Retrosective: The 1989-91 Chrysler TC by Maserati; The Italian “K” Car

In Honor of the pending merger between Chrysler and Fiat, I though it was time to showcase other Italianate Chrysler’s that have been built and sold.. The Chrysler TC came about as...
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In Honor of the pending merger between Chrysler and Fiat, I though it was time to showcase other Italianate Chrysler’s that have been built and sold.. 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, Lee Iacocca and his friend Alejandro de Tomaso. Lee Iacocca started a friendship with Alejandro de Tomaso while at Ford, which led to the successful De Tomaso Pantera.

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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 glamor to Chrysler, and some profit to Maserati.

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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. Unfortunately, the building and promotion of the pre-production examples could not make good the TC’s ill concieved 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 blunder, especially since rather than preceding the Chrysler LeBaron convertible — and lending its prestige to that vehicle — it ended up being introduced afterwards. In other words, rather than 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.

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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.

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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 used with the IHI RHB52 turbocharger. This engine produced 200 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque, very respectable numbers. Automatic-transmission cars were restricted to the 174 horse Chrysler-built 2.2 Turbo II, and after 1989, the Mitsubishi V6.

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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 7300 examples made over the three year life of the model.

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The 1989 models had no airbag, and some minor changes were made for the 1990 models in addition to the new V6 and 16-valve 2.2 engine. 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.

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Here we have another Coach Built car, built in Italy, with an American Power Train, except it didn’t have the cachet that some of the other Italian collaborations did. This was essentially an Italian built “K-car”. It was late to the market, it wasn’t exactly a trendsetter, and there were two GM competitors at that time, the Buick Reatta, and the Cadillac Allante, which also shared a very long assembly process. The lesson to be learned here is the following: Have the car built in one place, and try and be unique in style, and componentry.

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