|THE 228 BITURBO - An Electrical Odyssey
The Biturbo received very bad press in the eighties primarily due to the poor quality of its electrics, amongst other things, but I do not think it deserved a skip being dropped on a perfectly usable example during a recent Top Gear. Sure it had its problems and when I was making enquiries in the early days of my
addiction, the most commonly sited faults were in the electrics: Things not working, relays burning out, fuse boxes causing problems, etc, etc. When I made my third Biturbo purchase; the 228 here in Malaysia, the previous owner was quite open about the fact he had just had enough of trying to keep the car running (just after I had paid the money): A week in the garage to fix an electrical fault, followed by a day on the road, only to be towed back into the garage with an electrical fault. I didn't really mind him telling me this as electrical problems were plainly visible from the relays stacked under the bonnet and gathered together like a bunch of flowers restrained by a cable tie, the large number of twisted connections with non standard wires emerging from a mass of sticky insulation tape, and the blade type fuses bulging under yet more cheap sticky insulation tape. This probably explained why there was only 23,000 miles on the clock of a 15-year-old car.
At the time of purchase I therefore had a good idea that the electrical system was in a poor state and would require a major revamp, including amongst other things replacement of the relays, wiring, connectors and fuse box. What I wasn't prepared for was the extent of the poor design employed by Maserati in the electrical system. It went right the way through and was compounded by years of local electricians trying to put it right without the benefit of circuit diagrams or training, the result a hopeless mess of twisted wires and cheap Chinese insulation tape, that over the years had turned into a sticky mess.
I was very lucky to have the half cut 430 of UK origin. This became a donor for a wiring loom, as the one in the 228 was so badly savaged it would have been difficult to reuse. The 430 also formed a useful benchmark to compare the deterioration of the 228 wiring which had been subject to a tropical climate versus that from the more temperate climate in the UK, (is that the right description for the UK climate?). The results are quite interesting and I will try in this article to describe the things that I found, the possible causes and the remedies that I have carried out with the result that everything is now working correctly, bearing in mind that when I bought the car, put a new battery in and turned the switch, nothing worked, with the exception of the ignition light which glowed dimly.
Realising that the electrics were going to be a nightmare I purchased, at great expense, the so-called Maserati wiring schematics for the 430. When these documents arrived I discovered that they are in fact only wiring layouts, or
connection diagrams, and give no idea as to the functionality of the system or how the relays are configured. After lengthy correspondence regarding the poor quality of these documents I decided to accept that they were as good as it
was going to get and if I was going to be able to solve the electrical problems I needed to prepare a set of schematics which showed functionality as well as wiring details. It was also obvious that the only way I was going to get these was by preparing them myself by a process of point-to-point checking of the actual wiring.
It was very fortunate that I was removing the wiring loom from the vehicle to allow the painters full access both inside and out to do a full colour change, however the wiring itself was as you can imagine, covered in dirt and grime, not the sort of thing you can take into the house for examination. I found a really good electrical cable cleaner from RS components called "Mykal De Solv it" which was liberally applied to all connectors and wires and successfully cleaned everything up such that I received from the management a certificate of clearance for entry of the loom into the house. I was now able to take it into the house and carry on the investigation with the luxury of air conditioning.
Once occupancy of the sewing room had been negotiated I was able to lay the looms out and fit all the switches, lights and other components to be able to carry out point to point wiring checks. The Maserati wiring diagram did at least give me a starting point as all equipment and connectors are numbered so this formed a basis of the analysis. The Maserati generated diagrams didn't turn out to be very accurate with wire numbers duplicated, wires numbered differently at each end, wires starting but not finishing and colour coding incorrect. In addition there are several cases of systems that couldn't possibly work if wired to the Maserati drawing, for example the starter solenoid is shown connected to ground on both sides, just a little problem if you take it too literally.
