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Chrysler TC by Maserati Chief Program Manager Interview

Jim Yu October 15, 2013 Cars You Should Know 26 Comments


The Chrysler TC by Maserati is, in a word, controversial. After reading about it in a book about 1980s and 1990s Maseratis, I just had to find out more. Who better to ask then the Chief Program Manager for the Italo-American machine? Make the jump for my interview with Bob Davis.

But first, a little background. In the mid-80s, Chrysler bought a stake in Maserati (then controlled by Alejandro de Tomaso). Chrysler wanted to glamorize the K-car by building a luxury car in Italy and selling it here in America. And thus, the TC, a FWD 2-seater, was born.

Most TCs came with the 2.2-liter turbocharged four by Chrysler and later by the 3-liter Mitsubishi V6. Both of these versions came with automatics. 501 TCs– the most coveted– had 16 valve, DOHC heads on Chrysler blocks. The heads were designed by Maserati and produced by Cosworth. This engine was good for 220 lb-ft of torque and 200 hp. It was mated with a Getrag 5-speed manual. 

Other random factoids:

  • The logo was called the Pentatrident.
  • “by Maserati”‘s font size had to be 80% the size of “Chrysler TC”. 
  • Iacocca described it as “the best-looking Italian to show up to America since my mother came over.”
  • Between 1989 and 1991, around 7,300 TCs were sold.

The craziest thing I learned was that two TCs were used as pace cars at the 1987 Monaco F1 Grand Prix. One was driven by Carroll Shelby with de Tomaso sitting shotgun. The other was driven by Bob Lutz with Iacocca sitting shotgun. 1m internet points to any of you readers who can produce a jpg of this vortex of awesome.

And now, the interview with Bob Davis:

Q. Please tell us about your career in the automotive industry.

I worked for Chrysler for 39 years, mainly in Engineering.

Q. What was your assignment with respect to the TC?

My assignment on the TC was the Chief Program Manager and to be located in Italy. 

Q. Why did Chrysler want to build the TC?

Chrysler felt that the TC would take the Chrysler brand “up-market” and help the company learn how to shorten the “time to market”.

Q. The TC looks similar to the LeBaron convertible. Was that a coincidence? Was there any discussion within Chrysler that this may hurt the TC’s sales, considering the marked price difference between the two models?

The TC did look a lot like the LeBaron convertible and it was felt that selling the TC in low volumes would help LeBaron sales. This was certainly true that the original Thunderbird helped sell a lot of Ford convertibles.

Q. A relatively small number of the TCs were equipped with Maserati engines. Why weren’t all the TCs fitted with the Maser engine?

Most TCs were built with automatic transmissions and we were limited by the torque capacity of those transmissions.

Q. What was the TC supposed to compete against at the time?

Mercedes SL, Cadillac Allante, Buick Reatta

Q. What did you like about the TC? What did you not like?

I especially like the all-leather interior. I wished that we could have somehow reinforced the automatic transmission and improved the performance of those cars.

Q. In retrospect, what could have been done differently to make the TC more of a commercial success?

I was not in a position to know as I was in Italy and was not aware of the marketing or dealer/customer reactions in the U.S.

Q. How was Mr. de Tomaso to work with?

I enjoyed working with him. He came from a racing background. He had been a driver and later started making cars. He did a super job on the 16-valve engine. 

Q. How was Mr. Iacocca to work with?

He was the man who “saved Chrysler”. He was always very direct in knowing what he wanted in order to help sell the car. Best boss you can have.

Q. Why do you love cars?

I have always loved cars. After retiring from Chrysler, I do volunteer work for the W.P.Chrysler Museum where ” I am an antique person in the midst of antique cars.”

A big thank you to Mr. Davis for the interview and the Chrysler TC club for putting me in contact with Mr. Davis.

For more information on this classic, check out this article in Hemmings.

Image source: Alden Jewell

  • then/than. Oops.

  • Ed Kim

    Believe it or not, the car's official name wasn't Chrysler TC by Maserati. It was Chrysler's TC by Maserati! LOL!

    • Yeah, I thought that caption was weird. I had no idea. Thanks, comrade.

  • T. Wade

    I've looked at these TC's from every angle, both in person and in photographs. They don't "look similar", they're exactly the same as LeBaron. Do a Google search and take a look at the rocker panel design, the A-pillar, the angle of the windshield, and the mirrors. The A-pillar especially, is a "hard point" that both cars share, meaning they're exactly the same platform.

