(first posted 1/28/2013) It’s rather remarkable that this car managed to appear when it did. In late 1978, when Chrysler Corporation was in the depths of its worst crisis to date, this swoopy, rebodied Horizon coupe debuted–and indeed, continued on through many years of production. You would never know how common these cars once were, as nearly all of them have disappeared from the face of the earth. But there’s still one in my neck of the woods.
Before we begin the TC3’s story, we have to go back to its source: the 1978 Plymouth Horizon. Along with its badge-engineered Dodge Omni sibling, these mini-Mopars brought FWD fuel efficiency to Chrysler Corporation’s decidedly thirsty and out-of-date lineup–and all thanks to Simca, which Chrysler had purchased in more flush times. Thanks to their familiarity with space-efficient, fuel-efficient cars like the 1204 (CC here), the resulting “Omnirizon” duo were a fresh breath of air compared with the bulky mid-size Fury and that recall-champeen, the Volaré.
It may have looked suspiciously like a Volkswagen Rabbit–and indeed, utilized a VW-built, 1.7L (104.7 CID) inline four–but the Horizon sold well. I’m sure that came as a relief to many C-P salesmen, who previously had to convince customers to purchase a Volaré over the much more modern Ford Fairmont, or the 1971-vintage Fury over a newly-downsized Malibu or B-body Impala. Finally, here was a Mopar product people wanted rather than settled for! The $3,976 five-door hatchback sold a healthy 106,772 units in inaugural 1978, but didn’t stand alone for long: The companion TC3 sport coupe joined it for the 1979 model year.
The Horizon TC3 was basically a 96.7″ wheelbase, 2+2 coupe version of the Horizon five-door. It shared much with its sibling, including its 70-hp, four-cylinder engine, transmissions and much of the undercarriage. Nonetheless, it certainly appeared different on the outside, and looked very modern for the late ’70s. One you got behind the wheel, though, you knew it had a lot in common with the five-door, with which it shared the entire dashboard. Interiors and exteriors were suitably colorful; after all, this was before Silver Car Fever overtook motordom.
At a starting price of $4,864, the 2,195 lb. sportster cost a bit more than the more Rabbit-like Horizon. Naturally, a wealth of factory- and dealer-installed goodies were available for a price. While the 70-horse engine was no hot-rod powerplant, I imagine it performed somewhat decently considering the TC3’s light curb weight. Actually, it was the sportiest thing to be found in C-P showrooms and a model sorely needed by Plymouth, as the mid-size Fury had departed in 1978.
In 1979, in the Plymouth corner of the showroom, you had the Volaré (at least it was available in coupe, sedan and wagon versions), the Horizon five-door and the Horizon TC3–and for cars, that was it, unless you count such captive imports as the Sapporo (CC here) and Arrow. Poor Plymouth: Just a few years earlier, they had the Fury, Barracuda, Belvedere, Road Runner, Satellite and luxury VIP. Now at least they had a fun, sporty offering like this in their shrunken product line. By late ’70s standards, the TC3 was a nice little sports coupe. Just don’t confuse it for a GTX or ’68 Barracuda Formula S.
As I was checking out our featured CC, I was surprised to see the Horizon badging. I didn’t know the early ones were anything other than TC3s. Even after writing for CC for over a year–and being a car nut of the highest order for the previous thirty-one–I can still learn something new! This one still has what appears to be a factory-installed sport stripe. Obviously it is faded, but I think it was originally navy blue, silver and white. Although the paint is equally faded, it appears to be Cadet Blue Metallic, a 1979 factory color.
Despite costing about $400 more than an equivalent five-door Horizon–a not insignificant sum back then–the TC3 sold respectably in its first year, with 63,715 built. No doubt many were loaded up with lots of appearance and comfort options, including stripes, two-tone paint, power steering, power brakes and A/C. Seats came in either cloth or vinyl. The Premium Interior Package, shown in red in the third and fourth photos from the top, turned your TC3 into a near-Cordoba inside. Just don’t ask for Corinthian leather. Our CC here has the standard Custom all-vinyl trim.
