Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Today we have one reader-suggested car, and one I found to compete against it. Both are Italian, and no, neither one of them is drivable. But before we sink into those money pits, let’s see who won yesterday’s Jeep battle:
And it’s leaf springs and square headlights for the win. This is where I’d go too. I’ve always been curious about an automatic-to-manual swap, and if ever there were an ideal candidate, it’s that blue Wrangler.
Now then: the adjective “exotic” can have different connotations depending on the noun that follows it. “Exotic locale” brings to mind images of white-sand beaches and drinks served in a hollowed-out coconut. “Exotic dancer” is often said with a smirk, and certainly conjures an image, but we’re not here to judge. And “exotic car?” Chances are that when someone says that, the car that comes to your mind was made in Italy. Italian car names just sound exotic: Ferrari. Lamborghini. Maserati. Alfa Romeo. They sound cool, feel cool to say, and immediately make you think of speed, style, and a little bit of magic.
But what if your Italian exotic has four doors, and can easily be mistaken for a Chevy or a Datsun? Is it no longer worth the trouble? Or is it a cheap point of entry to the world of Italian cars? And how cheap is cheap enough for you to take the plunge? Let’s take a look at a couple of Italian sedans and see.
1986 Maserati 425 Biturbo – $3,500
Engine/drivetrain: Twin-turbocharged 2.5 liter overhead cam V6, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: Richmond, VA
Odometer reading: 27,000 miles
Runs/drives? No, but it hasn’t been sitting for long
This car was suggested to me by reader Adam Kinsman, through our tip line, email@example.com. Thanks, Adam! I’d still like to get a more direct reader suggestion box set up, but for now, David said he’s happy to hand-copy the ads and have them delivered to me by a courier, who, ironically, drives a Courier. Anyway, what we’re looking at here is the four-door sedan version of Maserati’s notorious Biturbo line, a car designed to compete with BMW’s 3 series. Renowned for its cushy interior, reviled for its spectacularly bad reliability, the Biturbo is one of those cars you almost never see for sale running. And this boxy green sedan is no exception.
The Biturbo name comes from this car’s most famous attribute: two turbochargers, one on either bank of the 90-degree V6 engine. Turbos were all the rage in the ’80s, as they are again now, but back then the technology hadn’t really caught up to the promise of forced induction. Maserati was the first to put two turbochargers on a production engine, and it was a half-assed implementation. Two turbos under the hood, along with a marginal cooling system and no intercoolers, made for some hot underhood temperatures. Worse, those two turbos rammed all that hot air down the throat of a single Weber carburetor on these early models, resulting in a system that was a nightmare to tune. Fuel injection came along one year after this car was built, and it helped immensely, but the Biturbo’s reputation was already trashed.
This Maserati was running as recently as eight months ago, which is a good sign. The seller is willing to revive it for some extra money, but you know it’s just going to break down again. Better to tow it home yourself and get to know it. This one does appear to be suffering from the other Biturbo characteristic problem, electrical issues, judging by the wires hanging out of the center console, connected to what look like Radio Shack toggle switches. Cosmetically it looks all right anyway, except for a mismatched trunk lid.
These cars are said to be great to drive, when they’re running. The trouble is that they’re complex, fragile, and high-maintenance, and parts aren’t cheap. And for all that trouble, you get a car that may drive like a fine Italian sports sedan, but looks disappointingly like a contemporary Chevy Cavalier.
1977 Alfa Romeo Alfetta – $1,000
Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD
Location: Sacramento, CA
Odometer reading: 65,000 miles
Jeremy Clarkson once said that Alfa Romeo builds cars “to be as good as a car can be, briefly.” I’ve only had the pleasure of driving one, a scruffy 1984 Spider that I was once thinking of buying, but it was indeed magnificent to drive – until it started sputtering and stalling at every red light. Honda Civics they are not. But then, no Civic ever made that Alfa twin-cam sound, or hustled through a corner with that delicate balanced-on-a-knife-edge handling feel. But then again, neither has this particular Alfa. Not for many years.
