Like many parents, I have a child who’s interested in cars, which is an interest I’m more than happy to encourage. Lately, he’s been especially fascinated with car badges and emblems, and loves to point out as many as possible. When he sees one he doesn’t recognize, he asks me. Normally, this is fine, but the other day he spotted the one that every parent dreads: the unholy mashup badge used on the Chrysler TC by Maserati.
Yes, that one. The one that causes full-grown adults to shudder in confusion and fear; just consider what it could do to an innocent six-year old mind if not handled in just the right way.
Of course, he noticed it right away; thanks to the iK-Car app on my phone, I was alerted that a K-Car derivative was within 500 feet of me, so I was already on high alert, ready to deal with the inevitable questions that arise (“This was the car that saved Chrysler?”) whenever we pass near a Plymouth Reliant or a Chrysler LeBaron.
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Never, though, did I expect to have to deal with the Chrysler TC by Maserati. I was hoping to avoid this until he turned at least 9 or 10 or so; 6 is just too young.
But there it was, red and defiant and confusing. Otto immediately honed in on the badge, his pupils widening with interest and his body trembling with excitement and confusion.
“Daddy! This has the Chrysler shape... but...a crown inside! What’s the crown again?”
I shook my head sadly, knowing there was no way back, steeling myself to watch another shard of childhood innocence cruelly torn away.
“Maserati. And it’s a trident, not a crown. Like an oyster fork, sorta.”
“Oh yeah. Maserati. But, but, daddy, this... this isn’t a Maserati? Is it?”
How do you explain this to a child? I looked into his little freckled face, peering at me for answers, for security, for something solid to hold onto, and I knew, deep down, I had nothing to give him. Nothing that he needed.
“But... but, daddy, why does it look like a LeBaron? Daddy, I’m scared.”
I pulled him close, let him bury his face in my chest. I took a breath, and tried to explain the best I could.
“Otto, you have to understand, sometimes good people can do bad things without meaning to. You see, Alejandro de Tomaso was in charge of Maserati—you know, the Mangusta guy—and Lee Iacocca—”
“The bad man that hated the Volkswagen Thing?” he interrupted, eyes wide in fear.
“Well, yes, but he did good things, too. Anyway, they were friends and they really wanted to make a sports car together, and so, they gave it a try. They cooperated! That’s a good thing, right?” I was trying to put the best spin on this that I could.
“Maybe. How did they cooperate? Was it a Maserati platform?” Otto wasn’t scared anymore, just curious and intense.
“Well, no, not really, it was a K-Car derived platform, called the Q-platform.”
Otto’s eyes narrowed to slits. He backed away from me a few steps. “What engine did it use?” he asked.
“Um. Well, the Chrysler 2.2 liter four like most K-Cars, but—”
“DADDY, NO!” Otto shouted.
“Hey! You didn’t let me finish! Some of those used a Maserati 16v DOHC cylinder head made by Cosworth in England! And there were also some options for a Mitsubishi V6!”
Otto looked at me with disgust and confusion. He was working up the courage to ask one more question.
“Daddy. Daddy, you have to tell me. Which wheels make this car go? These? or these, like a real Maserati?” Otto pointed first to the front, then the rear.
I looked at him, so full of joy and life and hope, and felt my insides turn to ice-cold custard as the answer formed in my head. Sometimes, as a parent, you wish you could shield your child from all the various miseries of reality, but you know you can’t.
I looked at the porthole window in the hardtop, the one that displayed an etched trident in cruel mockery. I couldn’t meet his eyes.
“The front ones.”
Otto dropped to the ground, stung so hard by cruel reality he couldn’t even cry. I picked him up and held him, yelling, “Wait, wait, a lot of people love these! They’re... they’re practical, and far cheaper to fix than a real Maserati! They only made, like 7,000! They’re pretty comfortable? They’re kind of attractive, too, you know, like a Buick Reatta or something, and... and...”
I couldn’t go on. I just held Otto close, and felt the tension slowly leave his little body. After a few minutes, he turned to face me again.
“You handled that terribly.”
Maybe he was right. I implore all of you out there with kids to prepare them for their eventual meeting with a Chrysler TC by Maserati. Tell them the truth, but make it clear that it’s all OK now. Really, we’ll be fine. They have nothing to worry about.
The good news is that it’s very likely their own children will never have to go through this.