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

(first posted in 2011)   You got to hand it to Lee Iacocca; he was given an utter basket case of a car company and one new K car. And just like a magician, he kept reaching into his hat for a solid decade, pulling out one new variation after another on a theme in the key of K. Would you believe this? Ah,…yeah. This? Maybe. How about this? Umm…And when he reached in one last time and pulled out the TC, everybody laughed. Which is not what Lee had in mind at all. Lee was given the hook, but we’ll always associate the TC with the sin of pretentious overreaching.

I just realized now why I’m finally getting to the TC: it needed to be preceded by the Chrysler-Ghias to help put it in perspective. Note to Lee Iacocca: if you’re going to do an Italo-Americano, don’t do it on a K-car. And don’t release it a year after its styling has already appeared on one of your mass-production cars. And ditch the porthole; it kinda’ worked on the ’56 T-Bird, but…And, most of all, make it memorable. The Dodge-Ghia (top) may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure as hell wasn’t mistaken for a 1954 Dodge Royal.

Which one shall we take on first? Or are they all painfully obvious? The restyled “aero” Le Baron (bottom) beat the TC to the showrooms by several years. When the TC was first announced in 1986, that look was still kind of fresh. By the time the TC finally showed up, it was stale bread, even if it was baked in Italy.

As the first Italian-American to reach the top of the car business (equivalent to Kennedy being the first Catholic President), Lido’s natural pull to the old country was understandable. And his first go-around with Alejandro DeTomaso did produce the memorable Pantera.

Now that was on par with with the Chrysler-Ghias. I don’t have to go through the motions comparing a Pantera with a 1971 Mercury Marquis Brougham, right?  Yes, Lee and Alejandro’s first little trans-Atlantic fling produced quite a love child. But second times around are always so problematic; everyone’s older and more cynical, for one. Love seemed to have very little to do with the TC, for sure; more like a hooker and a gigolo fleshing out the financial details of an odd coupling.

Let’s take a closer look at what they agreed to do to each other: the TC was built on a shortened Dodge Daytona platform. There were no less than three engines in the TC’s failed three-year life-span: the 89’s got a slightly modified Turbo II 2.2 L four coupled to the old three-speed automatic transaxle. Given the turbo lag, narrow power band, and the buzziness of the (non-balance shaft) 2.2 four, this was not a good way to make a first impression.

The ’90 and ’91 TC became a tri-continental affair, with Mitsubishi contributing its 3.0 L SOHC V6, now coupled to the infamous Ultra-Self-Destruct-O-Matic A604 in its maiden outing. Some 500 TCs were built with a different power train altogether: a specially built turbo 2.2 L four with a Cosworth 16 valve cylinder head and other go-fast goodies. It was paired with a Getrag five speed manual box. Undoubtedly, the ultimate K car engine-tranny combo. Also undoubtedly scary to source parts for nowadays.

The TC was also bestowed with then-new ABS and some special springs and shocks. If it’s the same ABS system our ’92 Caravan came with, it was a disaster that Chrysler had to extend a lifetime warranty on. But I know the TC has some devotees. That’s good. Every car has its redeeming qualities, and I’m sure the TC has its share. It certainly is the ultimate K car. Whether it made sense to fork over some $75k in today’s dollars to buy one is another question.

Apparently, not too many folks saw the value proposition, despite the Maserati name and some nicely stitched leather in the cabin. Lee had assumed TC sales of 5 – 10 k annually. A total 7300 TCs were sold in three years, way below that target. Oh well; I’m sure he and Alejandro had fun hashing out their baby. Seems like DeTomaso got the better end of the deal, consistent with his track record.

Now why am I showing you this pairing of K-based cars? It represents two of the more extreme ends of the speKtrum, in terms of their relative success and otherwise. Curiously enough, these two cars are within one-tenth of an inch of each other in overall length. I picked the TC for today’s CC because I wanted to do the shortest K-car ever, among other things. After I started, I suddenly had a moment of panic: is the SWB Caravan shorter? Turns out one of these is 175.8″ long,the other is 175.9″ long. Did I guess right?

These are the lofty issues I struggle with. Well, lengthy, in this case.

Obviously, I’ve run out of inspiration on the TC. Actually, I never had any. The TC is like a long-forgotten dream, until you actually run into one on the street. And then you ask yourself: did I really dream this?