I’ve been in a slight dilemma this week. Having seen two potential cars for our Summer BOTW my heart won over my head and I’ve parted with my own cash again and come home with another car. Good grief, the missus is going to kill me! It all started with the usual male perusing over car magazines in WH Smith killing time while she went off to buy another cook book. I picked up an Italian car mag which I’d never really taken any notice of before and flicked through it in the usual fashion. Just before it went back on the shelf I noticed the classifieds on the last few pages. Amongst the tasty Ferrari’s stood a 1988 Maserati Spyder (the twin-turbo V6).
The first time I clapped eyes on one was at my very first job in the motor trade and although the garage dismissed its Italian reliability, I was instantly hooked. Twenty odd years later and with having only ever seen four on the road since, I read the ad with great interest: 1988 Maserati Spyder Bi-turbo, Blue Tinged Silver metallic paintwork with beige leather and brown Alcantara roof Lining. Walnut dash board, central locking, electric front windows, power steering, air conditioning (that does not work!). £5,995
Originally introduced in 1981 as a two door coupe the Bi Turbo was a four seater sports car that was powered by a glorious twin turbocharged V6 and was Italy’s answer to BMW’s E21 3 Series. It was designed by Pierangelo Andreani an engineer from new owners De Tomaso, who took inspiration from the Italdesign Quattroporte III. In Italy the Bi Turbo was only available with a 2 litre engine to avoid the 38% sales tax on all high capacity engined cars, whilst the export versions benefitted from a 2.5 litre unit.
The coupe proved to be very successful in the early years so the model line up was expanded with the addition of a four door saloon, and later in 1984 Maserati commissioned Zagato to design and build the Spyder version. This was originally available with the 2 litre engine but in 1987 the car was upgraded to the 2.5 litre unit from the coupe. Development continued on almost a yearly basis with increases in engine size and performance until the last cars were produced in 1994.
With the magazine safely tucked under my arm, on the way back to the car I tried to convince the other half that we needed a convertible for the next few months seeing as the weather had been so good recently. As most men do (even though we’ve just forked out for two weeks in Greece) when we get an idea in our heads, that’s it, we steam ahead no matter what the consequences might be.
When we get home I make the excuses and pop into the office to call the selling dealer. Even though he’s keen as mustard, I’m already seeing the car on my driveway and get overly excited in the process. An appointment is made and two days later I’m due to for a test drive.
The next 48 hours felt almost unbearable as 20-odd years later I’m off to buy my teenage dream. Now for some, the Spyder was a complete rust bucket and had the same reliability as a Sinclair C5, but for the rest of us old-school piston heads the Bi-turbo is a proper Maserati made in the days when if you had big hair and a Filofax, your were considered to be a wealthy business man. Today it’s still given a lot of respect, probably out of sympathy as most owners abandoned theirs out of pure frustration at the escalating repair costs and charismatic unreliability. Despite the possibility of becoming single, my mind is still set on this stupid idea and constant persuasion in mind that I can afford to run another car even an 80s Maserati.
Sat in the showroom is one of my all time favourite cars. I’ve got plenty on my dream garage wish list yet I’m sure most would giggle at the fact that I would spend six-grand on a Maserati and not on the equivalent mint BMW 320i convertible parked next to it. The salesman and I chat about days gone by and both come to the conclusion that this is definitely an Italian classic. Within ten minutes I’m chomping at the bit to get in and take it out for a drive. Am I going to be smitten with fantasies of driving an Italian convertible, hood down in the morning fresh air of Great Britain, or smacked in the chops with a rattly, slow monstrosity?
With only 188bhp new (probably 130 horses by now) I’m sat in the plump leather driver’s seat with a waft of overly sprayed air freshener hiding the musty age of the hide and Alcantara covered roof. I’ve got to say that this Masers’ been well looked after even though it’s seen 160,000 miles. The soft top headlining has a few water marks towards the rear, but is taught and not torn. Unfortunately the trademark dashboard clock is missing and having viewed the cars paperwork it appears to have been missing for a number of years. The air conditioning doesn’t work and from what I’m told it was never the most effective system, even when it was new.
Still, the 2.5-litre V6 is singing away quite happily as we make our way out of town. Even after all these years, the twin-turbo ‘six is making all the right noises. Any modern car nut would immediately dismiss the motors’ trade mark clicks and buzzes and probably diagnose it as a bent piston combined with a knackered timing belt. The 5 speed gearbox is a dog-leg design and feels very positive through the gears. The clutch also seems to be in good working order, with no slip when pulling off in a tall gear and the ratios engage without fuss. In all the running gear seems to be in fine order. The engine still pulls even at low speeds (probable down to the turbo’s being replaced five years ago) and although it’s not mega-quick, it feels similar to a Ford Focus TdCi 110. I suppose the fabulous noise adds an imaginary 50 horsepower.
Half way through the drive I’m sold and decide to cut it short to head back to the showroom for a closer inspection. The salesman seems surprised but realising that this month is potentially looking good for deals, agrees and takes me on a detour.
With it on the ramp, I’m gobsmacked with just how rust free this Spyder is. The underside has been treated whilst the usual wheel arch, door and boot shut horrors have also had the same attention. The paperwork confirms this with over £2,500 spent treating all the rust back in 1999. On the flip side, the aged interior needs a good clean (I’ll call Steve at Ultimate Detail to work his magic) and the engine does feel and look tired, but all in all this Spider has worn its time well. Welcome to classic Italian car ownership.
With the paper work signed and deposit paid I’ve just fulfilled a one of many teenage ambitions. Time to call her indoors!
Us men might be single minded and bowl straight in when it comes to buying cars, sometimes we’re spot on. A week later and I’ve just been out in the Maser, roof down and grinning ear to ear. I know that it might break down (OK, it will break down) and it drinks petrol like a thirsty dog, but I’m chuffed to bits. Twelve months MOT and the summer to look forward to I’m not thinking about the time when it needs to go but instead enjoying every minute. Speaking of which, I’m going to cut this short to grab the keys and go for a drive.
See you next week!