There are many, may euphemisms for making something out of nothing. We all know about silk purses and sow’s ears, as well as how difficult it can be to buff various forms of excrement. I’m sure you can think of others, too. Now, if you lived through the Automotive Dark Ages, from the mid ‘70s to the mid ‘80s, then you know that there are also plenty of physical manifestations of these turns of phrase. There are almost as many examples of gussied-up econobeaters and barely-warmed over “sporty” cars as there were hopelessly bland, underpowered, soul-less people movers.
As the EPA regulations choked the last life, and fun, out of cars in the mid ‘70s, it became exceedingly common for car makers to try and mask their products’ increasing mediocrity with ever-gaudier appearance packages. While you can never say the Trans-Am’s Screaming Fire Chicken was subtle, it seems almost respectfully restrained compared to the many sad copycats that came bounding after it. There was no shortage of stripes, psychedelic animal logos and useless body kits that seemed to be thrown at the proverbial automotive wall to see what would stick. Sadly, it all seemed to stick!, It got to the point where appearance packages became more of a cynical, self-deferential joke than anything that might actually improve the driving experience of the weary and hopeless consumer.
When the Big Three (AMC was more or less a zombie at this point) came face to face with the realization that they needed small, front-drive cars to combat the Japanese imports, it was time to panic. The first attempts and “downsizing” had resulted in awesome classics like the Vega/Monza and the ever-flammable Pinto. These were NOT the answer; they were small versions of big cars. What was needed was an actual SMALL CAR. Every maker approached the problem differently. Ford’s “world car” Escort came at us from Britain (and elsewhere), and Chevy’s first “indigenous” front-driver was the hugely reviled Citation.
At this point, though, Chrysler was struggling. Most of its lineup was just downsized ‘70s models, and they had nothing to bridge the gap until the K-Cars were ready. To fill this void, the European Horizon was introduced in the late ‘70s as the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. This was a boxy economy hatchback that had all the personality of a soggy paper shopping bag. Still, it was small, cheap and efficient (kinda), and it sold well. The problem was that it wasn’t exciting. It didn’t grab the younger “free spirit” demographic. It was a great “mom-mobile” and grocery getter, but that was it. How, then, could the car be made sportier to appeal to enthusiasts?
Long before legitimate performance inroads were made with the GLH, it was decided to wrap the oh-so-flaccid guts of the Horizon and its Omni stablemate in a new, “sexy” outer shell. The idea was to create a sporty-looking economy car that was not just an appearance package, but actually an entirely different collection of sheet metal. It was akin to dipping an over-boiled Brussel Sprouts into crappy Dollar Store chocolate and giving them out on Hallowe’en. The covering might have fooled some of the people some of the time, but the taste it left behind wasn’t always that great.
The two “sexy” two-doors offered by Chrysler on the Omni/Horizon chassis were the Omni 024 and Horizon TC3. Like the Ford EXP and Mercury LN7, the names of these “fresh new” cars doesn’t really seem to mean much. TC-3 has been suggested to mean “Touring Coupe 3-doors”, but that’s not official. It could also mean “Tepid Crusier, 3-minutes-to-top-speed”, and that would be no less correct. Still, credit has to be given where it is deserved. Rather than just stick an obnoxious number of stripes or something silly like a multi-colour moose head (or some such) on the hood, Chrysler went to the mat and created a new body shell for the car. It was definitely an improvement over the normal Horizion.
The TC3 was much swoopier, with a longer, lower roofline and an aerodynamic front end that harkened back, albeit very slightly, to the days of the big-winged Daytonas and Road Runners. The tail lights were also brand new, being wider and sportier, and there were coloured bumpers at both ends. Gone was the pretention of formality found in the chrome of the normal Horizons; it was replaced with the “Euro-look” of sporting flat black and monochrome accessories. The grille was a full-width set of slits that terminated just before the slopy pods housing the headlights, and below the bumpers was a set of intakes to service the engine.
This is where the TC3 and O24 fell apart. Despite the admittedly improved styling of the body shell, and more sporting trim on the interior, the guts were the same. The TC3 was dragged along by the same scrabbling, transverse-mounted VW-sourced engine of the econobox version. There was no performance improvement at all. You still got a 1.7L engine making (when new) a shockingly sad 70 hp and equally anemic 90-ish lb.ft of torque (whether you need it or not). You also got Chrysler quality, which, at the time, was not something to write home about.
However, it was a fresh approach to sporty motoring, and when it debuted in 1979, neither of the other Big Three had anything like it. They were fairly successful, too; I can personally remember a good number of the Omni 024s, although I don’t really remember seeing many of the Horizon TC3s around when I was younger. By the time I was 10 or so, most of them had melted away or been traded in for shiny new K-Cars or Tempos. Yes, these were dark times…
Given the innovative approach to, and almost depressingly low expectations for, sporty driving that these “pointy” econoboxes represented, it’s not a surprise that they were the subject of model maker’s efforts. The most common example of this is the MPC family of Omni 024s. There was a veritable army of Omnis and custom versions therein offered as annuals for years. However, the Plymouth TC3 seems to have been largely forgotten. In fact, the only kit of it was an AMT produced in association with Lesney/Matchbox in 1980.
