Chrysler's TC by Maserati

Plymouth's new 1989 Acclaim compact implied an upscale Chrysler version. Sure enough, it arrived in January 1990 to take over for the departed LeBaron hatchback. A blocky "trunked" four-door with smoothed-off edges, it was essentially a gussied-up Acclaim that could pass as a pint-size New Yorker with optional bright trim, vinyl-roof toppings, and a standard 141-bhp V-6.

The K-car's 2.2-liter four had grown to 2.5 liters and 100 bhp, and it was now standard for all '89 two-door LeBarons. The only option was a 150-bhp turbo version for LeBaron coupes and convertibles. Those J-body cars received a modernized dash for 1990. Designed by Trevor Creed, lately of Citroën, it was flashy, but less than ideal for ergonomics.

Also new for the Js was a 2.2-liter "Turbo IV" option with Chrysler's new Variable Nozzle Technology. Power was unchanged from the previous "Turbo II" (174 bhp), but VNT reduced throttle lag by optimizing exhaust-gas flow to the turbocharger with a set of radial vanes that could be angled by computer control according to throttle position and engine speed.

Symbolic of Chrysler's 1980s fortunes was its first-ever production two-seater. Awkwardly named Chrysler's TC by Maserati, it was first shown in mid-1986 (as the "Q-coupe") but was delayed by numerous problems to a late-1988 debut as an '89 model. Maserati, of course, is the well-known Italian sports-car maker in which Chrysler had lately acquired a minority interest, but its main role in this joint venture was simply to build Chrysler's design.

Almost too predictably, the TC was yet another K-clone: a shortened 93.3-inch-wheelbase version of that ubiquitous platform topped by a wedgy convertible body looking much like the open LeBaron J (though the TC was actually created first). Powerteams involved a special 200-bhp turbocharged 2.2 with intercooler, port injection, and a new Maserati-design 16-valve twincam cylinder head, available only with five-speed manual; and a single-cam 160-bhp "Turbo II" engine for buyers preferring three-speed automatic.

The customer's only other choice was paint color, since the TC was conceived as a fully equipped "one-price" model. Included were the expected leather upholstery and full power assists, but also all-disc antilock brakes, manual soft top with heated-glass rear window, and a removable hardtop (made of sheet-molding compound). The last had a nostalgic styling touch: rear-quarter portholes, recalling the '56 Thunderbird and the earliest days of Iacocca's career at Ford.

Despite all this, the TC bombed. Its similarity to the much cheaper LeBaron convertible was too obvious; and handling, refinement, and performance were undistinguished for a car of its price. Adding injury to insult, the announced $30,000 base sticker was hiked $3000 within three months. Thus did trade weekly Automotive News name the TC its 1988 "Flop of the Year," the same "honor" it accorded Cadillac's Allanté the previous year.

The 1990 edition was unchanged except for adding a wood-rimmed steering wheel with airbag and a 3.0-liter Mitsubishi V-6 to replace the Turbo II engine with automatic. Production soon ended at some 7300 total units. A few 1990s were retailed into '91, again at fire-sale prices.

Meanwhile, the old rear-drive M-body Fifth Avenue was finally retired for a new Y-body 1990 model, essentially the latest front-drive New Yorker stretched to a 109.3-inch wheelbase. Styling displayed the usual "formal" cues, though hidden headlamps were a nice change and there were gadgets galore. Under the hood sat a new Chrysler V-6: a 3.3-liter overhead-valve design with port injection and 147 bhp.

But the real surprise was yet another reborn Imperial, this one a more-deluxe Fifth Avenue measuring four inches longer (203 overall). An upright grille announced it, and the familiar Imperial eagle badges appeared on the tail and roof. But prices were stiff for what amounted to luxury K-cars: $21,395 for Fifth Avenue, $25-grand for Imperial.

Worse, both were narrower and less roomy than Cadillac's recently enlarged DeVille. And Chrysler charged extra for antilock brakes that Lincoln included on its Continental sedan. With all this, the Y-body twins were not huge sellers. The Fifth Avenue claimed a respectable 44,400 model-year sales, but Imperial managed fewer than 15,000.

There was a new Town & Country for 1990, the first in two years. To no one's surprise, it was a minivan. Chrysler had pioneered this concept with its '84 Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager, and had kept sales roaring with useful yearly updates, especially the '87 introduction of extended "Grand" models on a spacious 119.1-inch wheelbase. With every minivan an easy sale -- and often loaded with profitable extras -- a luxury version was a logical addition to the Chrysler lineup.

The minivan T&C bowed as a single long-chassis model with numerous comfort and convenience features including leather interior. Base price was a bit startling at $25,000, but the only extras were whitewall tires and a front license-plate bracket. A vertical-bar grille and pseudo-wood bodysides distinguished T&C from less-costly Dodge/Plymouth minivans. The sole powertrain was a 150-bhp 3.3 pushrod V-6 and four-speed automatic, the latter a new option for Caravan/Voyager. Though model-year sales were modest at under 3500 units, Chrysler hoped for better T&C results in the future.

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