Worst Car Wednesday: 1989-91 Chrysler/Maserati TC Disaster

Lee Iacocca almost single-handedly saved Chrysler Corp. After being dumped by Ford he became head of Chrysler. What saved the company was threefold: convincing the US government to loan it money, the K-car, and the minivan. Once Chrysler got its groove back he thought a high-end luxury convertible would sell like mad. Thus began the saga of our Worst Car Wednesday subject: the 1989-91 Chrysler/Maserati TC disaster.

Yes, you read that right. This thing was a co-production of Chrysler and Maserati. Iacocca knew everyone in the auto biz, and that included heads of companies like Maserati. At this point, Maserati was long past its days of Merak, Quattroporte, and Kyalami limited production cars. It was reduced to producing the Biturbo sedan in an attempt to appeal to more mainstream tastes and budgets. 

With the TC Iacocca wanted a modern version of the 1955-57 Ford Thunderbird

1989 Chrysler Maserati TC with Porthole top. | Chrysler

Iacocca wanted a modern version of the 1955-57 Ford Thunderbird. A sporting, two-seater with a removable hardtop. He even envisioned a porthole in the top as the original T-Bird had. But this wasn’t 1955. To help make this happen he called in Maserati to create a sporting exotic based on a K-car chassis. Yes, the barely basic K-car platform would be the basis for an almost $40,000 Italian imported two-seat convertible. 

K-car chassis were shipped to Italy to be made into Chrysler TCs. Opulent Italian leather interiors were meant to add to the reputation Chrysler intended for the TC to convey. The association with Maserati was intended to do the same. Completed cars were shipped back to the US.

1987 Chrysler LeBaron coupe and convertible Indy Pace Car | Chrysler

RELATED: Worst Car Wednesday: Dismal Dreary 1980-82 Ford T-Bird

Once it was revealed in 1988 it became a confusing mess in the eyes of journalists and those in the TC’s demographic. Why? Because it looked like a $15,925 Chrysler LeBaron. Actually, the LeBaron looked better than the TC. The proportions and overall styling stood above the truncated, meh-like TC. And if you chose to load your LeBaron up with options, you would still pay only $21,000. For the math-impaired that is $16,000 less than a TC. In 1988. 

Being based on the K-car limited much about the TC starting with engine choices

1989 Chrysler TC | Chrysler

Being based on the K-car limited much about the TC starting with engine choices. The base engine was a 2.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder at 160 hp. Then you could move up to a Mitsubishi-manufactured V6 rated at 140 hp. The top-rated engine was a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 200 hp built by Maserati. So 200 hp was the best Chrysler could do for $37,000. 

As anyone could have told Lee and how it panned out was that the whole TC debacle was a complete flop. It wasn’t meant to sell in big numbers, but it surely was intended to sell more than 7,000 over three years. But that’s the best it could muster. Chrysler dealers stuck with these TC turkeys were discounting them by thousands of dollars. And still, nobody wanted them when they could slip into the similar-looking LeBaron convertible with seating for four. It lasted only three years and was unceremoniously dropped in 1991. 

In spite of being the father of the Ford Mustang, you’re only as good as your latest success

1989 Chrysler TC | Chrysler

Iacocca’s brilliance in marketing cars took a major hit. In spite of being considered the father of the Ford Mustang, you’re only as good as your latest success, and the Chrysler TC was no success. Having come off of the Chrysler Imperial failure in the early-1980s industry people were starting to wonder if Iacocca had lost his marketing mojo. 

Chrysler soon followed up the Chrysler TC with convertible Dakota pickups which more or less cemented the idea that Iacocca had lost his mind. Both the Imperial and Dakota are future Worst Car Wednesday features we can’t wait to tell you about.