The automotive community mourns the loss of automotive giant Lee Iacocca, who died on Tuesday at the age of 94 at home in California. Iacocca is best known for his hand in developing the Ford Mustang and for saving the Chrysler Corp from bankruptcy in the 1980s.
The Washington Post reported that he died of complications from Parkinson’s disease.
At 36 years old, Iacocca was named the general manager of Ford Motor Co.’s flagship Ford division in 1960 and created the “Fairlane Committee,” named for the inn where he and other like-minded young executives met for brainstorming dinners to discuss how to design a low-cost, sporty car that would entice younger drivers and encourage more two-car households.
In his memoir, Iacocca wrote: “It had to be a sports car but more than a sports car. We wanted to develop a car that you could drive to the country club on Friday night, to the drag strip on Saturday and to church on Sunday.”
The result of the effort, the Ford Mustang, was introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Chaos ensued.
Iacocca and the Mustang appeared on the covers of Newsweek and Time, among others. Time said: “Priced as low as $2,368 and able to accommodate a small family in its four seats, the Mustang seems destined to be a sort of Model A of sports cars, for the masses as well as the buffs.”
The car’s styling captured young buyers and saw more than 400,000 Mustangs sold during the first model year with Mustang clubs springing up around the country.
In 1970 at the age of 46, Iacocca became president of Ford and served second in command to Chairman Henry Ford II, seven years his senior, and grandson of the company’s founder.
Later in 1977 reorganization led to a de facto demotion for Iacocca, Ford ordered him to resign. After 32 years with Ford, his last day on the payroll was Oct. 15, his 54th birthday.
Two weeks later Iacocca took over as president and chief operating officer at Chrysler, the company had recently reported a quarterly loss of $160 million, it’s most significant at the time.
At a press conference regarding his new position with Chrysler, Iacocca said “I really didn’t want to retire at 54, I really didn’t want to be banished from the auto scene.”
During his time with Chrysler, Iacocca developed the first U.S.-produced minivan, introduced in 1983 as the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan; and helped with the 1987 acquisition of American Motors Corp., with its Jeep franchise.
FCA issued a statement regarding his passing: “Lee gave us a mindset that still drives us today – one that is characterized by hard work, dedication and grit. We are committed to ensuring that Chrysler, now FCA, is such a company, an example of commitment and respect, known for excellence as well as for its contribution to society. His legacy is the resiliency and unshakeable faith in the future that live on in the men and women of FCA who strive every day to live up to the high standards he set.”
Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said: “Lee Iacocca was truly bigger than life and he left an indelible mark on Ford, the auto industry and our country. Lee played a central role in the creation of the Mustang. On a personal note, I will always appreciate how encouraging he was to me at the beginning of my career. He was one of a kind and will be dearly missed.”