“Every step we’ve taken so far has led to this day,” Maserati said on Twitter, shortly before the reveal of the sensational-looking MC20 supercar. I suppose that’s true, but some of those steps have been in the wrong direction. Well, a lot of them have.
The Italian brand has been behind plenty of misses over the years, and when it comes to which is worst, I’d bet money on most picking the BiTurbo. They’d all be wrong, of course. The BiTurbo was a good car that was - initially, at least - badly made. It was fast, innovative, and most importantly, it saved Maserati.
A much stronger candidate for Maserati’s lowest ebb technically wasn’t entirely its own work. It was the Chrysler TC by Maserati, whose inglorious form was brought to life after Chrysler acquired a five per cent share of the Italian company, then owned by Alessandro De Tomaso. Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca wanted a sports car that would appeal to younger buyers, something which a joint venture with a cool but struggling European firm could - he thought - help him achieve.
The car was built around the ‘Q-Body’ - a modified version of the K platform which underpinned cars like the Chrysler LeBaron and Dodge Aries. The convertible body was produced by then-De Tomaso subsidiary Innocenti, while Chrysler supplied the engine.
Offered with a 160bhp 2.2-litre turbo inline-four from the Dodge Daytona II, the TC (which stands for Turbo Coupe, despite the convertible body style) was also available with a Maserati-fettled 16-valve version of the same engine using a Cosworth-cast cylinder head, which produced a healthier 200bhp. A 141bhp Mitsubishi V6 later replaced the less powerful version of the four-pot. These engines were all mounted transversely, and powered the front wheels exclusively.
The interior was given lashings of leather, with Maserati trident-branded ‘opera windows’ added to the removable hard-top roof in an attempt to add a touch of class. For all this, you were expected to part with the equivalent of $63,000 in today’s money. And that was the starting price.
Given that a LeBaron was less than half the price, the TC was a hard sell. It lasted just three model years, in which time only around 7000 were sold. That rarity hasn’t helped values - despite only having 23,000 miles on the clock, the 1989 example you see in some of these images fetched just $4400 when auctioned by RM Sotheby’s a couple of years ago.
The death of the TC and the discontinuation of the last BiTurbo-platformed car a few years later didn’t usher in a grand new era for Maserati. There have been moments of greatness, of course, and its current line-up doesn’t include anything doomed to failure like the TC. But so-so products like the Ghibli and the Levante leave the Maserati trident doing a lot of heavy lifting. The Quattroporte, away from the brilliantly silly new 572bhp version (below), isn’t much better.
The MC20 might just be the first sign of real change at Maserati. While we’re all busy ogling its curves and beefy intakes, there’s an electric revolution going on behind closed doors that’ll help future-proof the company while hopefully recapturing the magic of those long since passed glory days. It’s often felt like a brand FCA doesn’t quite know what to do with, but at last, Maserati should have a purpose.
It’s a similar place to where Alfa Romeo found itself in a few years ago. Its halcyon days were also decades ago, and all it had made in recent memory was a bunch of mostly passable, sometimes pretty cars from cobbled together Fiat bits. Then came along the Alfa Romeo Giulia - a beauty of a saloon on a bespoke, rear-wheel-drive platform and the option of a 503bhp V6.
Neither the Giulia nor the related Stelvio have sold quite how Alfa wanted, of course, and its future portfolio has - sadly - been scaled back. You can’t help but wonder if elements of the stillborn GTV and 8C projects made their way over to the MC20, a car we know to use an Alfa-derived V6.
But that’s a discussion for another day. The point is, although Alfa’s rebirth hasn’t gone quite according to plan, it is, at last, making the sort of cars it should have been for years. Maserati is well on its way to doing the same thing, hopefully all-but banishing the memory of that ropey TC.