In the annals of automotive history there have been some Italian-American hybrids of eye watering beauty and astounding performance. In the 1950’s the likes of Frank Sinatra and Desi Arnaz could be seen motoring in a voluptuous Dual Ghia. Ronald Reagan had one too, until he lost it to LBJ in a poker game. A Dodge frame and 315 cid hemi were dispatched to Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin where skilled panel beaters and trimmers assembled them.
A decade later the Iso rumbled onto the scene with a series of sports and GT cars powered by one of several American V8’s depending on year and model. Anything up to a Chevrolet 454 could motivate one of these elegant beasts, such as in the pictured Iso Griffo 7 Litri. A triumvirate of Italian talent in the form of engineer Giotto Bizzarini, designer Giorgetto Giugiaro and coachbuilder Bertone created the car. A 7 liter Griffo was said to better 180 mph.
The 1970’s may have been the ’60s with a hangover, but there was still room on the scene for the brash, hatchet wielding DeTomaso Pantera. Designed by American Tom Tjaarda while at Ghia. The Pantera had a taught, agressive form, all thrusting muscles and sharp creases. Those supercar looks weren’t just for show, the Pantera had the grunt to back it up courtesy of a Ford 351 Cleveland and the same rear mounted transaxle as the Ferrari killing GT40.
Then…Then the 1980’s happened. Power ties and shoulder pads had taken over from leisure suits and gold medallions nestling in chest hair. Chrysler corporation had been circling the drain, but the combined powers of the Federal Government, Lee Iacocca and the K cars seemed to have saved the day. The future was so bright, Lido had to wear shades, to borrow a line from a song of the day. So why not celebrate and polish up the corporate image with a halo car ? So, Iacocca got together with his old pal Alessandro DeTomaso who owned Maserati at the time, to whip up an Italian-American motorcar with panache for the thrusting 1980’s executive. At the 1986 LA auto show, Chrysler presented the TC by Maserati to the world. The world was underwhelmed.
Iacocca had the epic chutzpah to dress yesterday’s mutton as lamb by using the K platform to underpin the new “exotic”. With the exception of an optional semi-bespoke version of Chryler’s 2.2 liter four pot topped by a Maserati designed twin cam chapeau, powertrain choices were as for the Lebaron (and Caravan, Reliant, etc, etc). Series production of the TC finally got underway in 1989. Problem was, by 1988 Chrysler had restyled the LeBaron. Eschewing the T-Square school of design of its predecessor, the LeBaron was a very smartly turned out car that bore more than a passing resemblance to the TC. It was presented in the same showrooms, with many of the same luxury features, for a rather smaller financial commitment on the part of the buyer. On introduction the Chrysler TC cost about $33,000 US dollars, you could’ve had a LeBaron convertible for about thirteen grand less. Chrysler must’ve been hell bent on stealing from Pietro to pay Paul. It’s no wonder then that production failed to meet targets and the last TCs were built in 1990. No doubt the Maserati faithful found it criminal that the fabled trident would be corralled in Chrysler’s corporate Pentastar. The K platform may have been a worthy enough basis for workaday saloons and people movers but the basic suspension made too frequent contact with its bumbstops and the steering feel could’ve been tuned by an anesthesiologist. I could follow the lead of the pundits of the TC’s day and continue to nitpick and wheedle at its flaws, but I have the benefit of hindsight and depreciation both of which allow me to assess Chrysler’s Modenese holiday in a new light. Yes, it really is a LeBaron in drag, but it’s hand tailored Italian drag and don’t you forget it !
I recently drove a TC, and, in spite of the generous use of Chrysler parts bin pieces the interior is rather opulent. There is a big difference between molded stitching in vinyl and real stitching done in Italian leather. Don’t believe me ? Look inside a TC, there’s acres of the stuff on nearly every surface, pleated lavishly on the cosseting catcher’s mitt seats it’s a splendid place to spend time. Behind the front seats is a parcel shelf topped with chrome strakes beneath which is concealed a factory fitted umbrella, neat ! The letters TC incidentally stand for “Touring Convertible”, bear this in mind and the car’s mission becomes clear. In the 1980s the personal luxury car was still alive, a car didn’t necessarily have to be athletic to be desirable. Granted, 517 TCs did have the 200 bhp Maserati fettled twin cam and a 5 speed stick. But most had either a more or less standard Chrysler turbo 2.2 or the 3.0 liter Mitsubishi sourced V6. And this is telling, the Mitsubishi mill hasn’t much power but it’s quiet and torque rich. The car I drove was so equipped and just wafted down the road. The lines of the TC may be LeBaron like, but the resemblance is only skin deep. The body panels and exterior trim are exclusive to the TC, and the doors close with a satisfying coachbuilt click-chunk noise, a LeBaron’s emphatically do not. And this is the point, for less than ten grand you can have a limited production, largely hand built two seat convertible with a rich interior covered in enough cowhide to make every vegan within a five mile radius spontaneously combust alied with prosaic enough oily bits (twin cam aside) that your corner garage or a competent owner should have no trouble wrenching on it. Find a looked after low mileage example, they are still out there, and you can’t very well go wrong.