by Stephen Lyons
The TC and Chrysler LeBaron had the same designer. The color coordinated door handles were a first for Chrysler.
See our ABS replacement article
The Chrysler TC automobile came about as the result of collaboration between Chrysler and Maserati, an arrangement rooted in the friendship of the charismatic men in charge of the two companies, Lee Iacocca and his friend Alejandro de Tomaso. The link was perhaps ahead of its time, with the low-volume Maserati providing its image and tuning expertise, and the high-volume Chrysler providing its engineering and sales capabilities.
The basic idea was to add some glamour to Chrysler (and some profit to Maserati); at the same time, various high-performance, turbocharged Dodge Daytonas and other vehicles (such as the Spirit R/T) were being launched to spice up the company’s reputation.
Conceived as a two-passenger luxury grand touring convertible and changed only in minor details from its early prototypes, the TC was intended to be Chrysler's image-building flagship. Unfortunately, the building and promotion of semi-drivable pre-production examples could not make good the TC's intemperately announced introduction as a 1987 model. The subsequent two-year delay in getting the car into actual production was a monumental public relations and marketing blunder, especially since rather than preceding the Chrysler LeBaron convertible — and lending its prestige to that vehicle — it ended up being introduced afterwards. That meant that, rather than the LeBaron being seen as inheriting cues from the high-end TC, the TC was seen as being too similar to the run-of-the-mill (though attractive) LeBaron.
As it finally worked out, by late 1988 an assembly line of sorts had been set up in Milan, where standard Chrysler engines (a 2.2 liter turbo for 1989, a Mitsubishi V-6 in 1990 and 1991) with automatic transmissions were sent to be mated to the largely handcrafted bodies, the whole cars then being shipped back to the U.S. for sale only by selected Chrysler-Plymouth dealerships. A more exotic variation of the TC sported a more powerful Chrysler-based 2.2 liter engine fitted with a double overhead cam 16 valve Maserati head fabricated by Cosworth in England; an even more powerful version of this engine would show up as the Turbo III. This hotter powerplant could only be had with a 5-speed Getrag manual gearbox.
The TC’s 16-valve 2.2 liter engine was engineered by Maserati and developed by Chrysler, Maserati, and a contractor; it used the standard 2.2 liter engine blocks and various other parts made at the Trenton Engine Plant, with final assembly in Modena, Italy. Maserati designed the aluminum head, with direct-action cams above the valves and shim-based valve lash adjustment; they set up a cog-based cam drive, both manifolds, the accessory drive system, and revised rods and crank. Mahle pistons were used; a remotely mounted intercooler was used with the IHI RHB52 turbocharger. This engine produced 200 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque, very respectable numbers (albeit beaten by Chrysler in 1991 with the Turbo III engines. Automatic-transmission cars were restricted to the 174 horse Chrysler-built 2.2 Turbo II, and after 1989, the Mitsubishi V6.
Although sharing styling cues with the LeBaron coupes and convertibles of the same period, the TC actually has relatively few components that are readily interchangable with those found on other Chrysler products. Certainly almost all body panels and exterior trim items, as well as most of the interior furnishings are unique to the TC. With only 7300 examples made over the three year life of the model, and the availability of new replacement parts from Mopar steadily declining, today's TC owner's major preoccupation is stockpiling items against the inevitable crunch (figuratively speaking).
The 1989 models had no airbag, and some minor changes were made for the 1990 models in addition to the new V6 and 16-valve 2.2 engine. Production ended in 1990, due to low sales, though there was a 1991 model year. The asking price of $35,000 was roughly double that of the Chrysler LeBaron convertible, which also came with a turbocharged 2.2 liter engine, albeit without the same level of luxury inside. On the lighter side, the LeBaron’s bodies were apparently less troublesome and better fitted, and easier to find replacement parts for.
An invaluable resource for the TC enthusiast is the TC America club, which via a quarterly newsletter and an annual national meet disseminates to a current membership of over 900 arcane tips and information regarding the various quirks and problems peculiar to this special vehicle. TC America's website is located at http://www.chryslertcbymaseraticlub.com
When they first came out, I had a 1989 16V, which I sold, regretted having sold, so got a 1990 16V, which I had for a long time and enjoyed tremendously. Eventually I sold it too, and ultimately regretted that.
I've enjoyed several exotics over the years - Ferraris, Maseratis, Loti, AMGs, Astons, and Cobras - and I firmly believe that the TC is among the very best of the bunch. I know that among the slick-car-magazine crowd it was fashionable to sniff or sneer at the TC as being a "didn't make it" hybrid. To such types I have just shrugged and said, "It's by far the best vehicle that Maserati ever made, and the best sports car that Chrysler ever made; and the only thing it suffered from was a lack of marketing in the USA because most Chrysler dealers didn't know jack about it. It's more comfortable than any Ferrari or Mercedes ever made, it gets much better gas mileage than a Shelby or a Viper, the parts are Chrysler-inexpensive, it's got a nice big trunk, you can see all the gauges clearly, the stereo is perfect, you can see in all directions, the A/C vents are in exactly the right places for passenger comfort, and you don't have to worry about wiggling up steep driveways at an angle as you must in a Testarossa or Countach."
