Lee Iacocca, Savior of the Chrysler Corporation, Dies at 94

By -

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.

Sergio Marchionne, Lee Iacocca and Alan Mullaly at the Walter P. Chrysler Mueseum

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.

Saving 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.

Photos: Fiat-Chrysler

Join the Dodge Forums now!

"Before I was old enough to walk, my dad was taking me to various types of racing events, from local drag racing to the Daytona 500," says Patrick Rall, a lifetime automotive expert, diehard Dodge fan, and respected auto journalist for over 10 years. "He owned a repair shop and had a variety of performance cars when I was young, but by the time I was 16, he was ready to build me my first drag car – a 1983 Dodge Mirada that ran low 12s. I spent 10 years traveling around the country, racing with my dad by my side. While we live in different areas of the country, my dad still drag races at 80 years old in the car that he built when I was 16 while I race other vehicles, including my 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and my 1972 Dodge Demon 340.

"Although I went to college for accounting, my time in my dad’s shop growing up allowed me the knowledge to spend time working as a mechanic before getting my accounting degree, at which point I worked in the office of a dealership group. While I was working in the accounting world, I continued racing and taking pictures of cars at the track. Over time, I began showing off those pictures online and that led to my writing.

"Ten years ago, I left the accounting world to become a full-time automotive writer and I am living proof that if you love what you do, you will never “work” a day in your life," adds Rall, who has clocked in time as an auto mechanic, longtime drag racer and now automotive journalist who contributes to nearly a dozen popular auto websites dedicated to fellow enthusiasts.

"I love covering the automotive industry and everything involved with the job. I was fortunate to turn my love of the automotive world into a hobby that led to an exciting career, with my past of working as a mechanic and as an accountant in the automotive world provides me with a unique perspective of the industry.

"My experience drag racing for more than 20 years coupled with a newfound interest in road racing over the past decade allows me to push performance cars to their limit, while my role as a horse stable manager gives me vast experience towing and hauling with all of the newest trucks on the market today.

"Being based on Detroit," says Rall, "I never miss the North American International Auto Show, the Woodward Dream Cruise and Roadkill Nights, along with spending plenty of time raising hell on Detroit's Woodward Avenue with the best muscle car crowd in the world.

Rall can be contacted at [email protected]

Comments ()