Fortunately at this time my wife was away in New Zealand for a few weeks so I was able to work on them solidly for a week, creating a set of relay schematics that represented how the system worked and at the same time fitting plastic identification tags to all connectors, equipment connections, and loose wires. The value of the work undertaken at this time was only fully appreciated later when faultfinding was being carried out with the looms refitted to the car.
With the looms from the 228 and the 430 laid out on the floor for comparison I was able to compare the condition of the two wiring systems and it was noticeable that common faults existed on both vehicles, pointing to basic design and manufacturing faults. There was burning around the connector supplying the main feed to the fuse box, burning visible on the connector for the main feed to the air conditioning system, attempts to replace the original fused relays with new relays and remote fuses, corroded earthing tags, corroded fuses in the fuse box holder, to mention a few of the more serious.
Corroded earthing rails and fittings for the side and rear lamps, plus corrosion on connectors compounded these faults. It was hardly surprising that nothing worked. The results of this examination allowed me to plan the rectification work and the following describes how this was carried out.
The first problem was the burning around several of the fuse box connectors. This was indicative of too much current being fed through the wrong type/size of connectors, the solution was to remove load from the fuse box. This was achieved by selecting the high loads and installing additional relays to act as slaves, connected via new fuses. I opted to use the slave relays on the supplies to the heater unit, the windows, and the seat motors. These new relays were installed on a new plate under the dash above the glove box, where there is plenty of space. The energisation of these new relays was controlled by a signal from the disconnected heater feed coming out of the fuse box which is live when the ignition switch is in the run position.
The original Maserati fused relays leave a lot to be desired (understatement) so replacement of these relays was a high priority.
To ensure improved reliability the use of high quality relays was a prime concern so I purchased several relay types from different manufacturers and stripped them down to asses the quality, checking things like contact size and quality, air gap, bonding of contact to terminal, and coil insulation. As a result of this I found that the Tyco relays supplied to BMW were the highest quality, even over the Bosch relays, which surprised me as I have always sworn by Bosch components in the past and all the replacement relays installed both on the 430 ex UK and the 228 were Bosch items. The BMW relays come with a higher price tag but I decided the improved quality and thus reliability was worth paying for. The installation of new relays required the mounting of new relay bases together with ten new fuses. I am totally against Mickey Mouse solutions such as inline products or t/4" Faston connectors pushed directly onto blade type fuses so I
needed a housing for blade type fuses. Again RS Components came to the rescue, they have a very nice five-way blade type fuse holder, so two of these units gave me enough fuses for the new and existing relays.
The fuses holders and relays were mounted to an aluminium chassis bolted along the inner wing in the engine bay and wired into the loom using the original wire colours. The new relay set also includes the engine management relays rather than hanging them off the suspension strut housing. Fitted with a cover for protection, and an engraved label to identify the relays and fuses, the result is a vast improvement on the original Maserati design. Had Maserati done this originally it might have added £10 to a £50,000 car, funny attitude spoiling the ship for ha'pennth of tar, but that applies to all the issues in this article.
The next major concern to be addressed was the earthing. Four multi-way earth connectors are installed to gather together all the individual earth connections. Two are located in the engine bay, one each side of the radiator, low down and in a really damp environment, a better position couldn't have been chosen even if the designer had wanted to generate earthing problems in the later years of the cars life.
There are also two under the dash, out of sight and difficult to access. 90 % of the earthing is through these multi tag connectors using Faston type connectors, not sealed against the ingress of moisture - they are guaranteed corrosion traps. Just to make sure a bad earth would occur in the later years of the cars life I found that star type washers had been installed between the car body and the earth connector at all locations. Obviously installed to save time on assembly by avoiding having to strip paint back before installing the earth tags, in both cars they had rusted to various degrees, and no clean contact surface was evident, even under the dashboard. The star washers were even used on individual connections and in the case of those in the boot the star washers had rusted so badly that they disintegrated when I stripped the connection down. Again the solution was simple in approach, and no great expense, with new circular connectors made out of brass sheet, the earth wires were soldered to the lugs and then sealed with heat shrink sleeving. Before assembly onto the car body, all paint was removed to give a clean metallic surface at the point of contact, which was then coated with a silver loaded conducting grease to prevent moisture getting in and rusting the surface.
