Nightmare Garage: Chrysler TC by Maserati
Like the Ferrari Mondial that instigated the Nightmare Garage series, mentioning the Chrysler TC by Maserati is a sure-fire way to send any Car Guy into an uncontrollable rage that can only end with bloodshed and/or tears. Back in the 1980s, Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca contacted his old friend and then-Maserati CEO Alejandro de Tomaso (whom he worked with at Ford), and discussed building a sports coupe utilizing both companies’ strengths. The evil spawned from the fruit of their cursed loins would be the universally despised Chrysler TC by Maserati.
The first indicator that the TC isn’t respected today is that it is built on a slightly modified K-car platform, the same one that underpinned nearly every Chrysler product at the time. It was referred to as a “Q-car,” and would be the only model considered so. The meager 160hp that the turbocharged 2.2L inline-4 developed was sent through the front wheels, a “feature” that owes none of its heritage to the manufacturer in Modena. The turbo-4 is a parts bin special, shared with the Shelby-branded Dodges and the Chrysler LeBaron, among others. As in those cars, it was paired with a 3-speed automatic, although the later 3.0L V6 engines were blessed with a 4-speed along with less horsepower than the previous TCs, oddly enough.
So the engine didn’t exactly scream Italian performance. So what, exactly, makes this worthy of the Maserati nameplate? Unsurprisingly, not much. The LeBaron donor cars were shipped to Modena, where the mostly-hand built body was strapped on top, and the custom interior, containing more leather than the LeBaron, was installed. From a design standpoint, the exterior was much more labor-intensive and took longer to assemble than its more common cousin, although it looked largely the same. The interior was vastly improved, with the dashboard being much more concise and ergonomic, although the seats were more tan and wrinkled than George Hamilton.
The only powerplant that had a modicum of Maserati influence was a slightly more powerful version of the original 2.2L. Maserati designed some new aluminum cylinder heads, assembled the engine, and called it a day. The result was a less than mind-blowing 40hp increase, although it did come with a five-speed Getrag manual. The final price tag of the TC was roughly $35,000, or twice as much as the LeBaron.
Like the Cadillac Cimarron, the Chrysler TC by Maserati is a badge-engineered crapmobile based on a much less expensive crapmobile that people at least didn’t have high expectations for. Unlike the Cimarron, which damaged only the Cadillac brand for a decade or so, the TC had the unique distinction of turning buyers off to both Chrysler and Maserati. It was easily the cheapest way to get the Trident into a garage, but most poseur cars can be pulled off with less embarrassing results. The Chrysler TC by Maserati earns a special place in the Nightmare Garage right next to the Pontiac Fiero-turned-NSX.