By on July 8, 2019

Today’s Rare Ride is the much sportier (but mostly the same) liftback version of the Horizon that everyone forgot. It’s a Plymouth TC3, from 1982.

The L-platform was used by the ever-resourceful and cash-strapped Chrysler as the basis of at least 10 different cars sold around the globe. The platform was the first front-drive offering from Chrysler, and preceded the onslaught of K-cars by a couple of years. The four-door hatchback Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon hit the road in 1978, and Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca saw an opportunity to expand the range. He ordered up more sporty versions of the L. The new liftbacks wore additional names: the Dodge was an Omni 024, and Plymouth’s Horizon added a TC3 to its moniker. Underneath was the same chassis and engine as the Omni upon which it was based.

In the midst of a fuel crisis, Chrysler was keen to advertise the economical nature of the TC3 in addition to its sporty side. For the first couple model years, the TC3 was available with just one engine. Said engine was eventually consigned to the base model, called the Miser. The Miser used a 1.7-liter Volkswagen inline-four, which produced 70 horsepower. With the four-speed manual, the Miser received an EPA rating of 34 city, and 51 highway.

Sport appearance packages were offered starting in 1980, as Chrysler created the Horizon TC3 Turismo, and the Omni 024 DeTomaso. In 1981, the engine lineup expanded, and customers with money to burn could opt for Chrysler’s 2.2-liter (“Charger 2.2”) instead, with its heady 84 horsepower figure. A three-speed automatic was available for those who really weren’t concerned with fuel economy. Time for a quick MotorWeek break.

That same year, the prefixes were dropped from the Dodge and Plymouth; they became simply 024 and TC3. Both models were renamed again in 1983, when the Dodge became Charger, and the Plymouth adopted the Turismo name. A slight restyling accompanied the name change, with more engines and turbo power available later. Before their demise, the 024 and TC3 spawned two new vehicles over at the local Dodge/Plymouth/Colt/DeSoto/Imperial dealer: the pickup truck Dodge Rampage and Plymouth Scamp. The L-body just kept on going in its various forms, not calling it quits until 1990.

The red beauty before you is a final-year 1982 model, with 27,000 careful miles. With the 2.2 engine and an automatic transmission, its original buyer focused on power and comfort. It sold on eBay recently for $3,375.

[Images: seller]

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61 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1982 Plymouth TC3, Sporty Liftback Time...”


  • avatar

    Thanks for the write up, Corey! At the time these really caught my eye as possible next cars. For whatever reason I favored the 024 a bit more even though I knew they were virtually the same vehicle. when I got rid of my 72 Charger in 85, I bought an 84 Shelby Charger used. Very fun car to drive. The 2.2 just kept running. Love to have a “new” one. Side note: the gentleman who bought the ’84 was going to use it as a parts car for a Rampage he had. After sitting for 3 months or so the ’84 fired on the first try and drove away to Illinois. Always wondered how that came out.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    The one I drove was reliable and handled nicely, but the acceleration with the VW engine was, at best, stately. :-(

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I had an ’84 Turismo, it was ok until you turned the a/c on which was just too much for the little car and would shutdown. It would take 20 minutes for the little car to regain it’s composure and start again. We soon parted company

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    27K miles and $3,375? If I had a big garage I’d love to fill it with cheap little uncommon (now) cars like this. Too bad about the AT though.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Two door hatchback K-Car ?
    That steering wheel is hilarious.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      Find a picture of a later OmniRizon wheel. This looks downright sporting compared to those.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      The Omni/Horizon was actually (in)famous for having a very deep dish steering wheel.

      • 0 avatar
        EGSE

        I recall it was a deliberate move by Chrysler to have the steering wheel progressively deform if struck by the driver in the event of a frontal collision. This was in the day before airbags. I can’t provide a citation for this.

        In those days it was not unusual for the steering wheel hoop to be bent forwards at the 9 and 3 o’clock position in a head-on crash into something; this was for most any car. The driver tenses up in anticipation of the crash and grips the wheel hard. Invariably they would later complain of pain in the pectoral muscles due to the extreme strain imposed on them.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Could be. Or, as I recall, these had a strange seating position, and this might have been the way of bringing the wheel forward.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The four door didn’t have a strange seating position, but they went into production with this steering wheel.

  • avatar
    EGSE

    The VW engine was no prize. After a couple of years the oil smoke from the exhaust due to failed valve seals was a sure identification characteristic that the car had a 1.7 litre engine. There was also a 1.6 litre Simca (sometimes claimed to be a Peugeot) engine as a base unit. A colleague put 200k on one of those.

