The cars we loved.
The Chrysler TC by Maserati was Chrysler’s attempt to infuse its lineup with high-end prestige at a lower price point in the form of a convertible coupe. The intent was to compete with Cadillac’s Pinfinarria designed Allante and more expensive European imports. Unlike the Italian-American Cadillac, the TC was completely assembled in Italy where Chrysler supplied 2.2 liter turbo and Mitsubishi V-6 engines. The general ideal was sound, but poor execution and schedule delays botched the roll out.
Lee Iacocca had established a friendship with the head of Maserati back in his days at Ford. A scrappy underdog near-supercar called the De Tomaso Pantera was the result. Now at the helm of a troubled Chrysler (when is Chrysler not in trouble), he decided to call on his friend again to co-develop a luxury coupe that would combine Chryslers production efficiencies with Maserati’s European flair. Maserati more despite than even Chrysler, need a high volume profit maker and the TC was the ticket.
The intent was to roll out the car in 1988 before the new Lebaron. Fate would have it that the introduction would be delayed by two years so that by 1989 the TC looked derivative. The Lebaron had become a big hit for Chrysler. To many buyers, the TC looked too much like a tarted up version of the cheaper Lebaron (it was $13k cheaper). In truth the TC used very few parts from the Lebaron, save for a shortened version of the Daytona chassis, yet its overall design looked very similar. For this reason, many people wrongly assumed the TC was a derivitive of the Lebaron. Chrysler was hoping the launch dates were reversed to prevent the confusion.
The differences were much more obvious inside where the leather-clad interior looked more Maserati than Chrysler (save for the parts bin Infinity stereo). Lavish and fully equipped as standard, the only real option was a detachable outdated CD player. An unusual option considering the wide adoption of CD players in luxury cars by the late 1980’s. Strangely the convertible top was manually operated, but a hard top with opera windows came standard for all-weather use.
Unknown to most, the TC represented one of if not the most international of all Chrysler products. With the engines, chassis, sheet metal and other parts coming from America, while other components like transmissions, tires and wiring came from places like Germany, France and Spain. Expensive specially designed Italian Fondmetal Formula One wheels and ABS breaking systems from France rounded out the list of international suppliers. It seemed every other part of this car came from some remote factory somewhere in the world. Even the cams were made by Crane in Florida. Logistically, it was a huge effort all coordinated from the Malian factory and Detroit headquarters. Sales projections were aggressive with the bulk of the 4 to 5k sales coming from just 300 select Chrysler dealers. Sales of course fell well off the projections. The car’s performance was sluggish when equipped with the standard 141 hp v6 (from the Lebaron).
To respond to critics, Chrysler introduced two 4 cylinder turbo engines. Both at 2.2 litres, the first was a de-tuned 8 valve version of the 160hp ‘Turbo II’ from the Daytona. It did little to improve performance with the leisurely climb to 60 mph taking 11 seconds. The TC was heavy and it’s ill suited three speed automatic gearing insured that it would be relegated to parade float/ boulevard cruiser duty at best.
Oddly, the most impressive sporting option for the TC was a short-lived feature of the 1989 model. Had it had made it to more widespread production; the performance reputation of the TC would be much different. The 16V 2.2 was in itself the product of an international collaboration. The engine was a Maserati design built by Cosworth in England. The rare turbocharged and intercooled DOHC design had an impressive 200 hp filtered through a 5 speed manual Getrag transmission. This engine would eventually show up in selected Chrysler/Shelby products as the ‘Turbo III’. According to Road and Track, it was able to get to 60 from a standing stop in 6.9 seconds, making the TC one of the three fastest Chryslers at the time. Today cars with this engine/transmission configuration are extremely rare and sought after by collectors. Run of the mill TCs are not all that common either with less than 9,000 cars sold from 1989 to 1991. The TC’s primary domestic competitors, the Buick Reatta and Cadillac’s Allante all sold better, mostly due to improved quality and more distinction from other products.
It was clear after three short years that the TC would not meet its sales goals. Chrysler quietly pulled the plug in 1991. Still stunned by its TC experience,Chrysler would not attempt another global car collaboration until 2004 with the Crossfire, a coupe/convertible built in Germany by Karmann with Mercedes Bens mechanicals.