Curbside Classic: 1982 Plymouth TC3 Custom – A Slant Six Barracuda For The Malaise Era

What’s the most effective way to time travel, backwards? For some it’s music, movies, clothes, or other popular culture artifacts. For me, it’s cars. Seeing this pristine TC3 as I drove back suddenly propelled me back to the beginning of the eighties, not exactly one of the more stellar periods in domestic automotive history, and rightfully dubbed the Malaise Era: sky high interest rates, expensive gas, and lots of slow and otherwise mediocre cars.

I had a soft spot for the Horizon and Omni 4-door hatchbacks, as the were the most European and advanced American car on the market when they arrived in 1978. Wow! An American Golf! Even with a VW engine! Stephanie and I gave some thought to actually buying one. And then a year later, the sporty coupe variants, the Horizon TC3 and the Omni 024 appeared. A relatively bold move, by embattled Chrysler at the time. But it left me cold. I find the 4-door decidedly more attractive than the TC3.


Why? Because it wasn’t more like a VW Scirocco, meaning a genuinely sporty coupe. Instead it was just a Horizon with a new dress, and not a soul-stirring one at that. It just wasn’t a very cohesive styling job, starting with its Monza-aping front end. And its body was just too long for the the 96.5″ wheelbase, among other things.

The real letdown was inside, where every possible Horizon part was reused. Understandable, given Chrysler’s finances at the time, but then the Horizon’s interior was a bit of a letdown to start with, in comparison to the Rabbit, never mind the Scirocco. It just lacked that German tidiness and taste.

But then this was never targeted to the Scirocco buyer; it was a way to get Americans into a more efficient, economical FWD coupe, if they were tired of feeding their 1973 Mustang or Chevelle, or whatever. And it did the trick, for a fair number of them, at least in its first year or so.

Another issue was what was under the hood. The 70 hp version of Chrysler’s adaption of the VW 1.7 L four was never a stormer to start with. And it only got worse: in 1980, power was down to 65 hp; and in 1981, it dropped again to 63 hp. Yes, malaise.

Relief came in late 1981, when Chrysler’s new 2.2 L four packing 83 hp was available optionally. Since this car has an automatic, and by 1982, the auto was (thankfully) no longer available with the 1.7, it is blessed with the 2.2.

As well as aftermarket LED headlights. I was just not a fan of this sloping style of front end, which became very popular during this era. It looks cheap and crude.

Is “TC3” or “024” supposed to have meaning or connection to something? If so, it evaded me then, and still does now. But that’s ok; no worse than so many of the artificial names so common now.

Hatchbacks were big of course back then, both physically as well as popular. Plenty of storage room back there under the big pane of glass. Did Plymouth ever consider calling this a Barracuda? In a number of ways, it rather analog to the original Barracuda: practicality over genuine cool and good looks.

I bet there’s a similarly large storage area, suitable for sleeping in a pinch, when the seat is flipped down.

That’s all time traveling; it was march 2023 when I stopped and shot this, and all I could muster was admiration for this time capsule. How did it survive so well all these decades? Did someone’s grandma buy this when she was still relatively youthful? One does wonder. And hope it gets taken care of.

Related CC reading:

Curbside Classic: 1979 Plymouth Horizon TC3 – Beyond The Blue Horizon  by Tom Klockau

Curbside Classics: Plymouth Horizon And Dodge Omni – Detroit Finally Builds A Proper Small Car  by PN