Opinion

For A Reliable 1980s Maserati, Just Add Electrons

Illustration for article titled For A Reliable 1980s Maserati, Just Add Electrons

Photo: Victoria Scott

Maseratis and electricity go hand in hand in the same way that oil and water do. They’re frequently said in the same breath as one another, but not fondly. Odd, then, that this week’s reader feature – one that for a change, I got to actually test-drive – is a Maserati made more reliable by adding quite a bit of high voltage to the mix.

Welcome to EV Ownership Stories! Every week, we’ll be posting an interview with an owner of an electric vehicle. We’re here to show that people have been living with EVs for longer than you’d think, in stranger places than you’d imagine. If you’d like to be featured, instructions are at the bottom of the article.

This is Matt’s 1985 Maserati Biturbo. Ordinarily, it would sport an eighteen valve, 2.5 liter V6 twin-turbocharged engine – the first ever twin-turbo in a production car – fed air and gasoline through a single Weber carburetor. The power plant was backed up with a dogleg-first five speed. Stock was around 185 horsepower with just a tad over 200 foot-pounds of torque on tap, although to make those numbers, it would have to run. This was generally a problem for the extremely finicky single carb’d twin turbo system, and with Italian wiring tying the entire car together, keeping a Biturbo in running condition is a Herculean task.

Illustration for article titled For A Reliable 1980s Maserati, Just Add Electrons

Photo: Victoria Scott

Unless, of course, you plop in a few Smart car batteries and an AC motor. Matt purchased the car as a running project. He works at an EV conversion shop and is very electrically and mechanically minded, but his ownership started after it was a completed car. The Biturbo was previously featured on Wheeler Dealers as a finished swap in need of some TLC (he bought it after it appeared on the show), and Matt estimates the original conversion was done in the neighborhood of 20 years ago and originally featured a lead-acid battery system.

In its current state, the car features an HPEVS Dual AC34 controlled by a pair of Curtis 650As. The HPEVS Dual series basically takes a pair of their single motors and pairs them to a common output shaft. In this case, the twin AC34s produce 130 HP and 230 foot-pounds of torque, all routed through the stock transmission and drivetrain of the car via a custom-machined transmission adapter plate. As a result, I think this is the only dogleg-first full electric car on Earth.

Illustration for article titled For A Reliable 1980s Maserati, Just Add Electrons

Photo: Victoria Scott

The AC motor is powered by Smart car lithium ion battery modules wired in a way that Matt does not endorse. There are twelve total modules: two sets (in series) of six modules wired in parallel (2S6P) are rated for 36kWh total. The good part of this setup: It gives the car over 100 miles of range. The downside of this configuration: It is very easy to accidentally overcharge a single module, as the parallel setup only allows for a single average voltage to be seen for a whole set without an extremely complicated (and expensive) charging system that monitors each individual module’s voltage. As a result, every so often, he checks the individual modules to ensure none of them are too far out of sync with the pack average, to ensure overcharging (and a potential fire) is not a risk.

However, battery maintenance aside, he still daily drives the Maserati, something he probably couldn’t accomplish if it still featured the original gasoline-fueled power plant. And for the first time in a reader EV feature, I met up with him and he tossed me the keys so I could get a feel for the torque-happy, tail-heavy Italian coupe myself.

Illustration for article titled For A Reliable 1980s Maserati, Just Add Electrons

Photo: Victoria Scott

This is the first manual-transmission equipped EV I’ve ever driven, and starting from a dead stop with no clutch is truly surreal. With no concerns of stalling the motor out, it starts from a dead stop like an automatic, and for most city driving, it’s sufficient to pop it into third gear and drive around without so much as touching the shift knob or third pedal. The swap was set up to allow regenerative braking to be engaged, and each gear offers stronger or weaker regeneration (and more motor resistance), which gives it a remarkably similar feeling to downshifting and engine braking in an internal combustion car. In first gear, the brakes are virtually unnecessary; the car comes to a dead stop with surprising force.

Keep it in first and mash the go pedal, though, and it blasts through tires with an even more shocking amount of gusto. Matt referred to first as the burnout gear, and he wasn’t kidding. It’s relegated to donut duty with the brutal, from-0-RPM torque of the dual AC34s, and it is a riot. The relatively mediocre turning radius for such a short car becomes a non-issue for quick u-turns if you’re brave enough – a quick stomp, and you’ll be pointed 180 degrees from where you started.

Illustration for article titled For A Reliable 1980s Maserati, Just Add Electrons

Photo: Victoria Scott

Flat-out with the windows down and the stereo blasting, the Biturbo is as much fun as any grand tourer from the ‘80s I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving. The motor makes a quiet electromechanical whine; the screeching tires and linkage clicks of the transmission fill out the rest of the aural palette for a surprisingly visceral driving experience. The weight from the battery packs in the rear definitely makes it a bit tail-happier than what I would expect from an FR coupe, but the throttle is plenty easy to modulate and it can carve pretty competently.

In the tradition of the best grand tourers, once you’re done having fun and ruining sets of rear tires, you can shift into fifth, roll up the windows, and enjoy a quiet ride down the highway. Matt usually gets about 100 miles of range even romping on the Maserati, which is enough to get him to and from most of the good driving roads in and around San Diego.

Illustration for article titled For A Reliable 1980s Maserati, Just Add Electrons

Photo: Victoria Scott

EV conversions are always my favorite stories to cover. They give me the forward-looking futuristic satisfaction of covering new and evolving technology while still satisfying my primal Car Brain of driving around impractical old classics. Getting to drive one – especially such an eccentric choice of car with so much torque on tap – was everything I hoped it would be. The only downside is now I want one. I’m sadly in no position at the moment – my van travels come first – but if you want this one, it is for sale. In the meantime, I’m just thrilled I got to experience such a unique and fun build – thanks, Matt!

We’d love to hear from more readers about their EVs, modern or classic, factory or otherwise.


We want:

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What car do you own? (If you owned a car in the past, let us know what years!)

Where do you live with it?

How and where do you charge it?

How was buying it?

How long have you had it?

How has it lived up to your expectations?

A photo of your car

If you want to be interviewed, please let us know an email with an re: EV Ownership Stories to tscott at jalopnik dot com!


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