Lee Iacocca, best known for the creation of the Ford Mustang and saving Chrysler, was pronounced dead at 7:30 today at his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles.
Iacocca was born in 1924 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He earned a masters degree from Princeton University, and became a trainee engineer at Ford, the company where he would eventually become the CEO.
At Ford, he is perhaps best known for the creation of the Pony car segment. He knew people wanted an affordable, stylish everyday car, so he put a stylish coupe body over the chassis of the Falcon, creating the Mustang. He will also be remembered for his role in saving Chrysler- he is responsible for the Chrysler minivans of the 1980’s becoming a massive success and establishing Chrysler as the manufacturer of the best minivans, which continues to this day. He was also responsible for buying AMC, just to gain ownership of Jeep, which today is one of Chrysler’s most valuable divisions.
Also, by building almost all of Chrysler cars on the K-platform, he made Chrysler turn a profit for the first time in years and pay back the US government which had bailed Chrysler out, saving it from near-certain death. He was also a marketing genius; he approved the Dodge Viper, which was originally just a concept car, but became a production halo car, to lure people into Dodge dealerships, where they would then buy a Dodge Grand Caravan. But the real genius was the fact that while the Viper had proper performance, it was far more affordable than the European supercars it matched for performance, partly thanks to using an existing engine design (contrary to popular belief, they didn’t just lift the V10 out of a truck and put it into the Viper unchanged).
The low point of Iacocca’s career was when he was CEO of Ford- specifically when he was fired, due to Ford executives, including himself, knowing about the Ford Pinto’s tendency to blow up upon being rear-ended, and deciding it was cheaper to deal with lawsuits than fix the car.
Outside of the automotive industry, he founded Olivio, which makes olive oil-based products, and donates all profits to diabetes research.
Lee Iacocca was one of the most influential people in shaping the modern automotive industry, and many of his decisions continue to have lasting impacts to this day.