In the US, the Alfetta came with a 2.0 liter version of Alfa’s iconic twin-cam four, equipped with fuel injection for emissions control reasons. We also got bigger and uglier bumpers than the rest of the world, though this Alfetta appears to be missing its front bumper. The Alfetta is rear-wheel-drive, but it’s not some common live axle, or even semi-trailing arms like the Maserati; it’s a racy DeDion tube axle with a Watts linkage surrounding a rear-mounted transaxle with inboard disc brakes. This setup gave the car near-perfect weight distribution and excellent handling.
Sadly, this poor Alfa appears to have been left to languish in a forlorn parking lot in California. The interior is shot, the paint (a repaint apparently; it looks like the car was originally yellow) looks like hell, and who knows what condition that poor twin-cam engine is in? This car deserves better. It’s Cameron Frye’s car, for god’s sake.
But it is cheap, and Alfa has a good network of enthusiasts and clubs, and Alfetta sedans are so rare that they’d be happy to help you just to see one on the road, I’m sure.
I can hear the complaints about these two even as I write this. But as I’ve said before, the point here isn’t to feature good cars – it’s to feature interesting cars. And if it makes you all feel better, today was going to be Japanese sports cars until I got the tip about the Maserati, so we’ll do that tomorrow. Until then, just pick one. C’mon, it’s fun.
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
The Maseratti has some chance of running at a reasonable cost. That Alfa has no chance.
I owned a ’75 Alfetta and it was one of my favorite cars. However this one is way too far gone. it is not the same car as the 105 spiders or GT’s. Those cars are eminently restorable with excellent parts supply. The Alfetta? Well, the engine is fixable. But it has a rear transaxle, inboard rear disk brakes, oddball rear axles and CVs, torsion bar front suspension, and lots of proprietary rubber tying everything together.
You would spend a lot more money to get that Alfa running than you would ever get out of it just to get out of it.
In the late 90s there was slightly beat BiTurbo 2 door running around Seattle with a Buick Turbo motor in it. It looked rough but I thought the idea was glorious!
ahhh the biturbo. What a fickle mistress. I drove mine the other day, and I even drove it home… after two hours repairing it in the parking lot. I love that car.
It is a piece of shit. Don’t worry about it, I don’t even have a piece of shit. I have to envy yours.
Holy crap, Godfather. You want me to chose between my right thumb or left thumb getting broken. Alfa is cheaper and the tow company will charge the same.
The Alfa, but I would try to bargain it down. She’s a rolling shell, which means it’s time to make dreams happen!
I went Alfa, barely, just because I like the body style more and that’s about all I would keep of it and build out some kind of rally Alfa. Rallfa? Or just completely gut it and turn it into a swing set.
The Alfetta is the clear choice. I’ve driven one, and in the [unlikely] event you get either one of these running well, it’s a driver’s dream. When you think “sports car handling”, the Alfa has it in spades. A true driver’s car.
The 425 just doesn’t do anything for me.
I can’t believe I am saying the Maserati Biturbo is the reasonable choice here, but the Maserati Biturbo is the reasonable choice here. Sure the engine is a hand grenade waiting to go off, but at least if you got it running you could enjoy the rest of the car without a herculean effort to repopulate the interior and address, well, everything.
I surprised that nobody has made an easy weekend engine swap kit for the Biturbo. I see lots of people have put LS and Lexus V8s in them, so you would think a bunch of wires and brackets in a box would be out there.
I would put a Toyota engine in it, just to upset people. Not sure what kind of clock to install in place of the missing Maserati one, though – Seiko or Casio?
I am aware of a Lexus 1UZ-FE V8 engine swapped Biturbo out in the world for the past decade or so.
We have to give Maserati more credit. That Biturbo is a handsome car (no it does not look like a Cavalier, bite me). It also has very innovative first generation engine immobilizer technology. These things never got stolen.
Those loose switches might actually be an upgrade to a second gen immobilizer. Some people are said to have tried that.
Cars generally need to be in good running condition to get stolen. An engine immobilizer almost seems redundant on this Maser.
The Maserati gets my vote due to a vastly nicer interior and it not missing parts the way the Alfa is. Personally I think even $1000 is too much for that Alfa.
And of course a Maserati like that will basically be a project car suitable for people willing to do a lot of their own work and their own homework… starting with this site: