We have lost an icon of the American auto industry. Lee Iacocca passed away last night at the age of 94. A native of Allentown, PA, he was born to Italian immigrants on October 15, 1924. He was a brilliant student who achieved a scholarship to Princeton. After graduation he started his career at Ford. During his tenure, he pushed for small & fun cars, and he was responsible for the Mustang and the Pinto.
His management style was unique, in that he hired the smartest engineers and designers, then giving the freedom to build great cars. After decades at Ford, Chrysler made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. They were nearly bankrupt and in-need of a miracle. Lee went to work by killing all the junk cars in their lineup. After that, he gave his engineers a daunting assignment: Build an entirely new lineup using the same engines, suspensions and other parts.
This bold move resulted in the K-Platform. It was the basis for almost every Dodge, Chrysler, & Plymouth car from 1981 to 1995. Models ranging from the Reliant, Aires, New Yorker, Laser, Daytona, and the amazing LeBaron. All cars were initially powered by the Chrysler 4-cylinder, but Mitsubishi offered a better engine for less money. When critics said the cars were underpowered, Lee called up the same man who transformed the Mustang into a performance machine. Carroll Shelby came onboard, and his turbocharged Omni and Daytona are still fast by modern standards.
The K Cars literally saved Chrysler. So for a followup performance, Lee gave us the Minivan. The Dodge Caravan, Town & Country, and the Voyager were runaway successes, and they proved to be very reliable. Riding high on a wave of profits, he saw his career as complete…almost.
Lee & Carroll decided to retire after one last project. Looking back on their past performance cars, they decided America needed a new hero. A secret project began in 1988 to build a supercar, and after extensive development, the Dodge Viper debuted in 1991. He was never shy of the camera, so he used TV to show how his cars were more affordable and economical than the competition. Aside from a minor role on Miami Vice, retirement treated him well. He became golfing buddies with Snoop Dogg, and gave lectures about being a leader during tough times.
Fiat-Chrysler and Ford issued statements on his passing, with Bill Ford saying: “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 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.”
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