Lee Iacocca, Savior of the Chrysler Corporation, Dies at 94
Iacocca passed of natural causes on the morning of July 2 at his family home in California.
There are few people in the American auto industry who have made a bigger impact than Lee Iacocca and in the early morning hours of Tuesday, July 2, 2019, the legendary executive passed away at his home in California at the age of 94. His passing of natural causes was confirmed by a member of the family, confirming the rumors that had been flying around the internet prior to the official reports.
Born Lido Anthony Iacocca in Allentown, Pennsylvania on October 15, 1924 to Italian immigrant parents, he spent time at the helm of Ford Motor Company and the Chrysler Group where he made historic contributions to both companies. In addition to his automotive career, he was an active philanthropist, leading projects that included restoration of Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, among other programs around the country.
Iacocca & Ford
Iacocca’s first role in the auto industry came in 1946, when he joined Ford Motor Company as an engineer. While there, he played a key role in the development and launch of the Ford Mustang, and in 1970, he was named President of Ford Motor Company, serving as the second-in-command to Henry Ford II.
Iacocca successfully led Ford until 1978, when he was fired over a dispute with Henry Ford II, but it wouldn’t be long before he landed another major role in the industry. He was quickly hired by the Chrysler Corporation later that year and in 1979, he was named Chief Executive Officer of Chrysler.
While Ford fans insist that Lee Iacocca’s greatest accomplishment was bringing the Mustang to market, it could be argued that saving an entire automaker is a bigger deal in the grand scheme of things and most Mopar fans will agree. Iacocca made a great many important moves to help save Chrysler from bankruptcy while he was in charge, but there are two key vehicles that were introduced under his watch.
First, the K-Car platform gave the Chrysler brands a variety of small, fuel-efficient cars that allowed them to better compete with the Japanese brands. While the importance of the K-Car is often downplayed in the modern era due to its overall simplicity, there is no question that the vehicles on that chassis platform played a key role in bringing Chrysler back from the grips of bankruptcy. There were even some turbocharged performance models introduced on the K chassis or a derivative of that platform, with cars like the Daytona going head-to-head with the likes of the Ford Mustang at a relative low point in the history of American performance cars.
Next, Lee Iacocca’s team brought the Chrysler minivan to market, creating what would quickly become one of the hottest segments in the United States. The Dodge, Chrysler and Plymouth minivans dominated the segment for years, and while Ford, Chevrolet and foreign competitors all jumped into the segment, none of them ever truly challenged the Caravan, the Voyager or the Town & Country.
Lee Iacocca would continue to run the Chrysler Corporation into the 1990s, retiring in 1992.
FCA released the following press statement following his death:
“The Company is saddened by the news of Lee Iacocca’s passing. He played a historic role in steering Chrysler through crisis and making it a true competitive force. He was one of the great leaders of our company and the auto industry as a whole. He also played a profound and tireless role on the national stage as a business statesman and philanthropist.
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.”
In his passing, Lee Iacocca leaves behind two daughters, eight grandchildren and a legacy in the automotive world that will never be forgotten.