Until recently, I wasn’t even aware that a kit of the Horizon TC3 existed. I have a few of the Omnis (shocking, I know), but never even saw the TC3. Thankfully, due to my new friend F-J, this crushing oversight has been corrected. I now have in my hands the AMT TC3! Let’s take a look and see what’s in the box, shall we?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, MPC is the king of crazy car kit box art. However, this isn’t an MPC. It’s an AMT. They are NOT the kings of visceral, “grab-you-by-the-collar-and-shake” box tops. No, in fact, the AMT TC3’s box is about as exciting as the real car. It makes you look, maybe twice and then go “huh”. That’s about it. It’s a white background with a big AMT logo on it and a front-three quarters image of the TC3 taking up almost the whole box. It tells you the kit is moulded in colour and is 1/25, and that’s about it.
While it’s not striking, it is at least interesting once you stare at it for a bit. One thing I noticed is that the Plymouth writing is in all lower-case letters. HORIZON is in block caps, but Plymouth is off to the side, given as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield. As for the TC3 itself, it’s at least a drawing of the car, not just a lame photo of the real thing (<cough> Hasegawa <cough>) or a retouched photo of a badly built model. In this way, the box is typical AMT, sharing a lot in concept, if not complete arrangement, with the AMT Monza and Pacer.
As I mentioned in my Volare article, red and black are a stunning combination. However, it seems to be more pronounced if the car is black and the interior red. This is not the case on the TC3. Instead, the car is both red AND black, and the interior is totally black. The black underside is supposed to give the car a business-like European feel. I never did get that, and I still don’t. To me, it makes the car look like a shoe whose sole comes up the side too far. It gives an unfinished look, like the gross grey cladding on mid-2000’s sport utes. This particular trim is an actual package, the “Sport Appearance Package”.
On one side of the box is how AMT does a custom. It is far, far tamer than anything MPC ever proposed! Seen from the rear three-quarters is another red car, but this time without the black lower body paint, but still with blacked out window trim, mirrors and tail light surrounds. That tells me it is a Turismo package vehicle. However, it is adorned with a very large, and equally lame “TC3” stripe that goes along the body and up over the hood. It doesn’t really suit the vehicle, but if I thought it was legit, I’d use it for sure. However, sadly, from what I can tell, it isn’t.
The other side of the box is where it gets fun. Seen head-on there is a lame light blue TC3. The car is somewhat awkward from this perspective, and its narrow track looks a bit worrisome. The best part of this is the box copy.
Wow. That is as unbiased as some of the political reporting we’ve seen of late! I know that I’m sure glad all those gas-guzzling 340 Dusters and 440-six-pack ‘Cudas are gone. Things have gotten so much better! As for the advanced technology they mention, I have no idea what it is, but it sounds cool. I am sure, too, that there are many other comparisons that can be made between the TC3 and sedan versions of the horizon, including the fact they have the exact same drivetrain, which isn’t exactly sporty, even if it is reliable! That piece of box copy alone is the epitaph of an era and all the explanation you need to understand the complete devastation of the Automotive Dark Ages!
As advertised, the kit is moulded in colour, in this case, red. The breakdown is very typical of any car kit of this era, and you get a chassis, interior bucket, body shell and then all the fiddly bits, like a nose cone and rear valence/bumper that I am sure will need extra location for proper attachment. You also get four vinyl tires. These are not the “halfies” that AMT is known for, either, thank goodness. They are legitimate tires, and they even have lettering on them! That’s one way to tell this is an old kit! Sadly, the tires look more like winter tires than they do normal ones, and they seem a bit wide. Still, they aren’t bad, and the seams aren’t even really visible down the centre of the tire!
Normally, I am not a fan of AMT kits. I remember my brother and I having bad luck with them growing up, and some of their offerings seem to fall seriously short of what MPC was putting out at the time. However, in this case, I am astounded to say the kit looks seriously good! The engine has good casting and detail, although a lot of the accessories are moulded in. The chassis detail is also nice, although there are no brake lines or anything, and there is an odd texture to it. It could be right, but seems likey they tried to carpet the chassis! There is a separate-piece exhaust system and basic suspension though, so that has to count for something.
What really surprised me was the interior. The bucket is nearly as good as I would expect in an MPC, and way beyond what I expected from an AMT! it has good carpet texture and the the rubber “mat” built into the floor for the driver. My brother commented that the side-wall texture was a bit odd, but I believe it’s there to add a slight bit of grain or texture to simulate the padded vinyl on the doors. Once painted, and with a light wash to highlight some of the shadows, the effect should be very nice. The console is plain, but the real thing isn’t much better. The seats are accurate and have good texturing as appropriate, too, including the carpet on the back of the fold-down rear seat!
