This is part four in a series that I originally did for Automotive Traveler, and this time it’s not a Ghia, but the abortive Chrysler TC by Maserati. It turned out to be little more that an Italian built Chrysler LeBaron Convertible, on a modified K Car Chassis. Oh, but it could have been much more.
The Chrysler TC came about as the result of collaboration between Chrysler and Maserati, an arrangement rooted in the friendship of the charismatic men in charge of the two companies. The friendship between Lee Iacocca and Alejandro de Tomaso began while Iacocca was at Ford, and led to the successful De Tomaso Pantera. The collaboration was perhaps ahead of its time, with the low-volume Maserati providing its image and tuning expertise and the high-volume Chrysler providing its engineering and sales capabilities. The basic idea was to add some glamour to Chrysler and some profit to Maserati. Conceived as a two-passenger luxury grand touring convertible and changed only in minor details from its early prototypes, the TC was intended to be Chrysler’s image-building flagship in much the same way that another 2-seat trans-Atlantic import, the Mercedes-bred Crossfire would attempt a generation later.
Unfortunately, the building and promotion of the pre-production examples could not make good the TC’s ill-conceived announced introduction as a 1987 model. The subsequent two-year delay in getting the car into actual production was a monumental public relations and marketing debacle, especially since the TC ended up being introduced after the Chrysler LeBaron convertible instead of being introduced before it and lending its prestige to that vehicle. In other words, instead of the LeBaron being seen as inheriting cues from the high-end TC, the TC was seen as being too similar to the run-of-the-mill LeBaron.
Things finally came together, and by late 1988 an assembly line of sorts had been set up in Milan, where standard Chrysler engines (a 2.2 liter turbo for 1989, a Mitsubishi V-6 in 1990 and 1991) with automatic transmissions were sent to be mated to the largely handcrafted bodies. The finished cars were then shipped back to the U.S. for sale only by selected Chrysler-Plymouth dealerships. A more exotic variation of the TC sported a more-powerful Chrysler-based 2.2 liter engine fitted with a double overhead cam 16-valve Maserati head fabricated by Cosworth in England. An even more-powerful version of this engine would show up as the Turbo III. This hotter powerplant could only be had with a 5-speed Getrag manual gearbox.
The TC’s 16-valve 2.2 liter engine was engineered by Maserati and developed by Chrysler, Maserati, and a contractor; it used the standard 2.2 liter engine blocks and various other parts made at the Trenton Engine Plant with final assembly in Modena, Italy. Maserati designed the aluminum head with direct-action cams above the valves and shim-based valve lash adjustment. They set up a cog-based cam drive, both manifolds, the accessory drive system, and revised rods and crank. Mahle pistons were used. A remotely mounted intercooler was installed with the IHI RHB52 turbocharger. The engine produced a very-respectable 200 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. Cars equipped with automatic transmissions were restricted to the 174 horse Chrysler-built 2.2 Turbo II, and after 1989, the Mitsubishi V6.
Although sharing styling cues with the LeBaron coupes and convertibles of the same period, the TC actually has relatively few components that are readily interchangable with those found on other Chrysler products. Certainly almost all body panels and exterior trim items, as well as most of the interior furnishings, are unique to the TC. There were only 7,300 examples made over the three-year life span of the model.
The 1989 models had no airbag, which came along with some minor changes for the 1990 models including the addition of the new V6 and 16-valve 2.2 engines. Production ended in 1990 due to low sales, though there was a 1991 model year. The asking price of $35,000 was roughly double that of the Chrysler LeBaron convertible which also came with a turbocharged 2.2 liter engine.
Here we have another coach-built car assembled in Italy with an American powertrain, but it lacked the cachet of some of the other Italian collaborations. This was essentially an Italian built “K-car” that was late to the market, wasn’t exactly a trendsetter, and had two GM competitors at the time, the Buick Reatta, and the Cadillac Allante, which also shared a very long assembly process. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is to build the car in one location and add a dash of style that is unique to the model.