    The 2.2 was vastly better and would last if you gave it basic maintenance. I got over 175k on of abusive miles on mine. It was still good when 9 years of rust (and a broken front strut mount) convinced me to park it.

    The only weak link for the 2.2 that I know of was the carburetor. The throttle shaft would wear the carb body casting resulting in an air leak; this made for a rough idle you couldn’t tune out. The Omni-Horizon twins were popular in the D.C. MSA and the third owners would ask me about the crappy idle. A squirt of Berkebile 2+2 carb cleaner at the end of the shaft bore and if the engine stumbled…..there’s your problem. There was no fix except replace the carb. For the 1988 to 1990 MY it used a throttle-body FI which worked great. I got in one morning when it was -17 F. and it started immediately with no drama. You could tell the FI calibration richened the mixture somewhere around 50-ish F. and below (it felt like an on-off, not proportional function) as the car pulled a little better at mid-RPM.

    These styling exercises were a bit of a misfire to me. The styling sold cars but they reduced their utility for some use cases. And looking at them on the dealer lot it screamed quickie slap on a body kit (panel gaps could be awful). The hatchback was a more “wide-band” utilitarian configuration.

    Chrysler was refreshingly honest about the role they felt the car filled. The 1989 sales brochure said the Horizon was a good commuter car or second car. By the last few years of their run the earlier flaws were resolved and they become quite reliable by the standards of the day.

    Corey, thanks for the memories!

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like you had a lot of experience with these.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      Had that 1.7 in my ’82 Scirocco, albeit fuel injected. One day on the freeway, a huge coal-roller style waft of black exhaust had people swerving out of my wake, and that was that.

      I replaced that horrid engine with a 1.8 GTI engine, with 20 horsepower more. It was still badly overmatched. The 2.0 had just come out and you could use a 2.0 bottom end with 1.8 heads and keep your old injection system. That’s what I should have done…another 200 cc couldn’t have hurt.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    This might be the reddest car I’ve ever seen. And my parents had an 87 Horizon in red, with red interior. My grandmother had an 88 Tempo that eventually became my sisters. It was red with a red interior. I miss color in cheap car interiors. Everything is 50 shades of grey or black now.

  • avatar
    PhilMills

    Whoooa that takes me back. This car (in two-tone white over crappy faded red that I learned you shouldn’t clean with 409) was my very first “my own car” in high school back in the 90’s. My dad had a tenant who ran an impound lot and dad traded him the month’s rent for his pick of the lot. We actually ended up with two of these things (one a parts donor, primarily for a working gas cap, but also for a sweet set of rear window louvers).

    It was the quintessential piece of crap first car – hatch struts were shot (held up with a piece of oak dowel), parking brake ratchet mechanism was gone (you took the dowel from the hatch and jammed it under the brake handle and over the front seats), single-speaker AM radio didn’t work (and got replaced with the tape deck from my mom’s 85 Cavalier that got totaled, but I was too broke to actually buy a fit kit, so it was installed with a couple of pieces of plywood and some drywall screws from behind the dash and wired up to some old Goodwill-sourced bookshelf speakers in the trunk). Shift gate was… vague, but the tunnel was really low, so I could just kick it from gear to gear once I got moving. I got really good at clutchless shifting so I could work the gas and brake with one foot, steer with a knee, shift with the other foot and work a burrito and a Mountain Dew with my hands (high school priorities).

    Front half-shafts gave up at lunch one day (stranding 5 of us at Taco Bell), and the CV joints went shortly after.

    I have fond memories of that car.

  • avatar
    Steve203

    I test drove a TC3 in early 80. Seemed pleasant enough. It had one quirk: had to press a “key release” button in the steering column to pull the key out of the ignition.

    With Chrylser’s future in doubt at that time, and R&T’s owner survey showing the Omnirizon the worst car they had ever surveyed, I declined to pull the trigger on it.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      That was not uncommon on American cars built circa 1974 to the mid 80’s.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Always thought that those came only in stickshift cars, until my Grandma’s 1978 Futura with the straight-6 and automatic.

        Said automatic was a floor shift, and as I found out one day to my surprise, didn’t lock into “Park” when the ignition was locked! No damage done, but my 18-year-old self was thinking “WTF” as I floored the brake pedal to stop the car from rolling down my parents’ driveway, after the reserve had leaked out of the power brake booster! (Thankfully, the steering wheel was straight when the car had been parked!)