From the instructions, I can tell that the car was supposed to come on four red racks, plus clear headlights windows and red clear tail lights. The model I purchased from F-J was already started, although very well done. All my parts have been cut off the racks, sanded and where appropriate, filled! I love it! I wish all my cars had this done to them! What is interesting, though, is that unlike an MPC, this kit has NO chrome rack. That means that the wheels are moulded in red. They’re quite accurate, and are even “hollow”, meaning they have holes in the that go through to the other side. This is rare for an American kit of this era simulating then-modern wheels.
The windows have aged well, and came in a separate Ziploc bag. Again, thanks to F-J or the previous owner for doing this. The glass isn’t perfectly clear, but there’s no tire melt or major damage of any kind. What is interesting is the front windscreen. It actually has the rear mirror moulded into it! I’ve never seen this before, and while it SOUNDS brilliant, I can’t be sure it is. Painting it may lead to the mirror looking like a “wedge” on the window, but it’s pretty low, so I hope it won’t. Regardless of how it turns out, this is a pretty neat innovation that clearly didn’t stick around on car kits! The tail light lenses are also quite finely detailed, and have considerable texturing; the big red parts are totally different from the other two smaller blocks. Being cast in clear red, they will have to be foiled-over to allow the backup and turn signal lights to be painted properly.
Instructions and Decals:
The TC3 is not a big car, nor is it a big or complicated kit. Thus, the instructions are pretty compact; folded in thirds (likely for the last two decades at least) it opens into a simple, small piece of half-folded paper. There’s the tree diagram on the front, which is useful for double checking that everything is there. There are twelve steps, but some are pretty simple.
The instructions are pure period AMT. They are well drawn and precise, and follow the Matchbox principle. That’s right, the “Matchbox” on the box isn’t just for show. The instructions use similar symbology for order of operations and indicating what glues to what as you would find in any Matchbox plane or tank kit. That’s an added comfort for those of us well-acquainted with the mighty Mbox! As a note, this kit does say it’s made by Lesney, and maybe that’s why it’s a better kit than most AMT cars?
The decals on this kit are in fantastic shape. For the stock TC3, there are appropriate TC3 badges for the fenders and rear spoiler, as well as the black stripes to go above the blacked-out lower body. These include the odd “red patch” decals. I believe these were to simulate extra wrap-around tail lights on the real car. Omni 024’s had something similar, and I believe they were reflective on the real cars. It seems to be only shown with the Sport Apperance Package.
That’s where the decal sheet gets odd; it calls the wrap-around stripes that boldy (and brownly) call out “TC3” to be for the “Sport Package”. However, they are just custom. I so wish they weren’t. the decals are all very well printed and in register. They look a bit thick, but at the same time, they seem to give the impression that they’ll take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’, so to speak.
The Horizon TC3 was a pretty sad car. Sure, it tried to look good, and it did succeed at making an anemic puddle-jumper into a somewhat racy-looking, if not performing, sport coupe. It is a shape I can remember very well from days gone by, and it’s a shape I haven’t seen in a long, long time. Despite the attempt to make them sporty and attention-getting, I’m pretty sure most ended up as College Beaters, driven rustedly and backfiringly into oblivion a decade or so after their initial purchase.
Despite their less-than-blazing performance, the Omni O24 and Horizon TC3 were the focus of a lot of hope and some legitimate excitement in motoring circles. It was hoped they were the first step on the way to something better. They were, and in that they acted as the feeble first steps towards the revival of true sporty motoring, they did a valuable service to the history of the North American car.
This kit is a pretty good replica of the more forgotten brother. The TC3 was never as popular as the 024, and the fact that there’s a kit of it is pretty awesome. As far as kits go, this AMT is better than some of the earlier offerings by the same maker. I don’t know how fit will be, but the parts look well formed and there’s less flash than a typical MPC, I think. Mine might have been deflashed, too, though.
This is a simpler-looking kit than an MPC, too, from what I can remember. It would be well suited for a relative novice in car building. There aren’t a lot of pitfalls I can foresee, and with a simplified engine and drivetrain, there will be fewer fiddly parts, too manage. Of course, it’s well-detailed enough to be a great kit for an experienced builder, too, and if you love your loser Chryslers, you can definitely express it in spades using this kit as a base.
Overall, I’m impressed with this kit. It’s a good offering from a company in which I previously have had little faith. It’s going to be a fun one, I think. It’ll be a good counter to all the heavy Mopar iron that shows up at local model shows. Like it or not, this tarted-up econobeater was the Charger of its day. That’s gotta hurt.