The earthing problems also extended to the grounding of the bulbs in the front and rear lights. On initial examination both the UK and the Malaysian cars had bits of card fitted between the bulb holder and the housing,mostly in the rear lamp cluster. This was obviously to try to obtain a decent contact against the earth rail. In the 228 this earth rail was badly cor roded and rusted so no earth contact was possible. The situation in the UK car was slightly better with surface corrosion only, however that in itself would be enough to cause intermittent earth faults. In order to affect a permanent fix, as simply cleaning the rust off would not have been adequate, I decided to gold plate the rails. This exercise might seem a little extravagant but at a cost of about £2 for both rails it has fixed the problem permanently.
The grounding of the lights in the front cluster of the 228 was a similar problem with corrosion compounded by the earth connection to the wire being affected by a riveted aluminium pin to the wiring lug. Aluminium of course is very soft and over the years the riveting had loosened with the result that no electrical contact was possible. The inside of the bulb holder, the same aluminium part, had also corroded so I decided to remove them after first drilling out the riveted pin, have them gold plated (at the extortionate cost of £4) and then reinstall them with a grade 316 stainless steel screw to hold the ring in place and act as the earthing connection. A perfect result in every case. Gold plating - better on electrical connections than on bonnet badges.
The only outstanding problem before I could put all the wiring back and start commissioning was the dirty and corroded connectors. For a solution to this problem I again thank RS Components who supply a contact cleaner protector. This product proved excellent at cleaning the contacts in the connectors and it leaves an oily film to prevent corrosion in the future. Spraying it in and then rubbing with a toothbrush or making the connector a few times worked miracles, so all connectors were treated in this way.
The other issues to be resolved were the removal of the dreaded clip type cable jointers that pierce the insulation and compress the copper conductors. Yuk, I shudder at the thought of trained and skilled people using them, but if they were really trained and skilled they wouldn't use them. All these were removed, the affected wires cut, solder jointed and
covered in heat shrink sleeving, a proper job at last, and a cup full of the Mickey Mouse connectors in the bin.
Other improvements were made on the way including the gold plated battery connectors available from boom box suppliers. They are a substantial connector with screw clamp female receptacles for several cables that avoid the piling up of ring lugs under the clamp bolt, so commonly found on most cars. Again these luxurious gold plated connectors are available at
very modest cost. The crimped earth lug found partway down the standard Maserati earth cable and no doubt a source of many problems, was discarded and the engine earth connected directly onto the new battery clamp. In addition a new dedicated earth cable was made up to connect the battery negative terminal to the car body with an ample coating of silver loaded grease.
When the wiring went back into the car, a not insubstantial job to feed it around the heater and shoehorn it in, commissioning could commence.
Things went very well except that the windows went up when they should have gone down?????? The wiring was exactly in
accordance with the Maserati wiring scheme with polarized connectors. What can I say?
But after a few small cuts everything is working, mirrors doors, windows and lights, and I can now get on with the engine and drivetrain.
I think it is worthwhile noting for the benefit of new Maserati owners, and in defence of Maserati, that the Maserati owner's manual for the 430/228 states that every two years the connectors in the car should be cleaned and sprayed with a suitable moisture repellant. Does anybody ever do that? Well maybe new owners should take note of what happens if it isn't done, it would certainly have helped prevent 80% of the problems I have outlined in this article.
Footnote. Six months after installing the wiring loom the car was back together and after 4 years of inoperation the engine started at the first flick of the switch, well almost, after I had managed to set the timing correctly! Now it
starts first time every time, proof that these cars can be made reliable.
Text and all photos courtesy of Keith Brown.