Popperazzi

You think twin-turbos are a new idea? Maserati were doing it well over 30 years ago, leading to this intriguing Italian-inspired Anglia
Words: Dave Smith, photography: Andy ‘Fly’ Tipping

Ford’s Popular, the ultimate Brit-rod, and surely a car whose surviving numbers must include more hot rods than stockers. And yet, considering the sheer numbers of Pop rods turned out over the years, everyone still seems to be able to find something a little bit new, a little bit different to do, just to surprise the rest of us and keep us on our toes.
This one, for instance… with stock width arches, and propulsion from a powerplant bordering on the exotic. When these shots were taken, the owner was Ben – just ‘Ben’ – from Lincolnshire, and he reckons that this was one of a small batch of Pops built with Maserati power by one builder some time ago. When Ben got his hands on it five years ago, though, all was not well…
The seller told him it had broken a halfshaft, but still drove, which is an odd statement to begin with. Upon closer inspection, it seems the Chevy 10-bolt axle had been narrowed … erm, amateurishly, and the casing was bent like a banana. The ends of the axle tubes had been cut off, the halfshafts cut and re-welded, then put back in with the bearings just chucked up the tube – two on one side, and one on the other! The bearing seats had been hacked out, and the brackets for the brake calipers tacked to the outside of the tube.


Things weren’t much better up front, where the Cortina hubs had been redrilled to Jag/Chevy pattern, but the holes had been drilled oversize and the studs welded in from behind on the wonk! “The first time I drove it, it was just dangerous. It steered itself, and it turned out to have 7psi in the rear tyres and the front tyres were 25 years old. I knew it would kill me if I didn’t fix it, ” says Ben. So the first thing the Pop enjoyed was a six-month rebuild.
The back axle came off and was sent straight to Geof Hauser for some major remedial work including Strange shafts and a TruTrac LSD. As soon as he saw how shonky the axle was, he decided to go through the rest of the car in case it was similarly shoddy. Those front hubs were spotted and quickly replaced, the old ones being removed and bunged into the far corner of the workshop, where they reside to this day. The steering rack was relocated lower to cure the outrageous bump-steer, and the fuel tank was altered so it didn’t vent fumes into the cabin.

“It was as cool as f**k, and had street cred like no other car,” says Ben. “It was pleasant enough to drive, but quite harsh. And it only had a 10” steering wheel because of the column drop – any bigger and it would hit my knees! With those skinny front tyres and fat rears, you really had to know what you were doing to drive it, and it would regularly drift around roundabouts, which isn’t bad going for such a short wheelbase car. It was my daily driver for a while, all through winter, which was interesting with no heater, especially when the wipers packed up – you’d see me driving along with a rag out of the window wiping the screen. The number of passengers I scared witless in that car is unreal. Oh, and it did burnouts quite well!
Late last year, Ben sold the car. “I have lots of good memories of that car,” says Ben, “but we’d just had a kid and I thought he’d prefer me not to be dead, so it was time to let it go.” The Pop went down to East Sussex somewhere, and then changed hands again, so if you know where the car is now, do let us know!

Due Lumache

After the Seventies, when turbocharging was still being pioneered on production cars by the likes of Saab, BMW and Porsche, the Eighties was the decade of the turbo. Suddenly they were everywhere. Even razors and aftershave were suddenly called ‘turbo’. Maserati, though, were at least 20 years ahead of their time by being the first to use two…
Maserati had been struggling along for years with their low-volume sports GT cars, always on the ragged edge of bankruptcy, and being passed between owners like a hooky minicab licence. When the Eighties rolled around, previous owners Citroen had gone bump and Maserati was being run by Alejandro de Tomaso. They decided to go for the aspirational mid-market with a new front-engine, rear-drive coupe called the Biturbo – two turbos; the clue’s in the title.
The engine was an all-new alloy OHC, three-valve, 90-degree V6 design, starting out as a two litre (to avoid punitive taxes on larger engines in Italy) but adding 2.5 and 2.8 versions in 1984 as export markets began to open. Power went up, too, from the original 2.0’s 180bhp to 255bhp for the 2.8, and in the mid-Eighties, Marelli fuel injection took over from Weber carburetion. All used one IHI turbocharger per bank.
Overall, for a company used to selling a couple of hundred cars a year, the Biturbo was a success – it sold somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 units over its 10-year lifespan. Along the way, the range added a four-door saloon and a Zagato-built convertible. History, however, has not been kind to the Biturbo. The styling was atypically Italian in its blandness, and the running gear was typically Italian in its unreliability – the worst of both worlds – and it regularly appears in comical books about ‘Crap Cars’. Jeremy Clarkson showed his love for the Biturbo on Top Gear by dropping a loaded skip on one, calling it “an affront to one of the best badges in the business.” Still largely unloved, survivors change hands for well under the £10,000 mark, usually between fans who wish they could afford a ‘proper’ Maserati, but can’t. Maserati itself has enjoyed something of a renaissance as part of the whole Fiat-Chrysler-Alfa Romeo-Jeep cacophony, and their current range of luxury grand tourers even includes… turbo-diesels.

Spec

  • 1953 Ford Popular
  • Stock body, tubbed
  • Custom chassis
  • 2.5-litre Maserati Biturbo V6
  • ZF five-speed dog-leg manual ‘box
  • Chevrolet 10-bolt rear axle
  • Ford Cortina-based IFS
  • All-round disc brakes
  • Centerline wheels, 12×15 rear, 4.5×15 front
  • BF Goodrich T/A rear tyres, Nankang front

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