Junkyard Classic: 1990 Chrysler TC – Short Car, Long Life, Sad End

I was at my local boneyard the other day looking for a part when I ran up on this unexpected site: a 1990 “Chrysler’s TC by Maserati”. I use quotation marks because that is exactly the appellation Chrysler gave it on the car’s tail badges. A little pretentious, but the whole car was more than a little pretentious. They are a rare sight and it’s not a car I would expect to see in derelict status in the pick-a-part lot, but there it sat waiting for someone to come along and let some of its parts live on. 

The TC has been covered at CC several times, so I won’t give much history. Most here probably already know the background of this ultimate K-car (Mopar called it a Q-body and the TC stood for Turbocharged Convertible). Based on the common 1980s/early ’90s corporate chassis with body work by Maserati, it was assembled in Italy and sold from 1989-1991.

Chrysler only sold 3,762 in 1989 and then stopped importation in spring 1990. 1,900 were sold for 1990, with 1,636 leftovers made into 1991 models. It was a well-equipped, luxurious convertible cruiser with a well-trimmed leather interior, proven mechanicals and the latest safety features of airbag and anti-lock brakes. It had a soft top and removable hardtop standard. Who wouldn’t want one? Well, anybody who would prefer paying almost exactly half the price for a LeBaron convertible, which was visually and mechanically the same basic car with a backseat and better proportions.

The car was a tough sell when new, so it’s not surprising Chrysler never sold the 5-10k/year they originally hoped to. It’s been called a deadly sin and other negatives on this site, which it surely deserves. However, it should surprise no one that it has a cult following. Just ask the members of the TC America Club. To them it wasn’t an overpriced economy car putting on ridiculous airs, it was a reliable, well-sorted chassis under a premium body built with care and outfitted with a sumptuous interior.

Even in its current sad state, that sumptuousness comes through.

The wood trim was actual wood veneer. The downside was that all the gauges, controls, switchgear, etc. was straight from Chrysler’s parts bin.

The steering wheel was unique and rather handsome, which may be why it was one of the few components that had obviously been picked from the car. Even under all the debris, it would be tough to deny this is a comfy-looking interior. The chrome plated door jambs are a nice touch.

The dash, door panels and, of course, the seats were all covered in leather. Stitching on the doors and dash was real. If you ignore the parts bin stuff, the inside really has a nice feel.

I have no idea if the smashed porthole happened before or after the car showed up in the junkyard. I think you could argue that the portholes improved visibility slightly (which was the stated reason Ford added them to the 56 T-Bird).

I appreciate that Chrysler put tiny rear quarter windows in the car. Functionally, they don’t serve much purpose, but not having them would be really cheap looking (like the 82-83 quarter window-less LeBaron convertibles).

The 1989 engine was a Chrysler 2.2L turbo 4, while ’90 and ’91 models got a Mitsubishi 3.0L V6 like this car. These engines were unchanged from the ones used in many other Chrysler products. There was also a rare, optional Maserati-massaged 200-hp, DOHC 16-valve turbocharged 2.2-liter four-cylinder mated to a Getrag five-speed manual.

The last one of these cars I ran into was at the 2018 Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, AZ, where they had an example in the same year and exterior color but in primo condition with only 45k miles. Would you believe our junkyard car has 50k? Yep, and it appears accurate because the odometer has a 100k digit reading 0 and the seats are actually not very worn. So what landed it on death row? Engine or transmission failure? The right front accident damage? The advantage of K-car mechanicals is that most parts should be available and reasonable. The Scottsdale car sold for $5,720. That was probably a little below book value for as nice as it was, but I imagine a rough-around-the-edges car like this wouldn’t have much value at all.

If anybody out there happens to be a member of the TC cult and covets some of this car’s parts, it should still be there but probably not for much longer (LKQ Wallisville Rd). It came into the yard on 12/14, so its days are very numbered.

R.I.P. little Chrysler’s TC by Maserati. May your afterlife be less awkward than your name.

Photographed 1/18/21 in Houston, TX

related reading:

Curbside Classic: 1989 Chrysler’s TC by Maserati – The Chairman Has Gone Krazy by Brendan Saur

Curbside Classic: 1989 Chrysler’s TC By Maserati – The (Deadly) Sin Of Pretentious Overreaching by PN

In-Motion Classic: 1989 Chrysler’s TC By Maserati – Jackpot! by Joseph Dennis

Vintage Scoop: Chryslerati – The Shape Of Madness by Perry Shoar, review of 12/85 C&D article detailing the expected-for-87 model. As we know now, it wasn’t actually sold until 1989, over two years after the new 87 LeBaron stole its styling thunder.