That usually brings comments from Maserati purists like, "What? You mean it's better than a Mistral or a Bora or even a 1990 Biturbo Spyder?!" To which I say, "Sure, drive any one of them and then drive a TC, and you'll agree with me. There is no comparison in build quality, comfort, or handling. The 'straight'-Masers' only advantage is in raw horsepower if you're into Stoplight Grand Prixs and speeding tickets. Not to mention that the TC sold new for a fraction of their prices."
I had only one complaint with both TCs: Both of my hardtops leaked in the rain, at the right and left corners of the windshield. Neither dealer nor body shop could solve that one!
If I had been boss at Chrysler, I would have:
(a) continued the TC.
(b) trained one salesperson at each dealership to really know this car and the history of Maserati generally.
(c) changed it to rear-wheel drive.
(d) stuffed the Maserati Shamal engine into it (a DOHC 32-valve twin-turbo V8) to turn it into a real Corvette-eater.
(e) fixed that @*^% windshield drip.
Maserati is now out from under de Tomaso control and under the wing of Ferrari, which plans to market it through select Ferrari dealerships. That might bring about a renaissance of interest in Maserati generally, including the TC.
The swap from the 3 speed automatic behind the 2.2L Turbo engine in my 1989 Chrysler TC was as a result of my first trip to the TC America convention in 1995. We had to cross Veil Pass in Colorado and were led by a 16 valve TC with the 5 speed transaxle which had no problem with the grade. My TC was a total dog at that altitude and couldn't keep up freeway speed (70 or more) in 3rd gear and was screaming in second as we climbed the long, long grade to 11,000 feet, or whatever it was. I knew it had to make a change.
It was probably 1997 before I found a proper donor, an 1989 Dodge Daytona Shelby. It appeared very thrashed in the salvage yard but it was all there. It turned out the transaxle case was broken, but the salvage ward supplied me with a perfect, rebuilt A555 transaxle along with all the large and small parts needed. You need to pick it yourself or specify exactly what you need. Also tell them to save every nut, bolt, washer and clip and whatever they have to remove to get at the larger parts. DON'T USE THE TORCH! I also got the engine controller (SMEC) from that Daytona. That makes a great difference also. (The salvage yard employee pulled the parts.)
Because the TC (Q body) was built as a one-of-a-kind model, it was equipped with all the holes needed for clutch cable and shift cables already in place. You merely have to remove the plugs. The parts gathered were all cleaned and inspected. The flywheel was resurfaced and new clutch parts acquired. My drive axles from the automatic were reused as boots and joints were in OK condition. As I operate my own repair shop, the project was divided into 2 weekends. Both days were used each weekend and car was driven home between weekends.
Weekend #1 - THIS IS THE TOUGHEST PART BY FAR! Devoted to installing clutch and brake pedals and installing shifter and cables. The TC has an elaborate dash that needs to be completely removed. To begin, battery disconnected, both seats were removed, steering column was removed then the entire dash which is no easy task. (You could merely roll it down with the 2 lower pivot bolts loose but in place, but the dash needs to be supported and the console has to be out of the way first. It's also in the way to get clear access to the pedal brackets)
When access is gained to the brake pedal on this model, the brake pedal / arm must to be reused due to the fact that these cars are equipped with the Tevis ABS brake system and the pin, connecting the pushrod to the pedal swing arm, is unique. I therefore cut the pedal pad area to accept the smaller rubber pad from the Daytona brake arm. It is also important to note that the bracket hardware supporting the clutch and brake pedal be installed from the stick shift donor car as there is a clutch up-stop which is required for clutch cable adjustment, and must be retained. Otherwise they appear similar and one might (flatrate) think to only add the clutch pedal.
I also removed the entire center console, exposing the automatic shifter mechanism which is bolted to the floor with the exact same bolts as the manual shifter so it is just a matter of exchanging them and feed the shifter cables through the hole that the automatic shift cable goes through. Just use the grommets and retainer for the 2 cables. (I left the automatic shift cable in the car temporarily in order to drive it home for the week) When all this was done, the dashboard is reinstalled (easier said than done) then the console was reinstalled after installing the shifter boot in the console. (There is more to that than 'just' installing the boot, you'll find out) Install the steering column and the seats and the car is ready to drive after reconnecting the battery. (It's still an automatic)
Weekend #2 - With the car on the lift, ready to go up. Remove the battery, and all that's in the way in order to remove the automatic transaxle. Now it's just a matter of pulling the automatic out and installing the flywheel, clutch components and the stick shift transaxle. Hook up the shifter and clutch cables, DON'T FORGET to fill the transaxle after installing the axle shafts. Connect all your electrical components and DOUBLE CHECK IT ALL.
Hemi Andersen also has a custom engine - built from a late 2.5 liter “common block,” it has the original Maserati-Chrysler 2.2 liter pistons from the 16 valve setup, with Chrysler rods and crank; custom wrist pin bushings were made because of the smaller diameter wrist pins. This engine was created because it was necessary to build an engine using available parts; connecting rod bearings are very difficult to find for the narrower connecting rods commonly found in this engine. This one is signed by John Force.
Also see TC by Maserati brake booster swap: Swapping in the LeBaron system; 2.2 Turbo; Maserati; and LeBaron Coupe/Convertible.
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