        • 0 avatar
          dtremit

          @sgeffe What, no sticker?
          https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/automotive-lawsuit-history-unearthed-junkyard-style-the-ford-park-to-reverse-warning-label/

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I believe that Chrysler proudly advertised that the 2.2 had a “HEMI” head.

    • 0 avatar
      EGSE

      That they did. Some of the ads were cringe-worthy, comparing the 2.2 to the 2nd gen (426) Hemi.

      https://www.youtu.be.com/watch?v=sqesQ6eT2lg

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      The engine they billed as a Hemi in the early ’80s was the Mitsubishi 2.6 liter balance shaft four that was the upgrade engine in various K-cars. This car was an L-body, which was never available with the 2.6 Hemi. The 2.2 liter Chrysler ‘Trans-4’ had inline valves and wasn’t even a cross-flow design. It was about as far from a hemi as one could get with an overhead cam.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Yep. The 2.2 had the manifolds on the back and all of the tuneup and maintenance items (except for the carburetor) on the front, in easy reach, and where you wouldn’t burn your hands on the exhaust. Really a pretty nice setup for working on them even though squeezing intake and exhaust on one side of the engine limited the its top end horsepower. It wasn’t a novel layout and other inline engines had been built that way before, but it was a thoughtful move by Chrysler engineering.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Actually checked out an ’81 model TC3 (or was it an Omni 024?) when I was shopping for my high school graduation car. I’d have driven it happily, but my dad found an ’81 Rabbit that the owner had traded with something like 5,000 miles on the clock, and that’s the car I ended up taking to college. Dad was all about deals (and the peaches don’t fall too far from the trees).

    And not to beat an equine that has clearly departed this world, but this was not a rare car by any means – Chrysler built a crapload of them.

    (The later Shelby versions might be another story.)

    I really do think this series would benefit from being split into truly rare rides, and survivor cars (which this one definitely is). I’d be equally interested either way.

    • 0 avatar

      Changing the heading doesn’t make a difference in the end, aside from perhaps a bit of additional “brand” complexity, as it were. Rare originally or rare as survivor makes no difference. It’s best not to dilute the same concept into two different series.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        One series is fine. The people complaining are the ones who make going to condo board meetings so excruciating.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I’ll pose an interesting question: let’s say you find a cherry ’76 Olds Cutlass Supreme coupe. Not that many of them are left around, to be sure, and the fact that it’s a creampuff makes it stand out. But how would you call this a “rare” car when it was, in fact, the best selling car of 1976?

        We may think of “rare” differently – I think of truly rare items as classic, or highly desirable. A ’76 Olds Cutlass is not a classic. A ’76 Eldo convertible is. The difference is desirability – which, of course, is in the eyes of the beholder, but I’d bet that 8 out of 10 beholders would find that Eldo droptop far more desirable than a cherry Cutlass coupe.

        I’d say the fact that someone cared for this base-model, four-banger, automatic Plymouth economy car for 37 years makes it more of a novelty than a rarity. Ditto for a cherry ’77 Impala, or ’75 Pinto, or so on. None of these are classics, but they’re survivors, and that makes them unique in their own way. But I just don’t think of them as “rare.”

        Anyway, just splitting hairs – I love the series, and I think a “survivor car” series might be just as interesting.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          “A ’76 Olds Cutlass is not a classic. A ’76 Eldo convertible is.”

          I passed an RV out on the interstate when on the family vacation a few weeks back. It was towing a Chrysler Lebaron convertible (from the tailend of production the wedge shaped last gen) green and tan color combo.

          The car had “classic” plates issued by the DMV of Connecticut. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          While yours is a valid definition, the primary definition of rare is infrequently occurring: uncommon. Survivors of commodity cars are uncommon and seen infrequently. Ergo, they are rare.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Rare (definition): “1) few and far between, scarce, sparse, scattered, thin on the ground, 2) not found in large numbers and consequently of interest or value, 3) unusually good or remarkable.”

          I believe that an ’82 TC3 qualifies under the first 2 and one in this condition also meets the third definition.

          In the early ’80s when I had relatively few funds, I dreamed of having a TC3/O24 and an AMC Eagle as our 2 cars. Instead we soldiered on driving Honda Civics. I guess that sometimes it is better if you don’t realize your dreams.

  • avatar
    V16

    Talk about a spartan interior.
    Looks like you could take it apart with your bare hands.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      A spartan interior in a 1982 subcompact meant lots of painted metal surfaces on the doors and around the windows, black sound deadener instead of carpet on the floor, vinyl seats, and blank spots where all but two of the gauges should be. Color coordinated dashboards and shift assembly were cherries on top. This was a mid-level interior that would have made many a VW buyer wonder why they paid so much.

