Lido Anthony “Lee” Iacocca, the face behind Ford’s Mustang and the man who later led Chrysler Corp. out of bankruptcy, died July 2 from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 94.
Perhaps the most famous postwar automotive executive, Iacocca didn’t hide behind a desk — he appeared on magazine covers, in ads and even in TV commercials where pitched Chrysler products by famously saying, “If you can find a better car, buy it.”
Iacocca started at Ford Motor Co. in the 1950s as a salesman and developed the “56 for 56” sales campaign in which one could buy a 1956 Ford for 20 percent down and $56 a month. He claimed the program sold an addition 70,000 Fords that year. By 1962, he was vice-president and general manager of Ford.
Of the men who helped create and develop the Ford Mustang pony car, Iacocca was the best-known. The car filled the void in Ford’s lineup for a sporty compact car and with drop-dead gorgeous styling. The Mustang appealed to buyers from all walks of life, regardless of whether those buyers knew they were in the market for such a vehicle. Mustang sales were incredible; 120,000 cars during 1964, the model’s inaugural year in which it was only available for half the year, and more than half a million in 1964, the first full year of the model’s availability.
Iacocca had more home runs at Ford, including adding the Pinto to the lineup, before Henry Ford II famously fired him in 1978. Iacocca landed on his feet shortly thereafter at Chrylser Corp. where he concentrated on smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles to counter the tide of compact imports from Japan. Realizing that he couldn’t turn Chrysler Corp. around without infusing a large sum of money, Iacocca obtained a loan guarantee from the U.S. congress on behalf of Chrysler Corp. in 1979.
After obtaining the loan, Iacocca had the funds to add the famous compact K-car line to the Chrysler Corp. for 1981. Comprised of the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, these cars were wildly successful and added to Chrysler’s coffers. Then, Iacocca led the company through the development and introduction of the minivan, an entirely new approach to transportation in the United States. From these great successes, Chrysler Corp. famously repaid its loan seven years early. In 1992, Iacocca retired as Chrysler’s chairman and chief executive.
In a nod to the hobby that collects car with his influence, Iacocca began honoring individuals with The Lee Iacocca Award in 2006. The award was given for “dedication to excellence in perpetuating an American automotive tradition.”