April 10, 2009

Great Automotive Failures: The Chrysler TC by Maserati

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.


A.Man said...

Personally, I'm sad they didn't decontent the remaining ones and introduce an America trim one...

Anonymous said...

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.

Ian Rothwell said...

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...

Anonymous said...

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