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Friday, July 29, 2005

Milestones in Automotive History: Chrysler-Maserati TC

The Chrysler-Maserati TC upon its debut in 1989.

Today's spotlight shines on a car that was so thoroughly compomised, so obviously a cynically mediocre car, that it embarrassed everybody involved even four years before it debuted. For those reasons and more, the Chrysler-Maserati TC is truly a Milestone in Automotive History.

When rumor began to circulate that the long friendship between mid-1980s Chrysler potentate Lee Iacocca and Maserati honcho Alejandro DeTomaso might result in the fruit of a collaborative automotive project, everybody sat up to take notice - who would have guess that one of Italy's most prominent luxury/performance automakers would deign to make a car with the beleaguered American automaker?

It was, of course, a brilliant idea - why not combine all the frumpy styling sensibility of a mid-1980s Chrysler with the legendarily spotty reliability of a Maserati?

The Chrysler-Maserati TC failed to meet even those rock-bottom expectations.

The plebian Chrysler LeBaron - an embarrasing clone of the TC.

AutoWeek put the car on its cover in late 1985, with the cover blurb, "Let's hope it comes in more flavors than this." The first line in the article was, "Maybe we expected too much."

The automobile unveiled the press was based on Chrysler's creaky and flexible K-car chassis, which underpinned all of Chrysler's vehicles at the time. The K-car chassis had debuted on the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, two compact economy cars which combined to begin bulldozing the already smoking wreckage of Chrysler's reputation. The styling was a lightly massaged version of the soon-to-debut Chrysler LeBaron convertible - but with saucy portholes in the rear quarter of the hardtop! Powertrain choices included Chrysler's 2.2-liter turbo four (which in the rare cases they are still running on today's roads advertise their presence with long clouds of white smoke) or a mysterious Maserati four-cylinder (more about that later), packaged with either a manual transmission or a three-speed automatic.

Minus the "Maserati" engine, these were the same underpinnings used by Chrysler's economy cars and minivans; definitely not the stuff of a $30,000 sports luxury roadster. Making matters worse, Chrysler touted the TC as a competitor to the Mercedes-Benz 560SL - one of the finest cars on the road.

Maserati's DeTomaso was already distancing himself from the project in the AutoWeek. When asked about the "Maserati" engine Chrysler representatives described, AutoWeek quotes DeTomaso as saying, " 'It is not a Maserati engine. Who told you this?' When we told DeTomaso that a Chrysler-supplied specifications list identifies the engine as a '16V Maserati,' he expressed anger and disbelief."

The Chrysler representative defended the TC's styling, saying, "Styling is very subjective - everybody likes something different. I think there are very legitimate statements one can make in a reasonable period of time ... and obviously, additional products can come forward at a future date that have different characteristics."

The TC was already a debacle - and this was four years before the TC even hit the market in a vastly more competitive and advanced 1989 market.

All told, Chrysler lost a reported $500 million on the project, and most of the owner sites honoring the TC today are also subtly offering their cars for sale.

The Chrysler-Maserati TC's thoroughly uninspiring rear view.


Blogger mrclm said...

oh how I love always knowing where a K-car is by the distinctive oil burning smell, and following them down the road as their advanced front super-ballesque suspensions caress the road is so confidence inspiring. That sagging rear end also really makes a strong statement. I have seen at least a handful of the K-cars reciently that were being held together by nothing more than bumper stickers. I feel safer near a Pinto.

Big Chris

2:24 PM

Blogger Jim Holland said...

The newspaper for which I toil in obscurity once owned a Dodge Aries for staff use. The best thing about the car was the back seat's ample capacity for transporting empty fast-food packaging, and the fact that you could flog it unmercifully--yet never fret about exceeding the speed limit.
In the case of the Aries, I would submit that "Dodge" is better used as a verb.
I recall pulling onto a two-lane highway, presumably well ahead of a semitrailer at least a half-mile back.
Even considering the pin-your-ears-back acceleration of the K-slug (actually measured in furlongs per fortnight on level ground), I thought I had plenty of time to get up to reasonable velocity. Unfortunately we were clawing our way up a modest incline, and were forced to seek refuge on the shoulder to let the semi pass.
Eventually the unwritten rule for use of the car was that you never drove it any further than you'd care to walk for help.

A member of our church congregation owns a Chrysler Maserati TC which often appears at our annual Father's Day car show.
I've never seen the car actually move, so I can't speak to the engine's "Habemas Papem" trademark plume.


8:28 AM

Anonymous Jitz said...

I saw one of these on Friday near the Arboredum. A middle age white dude in an Indiana Jones hat and linen vacation wear was blaring Buena Vista Social Club and slowly cruising the parking lot with the top down. If I had been there with my 1986 Merkur XR4Ti I would have called bullshit on his "TC" and taken that fool to school.

3:36 PM


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