    • Number_Six

      I worked as a lot jockey at a Mopar dealer when the TC was new and can recall virtually no difference in the two cars from the driver's perspective; plus the fact they looked almost identical. They even both dumped their fuseboxes out of the glovebox on the same bump on the QEW, outside Hamilton, Ontario, shorting out all the electrics and getting me into major shit with my boss (who did not seem to realize the abject shabbiness of these penalty boxes).

      • Heni Andersen

        The fuse box is not in the glove compartment. You must have been sleeping in 2 other cars.

  • JayP2112

    I didn't realize the turbo made 220hp.
    Pretty stout for the time.

    • OA5599

      220 hp was from the DOHC engine. The turbocharged SOHC was only 160 hp in this car, and a bit more in Turbo II trim in other Chrysler products like Daytonas.

      Mopar Performance produced a Super 60 kit that would take the Turbo II to the 300hp level.


      • nanoop

        Strange that the turbo was weaker.
        160hp at ca. 1300kg was sportscar-worthy indeed: comparable to a basic Porsche 944, which made a great GT in its era (not autobahn killer, though).
        The TCbM, for sure, was far more luxurious than any Volkswagen of that era (including the 944…). Was the road holding encouraging enough to acually use 300hp?

        • OA5599

          I guess I sort of implied the DOHC was not turbocharged. It was. The 3.0 v6 was the only normally aspirated engine option for these.

          The Super 60 kit was originally developed for the Shelby GLHS, which could hold the road better than probably 99% of production vehicles back then.

          • GLHNSLHT2

            The Turbo II was detuned to make the Auto live over the warranty period. An MoparPerformance computer is a bolt in. With some trans mods and some tuning 250hp 285+ft-lbs on the stock engine is easy. Go big and you can get 500+hp out of the 2.2 8v. But then it becomes a little less of a fun cruiser.

            • JayP2112

              Now I'll be up another two hours watching The Wraith.

          • nanoop

            That makes sense, thanks.

    • James Myers

      My Dad bought my Mom one of these cars even though she did not want one. She liked her 1988 Chrysler 5th Avenue Landau, shortwheelbase FWD sedan. He wanted the car, but was still working and had a Company car so he said it was for her. She still has this car and it has held up well over the last 23 years. It has the 3.0L V-6 and 4-speed automatic transmission. The top has never been taken off and I have no idea if the soft top is still in good conditon. It probably has alot of winkles! The car is Black Cherry with saddle leather and still looks like new. It is a 1990 model with 31K original miles on the odometer. I take it to our small town Cruise Night and it draws quite a bit of interest. I don't care if it looks like a LeBaron, it is fun to drive and it looks good! I changed the wheels to 2001 Chrysler Sebring LXi Chromed spoked and it looks so much better than the honeycomb aluminum wheels it came with. Say what you will about the car, but it is part of Chrysler's history before the "Nazi's" ruined the Company.

  • dukeisduke

    It's funny for me, reading a historical article about these, since I remember when they were launched. The color I visualize when I think of one is Light Ivory Cream:

    <img src="http://automobilesdeluxe.tv/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/chryslertc-by-maserati.jpg"&gt;

    • cruisintime

      Nice style,clean lines and I like it . Make mine Green with a Tan top. Oh wait,mine is green with a tan top.

  • Q. Do you still get hate mail from the Maserati Club?

    • cruisintime

      I get 23 mpg avg. One easy $2500. payment and 3 summers with no cost other than gas and oil and me recharging the air each spring. Handles a little stiff and corners well.

      • My question was snarkily directed towards Bob Davis.

        For $2500 they are VERY tempting convertible cruisers, but I can't imagine you would be very welcome at a Maserati Club meet or Italian Concurs.

        Which engine does yours have?

        • cruisintime

          3.0 Mitsubishi engine. And I owned it for two years before hearing about the Italian connection.

          • It doesn't say Maserati on it anywhere? If this car had been branded something other than a Maserati I think there would be a lot less internet hate/jokes directed its way. I see it as Chrysler's effort to do an Allante.

            • hubba

              Usually "Maserati" on the tail lights.

              There are tridents on the grill, tail, interior, and hardtop porthole glass.

        • GLHNSLHT2

          My local italian car club I see driving around has a Chrysler TC in their ranks.

      • Hemi Andersen

        I did a 7,266 mile crouise around the USA this past July in my 262 thousand mile TC.
        It got 30.2 MPG for that trip. It is a great car and a wonderful road-car weighing 3,300 lb.

  • It would be easy to say that Maserati ought to have been ashamed of themselves for this, until one considers what else they were producing at the time. These may not have been as powerful as the Biturbo and its descendents, but I'd bet they were a fair sight more reliable.

  • MVEilenstein

    It's not the worst thing Maserati has ever made. Or Chrysler.

    Nice work, Jim.