Auto executive Lee A. Iacocca, who developed the Ford Mustang in the 1960s and revived the Chrysler Corp. in the 1980s, died Tuesday in Bel Air at the age of 94, his family said.
Iacocca went from being an engineer at the Ford Motor Co. to becoming a vice-president and general manager of the Ford Division in 1960 when he was 36 years old.
“The 1960s were an incredible period for us at the company, marking the launch of the Ford Mustang and Lincoln Continental Mark III, among others,” Iacocca wrote in his autobiography posted on his website, leeiacocca.net.
Iacocca was promoted to Ford’s president on Dec. 10, 1970.
“Our success continued into the ’70s, but by the end of the decade Henry Ford II and I could no longer co-exist,” Iacocca wrote, referring to the company’s CEO from 1960-79 and eldest grandson of its founder, Henry Ford.
“In 1978, I was fired despite the fact that we’d netted a $2 billion profit for the year. Of course, though I may not have realized it at the time, some of my best years were still ahead of me.”
Iacocca was hired as the Chrysler Corp.’s president and CEO in 1978. He added the title of chairman in 1979.
Chrysler was on the verge of bankruptcy when Iacocca joined the company.
“To save the company, I had to lay off some workers, sell off our European division and close several plants,” Iacocca wrote.
Iacocca became the company’s spokesman on its television commercials and was long known for the line, “If you can find a better car, buy it.”
Iacocca persuaded Congress to approve a loan guarantee in 1979 which provided the company a needed infusion of cash. It would later be paid back seven years early with interest.
Aided by several fellow Ford alumni, Chrysler under Iacocca produced a series of new vehicles that were a hit with the public, including the minivan.
The son of Italian immigrants, Iacocca accepted then-President Ronald Reagan’s offer in 1982 to head The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation to raise funds for the restoration and preservation of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. He would be a member of the foundation’s Board of Directors for the rest of his life.
Iacocca retired from Chrysler in 1992 when he was 68 and described himself as “frankly, feeling a little bored.”
“At that point, I considered everything from public office to the commissionership of Major League Baseball,” Iacocca wrote. “None quite intrigued me enough to sign on, so I took the consulting route instead.”
Following his retirement from Chrysler, Iacocca moved to Los Angeles and made his foundation, The Iacocca Foundation, as the primary focus of his life. He founded it following the death of his wife Mary from diabetes in 1983 to find a cure for the disease.
With his son-in-law Ned Hentz, Iacocca in 2000 founded Olivio Premium Products, which makes products from olive oil.
Iacocca was born Oct. 15, 1924 in Allentown, Pennsylvania where his father opened and ran a hot dog restaurant Yocco’s, “which is how the Pennsylvania Dutch pronounced Iacocca,” Iacocca wrote.
Iacocca received a degree in industrial engineering from Lehigh University in nearby Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Following further study at Princeton University on a Wallace Memorial Fellowship he was hired as an engineer by Ford.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was better suited to the sales and marketing side of the car business,” Iacocca wrote. “The bosses agreed and soon I made the move. After leading several successful initiatives, I began to move up the ranks, ultimately finding my true calling in product development.”
A list of survivors was not immediately available.
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