      • 0 avatar
        EGSE

        Agreed. When the Omni/Horizon series debuted the term “basic” didn’t do them justice. As an example the (few) air vents had plastic doors that could cover them. You selected where you wanted air to come out by closing the vents you *didn’t* want air to come out of. I’m not picky about amenities in a car but I was shocked that they were so minimal. They made an ag tractor with a cab seem “loaded”.

        This interior has nothing to apologize for given the lower expectations of nearly 40 years ago.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          My grand parents had a 1980(IIRC) Dodge Omni that was a real stripper. Without A/C, the center dash vents were black plugs instead. It had no carpet. It had a vinyl boot around the four-speed shifter. It had vinyl seats with non-adjustable headrests. The interior tops of the doors were body colored sheet metal.

          My mother had a 1979 Horizon that was optioned to the price of a Buick. It had crushed velour seats with metal pleats to brand you on the way home from the pool in the summer and adjustable headrests. A/C meant that all the vents were real and functioned just like in a real car. There was no visible metal except a slice of body color side window frames. There was a console and everything black in this Turismo was fake wood, as was an embellishment on the steering wheel rim. There were buttons on lower left dash for the rear wiper/washer and defogger.

          Even this mid-level Horizon TC3 interior was plush compared to cars like the Ford Fiesta and the early production Rabbits. The Japanese had ‘loss leader’ base price cars that were advertised but rarely seen. There wasn’t much you’d have had to remove to prepare one for showroom stock racing.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      You obviously haven’t had much exposure to ‘classic’ cars. This interior is absolutely plush compared to some of its era and many of previous eras.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Padded door inserts, arm rests, cloth reclining seats, carpet, ‘soft touch’ dashboard, tinted glass. The interior colour co-ordinated. Heck that is near luxury levels for commuter/economy cars from the 60’s and 70’s (and early 80’s).

  • avatar
    mjg82

    My grandpa had one of these, a maroon Dodge Omni when I was really young. One of my earliest car memories is using the headlight housing as a seat. He had a minor accident with it and the front clip had to be replaced. It came from a yellow car but was painted maroon. The paint flaked like crazy so you could see the yellow underneath.

    I haven’t accessed that memory in probably 30 years.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

      I believe that was the plastic itself. I had a gouge in my ’84 Turismo’s front bumper that also showed yellow underneath, and it hadn’t been repainted.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Many of these flexible plastic “endura” bumpers and facades were molded yellow. The rear bumper trim on my 1987 Thunderbird was fading and you could see the yellow underneath. I used some bumper or tire black and covered it up.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    I certainly never bothered looking at one of these before buying my ’84 Chrysler Laser, but I suppose if one was really short of cash, they served a purpose.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The Omni and Horizon were quite popular in my Northeast NYC area. The bodies seemed to hold up well compared to other subcompacts and compacts of the era.
    A neighbor of mine had a loaded Turismo in this same color with alloys the nice rear louvre for the hatch and a sunroof that served her well for several years.
    You rarely saw a rusty one considering the amount of road salt used in the area, maybe it was the Chrysler Europe design though built here but using decent steel.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    To me, the look of the car is “I’ve given up, and don’t care anymore”

  • avatar
    71charger_fan

    I still miss the ’83 Shelby Charger (which I had bought new) I sold 5 years ago. That was a very fun car to drive.

  • avatar

    I’ve realized this is a six-window hatchback, and there aren’t too many of those.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      The Lancia Beta HPE had a vent window. Does that count? The Merkur XR4Ti had six side windows too.

      • 0 avatar

        I should write up the hideous HPE.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          Every Lancia made after Fiat acquired them other than the Stratos was over-rated. That includes the 037 Stradale and the Delta S4. Still, somehow it hurts me when you call the Beta HPE Volumex hideous. I guess it is because I lived in Europe in the mid-’80s, and almost everything else on the road was so much harder on the eye. Or is it because European cars of today make European cars of thirty-five years ago look like design classics? I’m going with the later. Not a single division of Fiat makes a car as attractive as an HPE today, and that includes Ferrari, let alone Jeep or Ram.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    I vividly remember these – simple and fuel efficient – a simple and honest approach to an affordable car with some style and uniqueness. Alas, today’s car are over-priced, thick bodied blobs with limited style and each now trying to add that hideous black accent to the c-pillar to out Nissan, Nissan. And to think that later versions of this car applied a cover over the third side window and came up with a different look much like Ford did with the fox-body Mustang adding a huge glass side window over the area in the c-pillar that had that fake side vent.


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