Last week, I was stuck in traffic somewhere in Southern California, which is a pretty frequent occurrence for me, when a rather infrequent occurrence happened: I saw a Chrysler TC by Maserati. I tweeted out a photo of this unusual vehicle, sarcastically writing that "I just saw a Maserati," and several people replied, insisting I had actually seen a Chrysler LeBaron.
This has forced me to create a retrospective on the Chrysler TC by Maserati.
Here’s the basic situation. In the 1980s, Lee Iacocca, then the head of Chrysler, wanted to make the brand more appealing to younger buyers looking for something cool. Meanwhile, Maserati was fledgling, largely because Maserati has been fledgling for basically the last 50 years. So the two joined together: Chrysler and Maserati would produce a car.
The result came out in 1988, and it was the Chrysler TC by Maserati. It was based on the Chrysler K-car chassis, and it was a 2-door convertible with a removable hardtop, which is installed in the photo you see above (the one I took last week). The hardtop included circular "opera" windows, which was intended to give the car a classier, upscale, Italian look — and, indeed, the car was very Italian: It was built in Italy, and it was sold for the 1989, 1990 and 1991 model years.
Of course, it was a massive flop, and one look at it reveals why: It looks just like the Chrysler LeBaron, which also came out around the same time with a similar design. Interestingly, the two cars were actually quite different, and they weren’t even the same size: the TC was a 2-seater with a 175.8-inch length; the LeBaron was a 4-seater with a 184.8-inch length. The TC was intended to be the sporty, exciting, special version of the two, and it had an Italian leather interior to match.
Unfortunately, it didn’t have Italian performance to match. Even though the TC had an Italian-made body and the Italian interior, it offered three powertrains, none of which had over 200 horsepower. There was a 160-hp 2.2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder made by Chrysler, a 140-hp V6 made by Mitsubishi and a 200-hp version of the turbocharged 4-cylinder made by Maserati — but, nonetheless, it wasn’t powerful enough to justify the car’s price tag.
And what, exactly, was the car’s price tag? It started at $37,000 back in 1991, while the regular LeBaron started at $15,925 — and while the base LeBaron was missing a lot of equipment you could get in the TC, even a top-spec LeBaron Convertible was $18,100 plus options, or around $21,000 fully equipped. The TC’s sales were predictably terrible, and Chrysler only sold about 7,000 units before canceling the whole thing after the 1991 model year.
Now, the TC is remembered only in our memories, and the occasional sightings on the street, with most TC models proudly showing off their clever logo — a Maserati trident inside the Chrysler Pentastar, a symbol of one of the most unusual mashups in automotive history.