Lee Iacocca Dead at Age 94

By Tom Suddard
Jul 3, 2019 | Chrysler, Ford, Lee Iacocca

photos courtesy FCA

Lee Iacocca was a legend of the auto industry, and he unfortunately passed away yesterday at the age of 94. In a statement, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had this to say: 

"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."

Besides Iacocca's work at Chrysler, he was also instrumental to Ford's success in the 1960s as the vice-president and general manager of the Ford division, then VP of the car and truck group, then executive VP, and finally president in 1970. Iacocca's Wikipedia entry credits him with some of the most successful cars ever produced, including the Ford Mustang and Escort, as well as the renaissance of Mercury in the late 1960s.

Iacocca was fired by Ford in 1978, then moved to Chrysler, where his career continued to flourish. He led Chrysler through some of its toughest times, including the 1979 bailout, and is widely credited with saving the company. He's also the father of the modern minivan, playing a huge role in its development. He retired as Chrysler's president, CEO and chairman in 1992.

In more recent years, Iacocca acted as an occasional consultant to Chrysler and a frequent advocate, assisting with a hostile takeover attempt in 1995 and appearing in commercials in 2005. He's also been an activist and philanthropist, serving on the board of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation and working in multiple ways to help diabetes patients after losing his wife, Mary, to the disease. 

One section of Iacocca's Wikipedia entry struck us as particularly interesting:

"On December 3, 2007, Iacocca launched a website to encourage open dialogue about the challenges of contemporary society. He introduced topics such as health care costs, and the United States' lag in developing alternative energy sources and hybrid vehicles. The site also promotes his book Where Have All the Leaders Gone. It provides an interactive means for users to rate presidential candidates by the qualities Iacocca believes they should possess: curiosity, creativity, communication, character, courage, conviction, charisma, competence and common sense."

By any reckoning, Lee Iacocca was a visionary CEO and a fantastic human being, and yesterday the world lost him. Rest in peace, Lee–we're sad we never knew you. 

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Danny Shields
Danny Shields GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
7/3/19 2:43 p.m.

I heard Lee Iacocca speak at the SAE Congress and I read his first book. He was the face of Chrysler when they had been knocked down and were fighting back.  Chrysler did some amazing things back then with limited resources. And the Mustang launch set new standards for showmanship. His leadership and charisma extended beyond the auto industry, as this article notes.  A life well lived. RIP.

HolyRoller New Reader
7/3/19 4:08 p.m.

Lee Iacocca was one of two judges at the Ohio State Science Fair in 1966. He and his partner judged my project, awarded a "Superior" rating that got me into a college scholarship. At the time I didn't know who he was, or anything - just a 17 year old nerd into sports cars. My Dad deciphered the signature on the score sheet some years later. Sadly it wasn't kept until dad's death in 2000. The project was about testing the strength of materials - plastics - looked cool, but pretty worthless in the real world. Our math was certainly not correct! But it got my higher education started.

barefootskater Dork
7/3/19 4:31 p.m.

Total legend. Gave us the Mustang, gave us the minivan, saved chrysler. The automotive world would have been a very different thing today without Mr. Iacocca. Godspeed sir, and thank you.

Curtis GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
7/3/19 5:07 p.m.

Lido Anthony Iacocca.... rest well, sir.

Matt Reader
7/3/19 7:12 p.m.

Legend. Never be another like him.

ddavidv PowerDork
7/4/19 7:27 a.m.

Brilliant man. Often boisterous and occasionally full of himself but he sort of earned that right.

Imagine a world without the Mustang. Had he not championed his vision there would have been no pony cars. Ford would not have a halo brand that everyone around the world instantly recognizes. The Mustang is so much more than just a nice bit of styling.

Not just a flash in the pan with Mustang he exhibited genius business sense in turning around Chrysler, a company that was hopelessly doomed. I can't think of a contemporary of his that could have pulled that off...or would have even wanted to try.

His genius in bringing the minivan to popularity had, for we enthusiasts, the unintended consequences of killing the station wagon and making bad drivers easier to see in traffic. Good practical vehicles, though. Too bad the 'soccer mom' stigma drove buyers to moronic SUVs and pointless crossovers.

By purchasing Jeep he kept that brand alive and true to it's roots. Imagine if GM had wound up with it; the badge engineering would be the thing of nightmares.

As good of a read as his autobiography is (and should be required reading for any car guy/gal) Where Have All The Leaders Gone? is equally as significant. Lee's intellect is on display in those pages and he asks some good questions and provides logical answers. That we can read that book today and still see the same concerns going unchecked is sobering.

He certainly wasn't a perfect man; no one is. But he is a wonderful success story and we car nerds are all the better for having enjoyed his impact on the industry.

Wally GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/4/19 8:35 a.m.

He also led the efforts to restore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  This was a big deal when I was a kid, they took us on a school trip just before it shut and the statue was in really rough shape. He was all over the news fundraising and showing off their progress. 

Vigo MegaDork
7/4/19 10:30 a.m.

I've read his autobiography, and this has reminded me that i should read Where Have All The Leaders Gone? as well. 

I know i'm a little bit of a broken record when i talk about Chrysler's prescience and meteoric rise in the 80s through mid 90s, but i don't often specifically say that this man is the main reason it happened. I guess you could say he was a huge part of making me interested in the industry and not just the cars. He was a brilliant leader.

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