Do you remember the Chrysler TC by Maserati? It was a car with one of those names that was just too complicated, like a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. It was a deeply strange car in every other way, too: almost like a Chrysler LeBaron, but with some fancier upholstery, Maserati trident badges and a hardtop with novel, round porthole windows. It’s these windows I want to tell you about today, because they managed to do something unexpected, dangerous, and, in its own magical way, kind of hilarious.
In case you need a little primer on the Chrysler TC by Maserati, this dealer training video may help:
Essentially, the car was the result of a strange partnership between Chrysler and Maserati, the result of a friendship between Lee Iacocca from Chrysler and Alejandro de Tomaso of Maserati, and can kind of be thought of as a K-car platform (fine, Q-platform) that was raised by minor royalty, but deep down was still the humble, FWD K-car numbnuts that we all know and sort of love.
Chrysler dealers understood that if they wanted to try and sell high-end cars that were half-assedly trying to convince buyers they were Maseratis, then they would demand more than those schmucks paying half as much for a LeBaron.
You can see references to this notion in that video:
This whole section of the video is grimly hilarious, as the narrator implores the viewer to, basically, not treat TC owners like crap, like you do all your other clients, because they have more money and therefore are better.
The idea that this video would have to warn dealers not to bullshit or lie to the client and to treat them with basic respect is so very, very telling.
Anyway, I bring all this up because with the care that Chrysler was attempting to take to keep these TC by Maserati owners happy, it just makes the madness of the particular design problem even more amazing.
Here’s what the problem was: One of the biggest styling signatures of the TC by Maserati was the round porthole window on the hardtop. This window wasn’t just some working-class circle of garbage glass, like what you might find keeping the pollen out of a trailer, but was rather an elegant discus of cut, beveled glass, inset with a golden Maserati trident, gloriously encircled — sorry, enpentagrammed — by the shape of the Chrysler logo.
This was the detail that would make unsuspecting passers-by clutch their chests and moan with raw, naked, aching longing at the very sight of this porthole window, weeping tears of joy and wonder and regret that the rest of reality is such a pale shadow of the gutting elegance of this signature bit of glass.
This was a fancy-ass window. This was how you knew from a good distance that you didn’t own some shitbox LeBaron. This was a big deal.
It would also set the rear cargo-area carpet on fire.
Yes, that’s right, this window would cause the plush, luxuriant carpet in the car to look like this:
That’s the door over the rear inside luggage compartment (which is above the gas tank) and those linear scorches are from innocent sunbeams being converted into a powerful heat-ray because of the prism of the beveled glass.
That distinctive linear pattern is formed as the sun traverses across the sky, moving the focus of the heat-ray, which records the passage of time by scorching burn lines in your expensive car’s hummus-colored carpeting.
Just to be sure this wasn’t some crazy, one-off event, I did some digging, and found multiple accounts of people who confirmed that this was, indeed, A Thing.
I should also mention that despite the scariness of melting, smoldering carpet right above a full gas tank, I have not seen any evidence that any TC actually went up in real flames and ignited the gas tank; Chrysler’s flame-retardant carpet supplier must have made a good product, because all the damage seems to be those burned slashes in the carpet on the rear luggage cubby cover.
I spoke with a man whose family had a Chrysler dealership that confirmed this was an issue with TCs on the lot, and Alan Galbraith, man behind the Concurs d’Lemons and TC by Maserati owner himself, confirmed it for me as well.
Everyone I spoke with mentioned an official Chrysler Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) that addressed this issue, along with re-designed portal window glass that would not heat-ray your car like Superman on a bender, but I have not been able to get my hands on that TSB yet.
I’ve called many Chrysler dealers, but TSBs from 1989 or 1990 are just too old to be in their systems, but I know there are copies out there; if anyone has access to this TSB, which likely will be referencing the hardtop in the title, I’d love to get a copy so I can update this with that crucial bit of history.
This is just such an amazing problem to have in a car, one that I bet Chrysler’s designers were absolutely baffled by. Who would have thought to check and see if the rear side windows of a car would magnify solar rays to the point where they become capable of actually damaging the car? It just seems so improbable.
And yet, here we are. Chrysler achieved the improbable, and developed the world’s only self-immolating car that runs on solar power. In a lot of ways, they were way ahead of their time.