1980s / 1990s / American / Chrysler / Great automotive failures / Italian / Maserati

Great Automotive Failures: The Chrysler TC by Maserati

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Mention the name “K-car” to anyone familiar with automobiles and it will likely conjure thoughts of maroon colored 1980’s Chrysler sedans with hopelessly tacky velour interiors and engines with more tappet noise and oil smoke than a German submarine. But there was more to Chrysler’s “K” platform than that. Lest we forget, allow me to re-present one of the auto industry’s more horrid creations of the late 1980s: The Chrysler-Maserati TC – or as it was officially called, the Chrysler TC by Maserati.

Alejandro DeTomaso, (of DeTomaso Pantera, Mangusta, etc. fame) had acquired the Maserati brand in 1975 during a time when the small-scale Italian manufacturer was having some serious financial troubles. DeTomaso of course had some ties with the American auto industry through the likes of the Pantera which used a Ford “Cleveland” V8. This is how he met the man who would later become the president of Chrysler, Lee Iacocca. My research leaves me unable to determine who actually spearheaded the idea of Chrysler and Maserati producing an automobile together, and really, either party could be equally as responsible. Nevertheless, in 1984, Iacocca and DeTomaso joined forces to develop a sports car based on the Chrysler K-platform.

The car would become known as the TC (for “Touring Convertible” presumably… it even came with with a removable hard top complete with gaudy port-hole windows). The TC utilized Chrysler’s platform, K-engine architecture, and even hopelessly uninspired LeBaron-esque styling. Underneath the car utilized parts from the Dodge division’s Daytona rather heavily in the suspension area. The TC was actually assembled in Italy but still managed to deliver endless amounts of Detroit’s patented bastardized badge engineering.

The “Chryslerati” was first shown to the public in 1986 and finally in 1989 the first models (proudly sporting the Maserati trident inside of a Chrysler pentagon) were put up for sale for a rather princely $33,000+ price tag.

Inside the TC sported plenty of over-stuffed leather and Mopar bits and pieces. The interior design was hardly what would be called ‘rich’ despite all the cows that died for it. Though to be totally fair, it did fit in with the overall concept of the car that had more or less turned out to be about as classy as a middle-aged man in a tan leisure suit sporting a fake Rolex.

The first engine offered in the TC was a K-based 2.2 liter, turbocharged, inline four cylinder. The pedigree of this engine can be traced to such illustrious Mopar models as the Plymouth Reliant K and Dodge Aries K. There are many differences however. Enter, the Maserati connection. Maserati engineered much of the modifications to the 2.2 K unit which would find itself in to the early TCs. England’s famed Cosworth produced its special 16-valve heads which where then shipped to Italy for Maserati to finish off and mate together with the rest of the American built components, save for the Japanese IHI turbocharger. These “Maserati” engined models also featured the only manual transmission of the TC’s history – a 5-speed Getrag from Germany. Unfortunately, most of the cars were automatics that were mated to typical 175hp Chrysler 2.2 turbocharged K-engines that were also found in Dodge Lancers and Daytonas.

For the last two model years of the TC, Chrysler decided to do away with all hints of any kind of Maserati heritage and use a Mitsubishi sourced 3.0 liter V6 lump that would also live on in various Chrysler products for years to come.

In 1991 the plug was thankfully pulled on the TC. Less than 7,500 of these Italian-made Detroit disasters were made and Iacocca and his boys decided to focus their meddling in the Italian auto industry on Lamborghini for the next few years. But that, of course, is another story.
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7 thoughts on “Great Automotive Failures: The Chrysler TC by Maserati

  1. >This article is very inaccurate with regards to the drivetrain availability.The 89' models ONLY came with the intercooled 2.2 (TII)/auto combination(3700+ production)In 90' and 91' they came with EITHER the Cosworth/Maserati cly head on a 2.2/5spd (500 total), OR the Mitsubishi 3.0/auto.

  2. >I'd say rather than "very inaccurate" it's more like a minor oversight. Duly noted, however, I don't think it does much to change the overall point or tone of the article. A blatant inaccuracy would be to say that the car was well made, extremely successful, or largely significant to the history of the automotive industry…

    • The fact that the car was not commercially successful had nothing to do with the car itself, but rather, a miscalculated marketing campaign. However, with that being said, it is my opinion that the TC is VERY significant to Chrysler; in fact, I sincerely feel that it is THIS car that turned Chrysler around! Chrysler-Dodge had been having problems for years (late 1979’s through the mid 1980’s); many of their vehicles were prone to break downs, they wouldn’t start, some even caught on fire due to faulty electrical systems! Then enter the TC. After the Chrysler-Maserati connection, things started picking up for Mopar. First the TC in 1989, then the Viper in 1992, and the rest is history! Here’s a side note: I own a TC and it’s the best car I’ve ever owned… bar none… and I’ve owned MANY exotics.

  3. >MOPAR MAN:I recently purchased a90' tc that has been garage kept for a long time, THe only major problem I have incurred was that the fuse for the brakes was corroded and caused the brakes to quit working right as I was backing into a parking space at work, Other than that, I am happy with the little coupe

  4. I also own a 1990 Tc Maserati and it is a true pleasure to drive. It appears that Mr. Rothwell is simply regurgitating the same old negative line by the car’s detractors.

  5. A point that may get lost or go unnoticed in the history of the Chrysler’s TC by Maserati is it lead to the idea of a compact luxury roadster. Giving way to such cars as the Mercedes SLK, BMW Z3 and others with various degrees of success. Prior to the TC most luxury builders had been trying to copy the formula set forth by the “full size” (a relative term) Mercedes SL. Sure, with the delays in getting to production the LeBaron did enter production first and it seemed like the TC followed, however, the TC was designed first and the LeBaron copied it. Yes, I do own a 89′ 2.2 Automatic TC but have also owned some of the others (SLK, fwd Lotus Elan, Z3) and living with the TC has been as rewarding and well built as the others while being a little more unique than any of them.

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