fuel Injection system by weber and is post 87 which had the rust issues resolved. The give me is making sure when you pop the hood that you take a look at the corners on each side of the air filter that water sits. It generally rust straight under the dash and its a big job to remedy. Parts are easily available from AutoItalia.com.

    The Spyders are designed by Zagato and are collectable with one of the best interiors in the day.

    Why people hate Biturbos is just crazy as they are the model that saved Maserati from the graveyard. I remember when Boras, Dinos, and old Lambos were considered the same.

    What other car can you buy that will go up value like a Maserati Biturbo for the money?

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    • Mike G

      For sure people love to make comments based on nothing more than rumour and urban legend type BS! If Ferraris and Lambos of the same era had been as cheaply priced, purchased by people with little money or knowledge, they too would have gotten the same tag. The Biturbo was not a Honda Civic, they have maintanace requirements, require a fair amount of money and someone who isn’t afraid to track down the occasional niggling electrical idiosyncrasies! Otherwise, they are a kick butt value and a unique car in a sea of today’s amorphous blobs.

      Like 0
      • BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

        Mike G, here’s what I remember- back in the mid-seventies exotics were priced accordingly. They had no main-stream appeal. Now everybody wants to retire on a sale. Still the same thing- expensive to own & operate. I’m sure not gonna drop 2k on a car that has had severe known issues. Maybe you’re a lucky owner, probably plenty more out there the same but not me. Good friend was in on that bad quality run by Maserati as mechanic, as fastidious a mechanic you could find. Told me never go near it. Maybe 40 years from now it may have wide appeal, not now & still potentially expensive to maintain & own. I am referring to driving it daily. Why else would one want it ?

        Like 0
  27. Dave Wright

    I think you will find that many if not most of the comments here are based on experiance from people that have either owned or worked on these cars. It is natural for a current owner to attempt to defend the car and in turn there investment. It is like the guys that bought Opel GT’s wishing they were Corvettes……….it will never happen. The Maserati brand has had many owners and incarnations since the Maserati brothers sold the brand and started Osca. The latest owner…..Fiat…..has been making good interesting exotic cars with the badge for several years one but the Biturbos and SM’s were low points in the marks history.

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  28. Mike G

    I don’t know how you can assume anything regarding the experience of commenter’s in this forum. I’m not defending my ownership or the model itself, it is what it is. Knowing many who do own these cars, I can say that while especially the early versions had issues, they are nowhere near as problematic as generally claimed. As I said before if the Ferrari 308, 328, and 512 BBs were as cheaply available on the used market as the Biturbo’s there would be a heck of a lot of them in junkyards and sitting under tarps and with horrible reputations. The fact is these are 80s Italian cars and they have the same problems as the aformentioned do, except the people got into them usually didn’t have the maintenance funds to maintain them properly.

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  29. Dave @ OldSchool Restorations

    @ MikeG………. Your ’89 is nothing like the ’86 shown here.. This one is probably the slowest of the BiTurbo Series with low US horsepower and an automatic.

    Regardless, it’s ok at the price, it is just that it IS a money pit

    How did you get your “275 rear-wheel horsepower” … .. that’s more than 50+ the Factory claim

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    • Mike G

      Yes, they can be a loaded gun in the hands of the wrong person.

      I have Vette coil on spark coils run by Haltech mngmt, with larger turbos.

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  30. alan

    One of the few Zagatos not worth owning.

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  31. alan

    An unfortunate shortcoming of the 3 valve per cylinder configuration is that the two intake valves are driven buy a bucket lifter with a shim on top. When adjusting the intakes you use exchange the shim on the top of the bucket which, in theory, simultaneously depresses one valve on each side of the bottom of the bucket. The likelihood that both valves maintain equal wear characteristics over the life of the car is low and the ability to correctly compensate for this wear through shim adjustment is not possible. Thus the bucket may actually be cocked slightly in its bore when on the base circle of the cam and may result in uneven bore wear.

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  32. Marek

    One day, shortly after starting a new job, I drove my Alfa Milano to this company for the first time. Shortly after I get there a coworker comes up to me; telling me how much he loves the Milano and how his greatest car regret was passing up an opportunity to buy one new. He went on to tell me about how he had whittled his choices down to a Milano Verde or a Biturbo. And how he was seduced by the power and name of the Maserati. So he bought it. For the next year he wrestled with a love-hate relationship with the car finally giving up and, having soured on Italian cars, bought something boring. Only years later did he realize the Biturbo did not describe all Italian cars.

    During the time I worked with the guy he drove an Imprezza STi. But he always wanted me to drive the Alfa when we went for lunch.

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  33. MIke G

    Having had several Alfa’s including a Milano, I can tell you that they had their share of Italian problems, including, (on the Milano) Driveline vibration, ABS failure, belt tensioner failure. Overall, a great car itself, quick and unique, but not too much different as far as maintainanace, from the later model Maserati Biturbo series.

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  34. Chris

    Turbo’d 3800 V6 & 4 speed auto. Rewire with aftermarket gauges. Sell the discarded bits to help cover the cost.

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  35. Gary

    Had a 1984 Bi-Turbo. Bought it new and put 30,000+ miles on it. It was expensive to maintain. As I recall oil filters were $ 30, a lot of money at the time. Beautiful interior, great wood steering wheel, and a respectable amount of get up and go. Sold it as I recall because the twin turbos required expensive servicing at 35,000 miles. I’ve heard a lot of stories about what a terrible car it was, but maybe we were just lucky, we never had a single problem.
    My wife was even featured on a tv show that had a segment on “Women Who Drive Exotic Cars” that aired numerous times over several years.

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  36. GregS

    I met a person a few years back at the Concouroso Italiano at Pebble Beach. He had driven the car from San Diego. We had quite a talk and he told me as long as you understood the mechanics it was a very reliable car and never let him down. He offered to help me if I ever bought one. Did not buy one.

    Like 0
  37. Danton J A Cardoso

    3500 klicks and the wastegates are bad?? Uh, when they went, why didn’t the owner hit up the dealer with a warranty claim?

    Oh, that driver’s seat looks like it has way more thsn 3500 klicks of ingress and egress.

    Like 0

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