A Premium Appearance Package, Sport Package and Rallye Equipment Group were also available. The latter included a rear spoiler; rally wheels, with bright lugnuts and trim rings; and sport suspension. As far as engines were concerned, you were stuck with the 1.7-liter four, but you could specify an automatic if you didn’t want the standard four-speed manual.
The original owner (who perhaps is still the current owner) must have worked at the Rock Island Arsenal, as indicated by the faded but still distinctive sticker on the left side of the bumper. My parents were members of the Arsenal Golf Club in the ’80s, and I remember that their Volvos had similar ID stickers to allow access to the base. By the mid-’90s, they did away with them, and you simply told the guard at the front gate where you were going. After 9/11, they got ID cards instead of a sticker.
Here’s a fun fact: this car was sold by the same local C-P dealer as another 1979 Mopar product featured here on CC, this 1979 Chrysler Newport. It’s cool to imagine them sitting on the showroom floor together!
Here’s the back seat. As you can see, GM was not the only company that used Multi-Fade™ interior components in the ’70s. The vinyl is in very nice shape, but the moldings have faded to a dirty-white/gray color. Initially I wondered what the button on the interior panel was for, and then I realized that it must be the release for the fold-down back seat.
I first saw this car back in 2007-08, when I would frequently take Iowa Street in Davenport to get to work. I tended to avoid Brady Street, as I didn’t care for the five-minute traffic lights that are rife along that arterial road. So one day I took a slightly different route, and saw this light blue TC3. This was in my pre-camera-in-the-car, pre-CC days, but I remember thinking that that was a rare bird these days. Just a few weeks ago, I remembered that there was a neat old car in that area (I didn’t remember that it was a TC3, just that it had been something interesting), and I had to check and see if it was still there. I was fairly sure it would be–it just had the look of a car that has been a part of the neighborhood for a long time–and I was pleasantly surprised to see it in the very same spot.
And check out that blue vinyl interior! You can tell from the nice seats and ample fake wood on the dash and doors that the TC3 was a cut above the regular Horizon in its standard, no-frills version. And check out that copy of Der Spiegel on the passenger seat. For a minute I thought I was in Eugene! Another thing you won’t see on a late-model car is a floor-mounted automatic, sans console.
The Horizon TC3 continued much the same for 1980, when 67,738 were sold. In 1981 a no-frills Miser model was added, but sales stumbled, first to the tune of 36,312, and then to an all-time low of 12,889 for 1982. However, that was pretty much the same story for every other make: Due to the ongoing recession, no one was very interested in buying a new car, least of all at the current double-digit interest rates. Yikes!
In 1982, the coupe lost its Horizon moniker and became simply TC3. The very next year it was renamed Turismo. Also appearing in ’83 was a sportier “2.2” model, which received a 94-hp, 2.2-liter inline four in place of the 1.7. In addition to the larger engine, it received a fake hood scoop, stripes, “2.2” decals and rallye wheels.
I would also be remiss not to at least mention the Turismo’s pickup pal, the Scamp. These cool vehicles were offered for only a short period of time. While the Dodge was available between 1982 and 1984, the 1983-only Plymouth variant was especially scarce. A neat idea and cool utility, these have always reminded me a bit of the VW Pickup sold at about the same time.
The Turismo carried on for several more years, earning itself a 1984 slight facelift with a smoother nose and other minor changes. Also available was a Duster Package with “Duster” decals on the front fender and 13-inch Rallye wheels. The niece of my parents’ friends used to babysit me in the mid-to-late ’80s and she had a Turismo like this one, though I don’t remember if it was a Duster or not. I rode in it at least once, and I remember thinking it was pretty cool.
Between 1984 and 1986, the Turismo sold in the high 30K- to low-40K range despite minimal changes. It was a nice package: a reliable Horizon with sportier sheet metal, two doors and an attractive price. The last ones were built in 1987, when less than 25K came off the line. By that time, the price had risen to the tune of $7,199.
But like all cheap and cheerful cars of the ’70s and ’80s, many of them were used, abused and then disposed of. They used to be everywhere, but this blue example is the first one I recall seeing in nearly ten years. Good to know at least one is still on the road!