Lee Iacocca, Auto Industry Icon Who Led Both Ford and Chrysler, Dies at 94

By Jesse Sokolow on 2 July 2019
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A 2016 Ford Mustang. Mr. Iacocca introduced the Mustang in 1964 with great fanfare.

Lee Iacocca, an auto industry visionary who led both Ford and Chrysler and who is credited with having created the Ford Mustang, died Tuesday at his hem in Bel Air, California He was 94.

His death from complications from Parkinson’s disease was confirmed by his youngest daughter.

Mr. Iacocca began his career at Ford Motor Company in 1946 in engineering but soon moved to sales and marketing, where he was recognized for his working, including his “56 for ’56” campaign to offer loans on 1956 model year vehicles. He was soon called to the automaker’s Dearborn headquarters, where he worked his way up the corporate ladder. In November 1960, he was named vice president and general manager of the Ford Division, where he led the development and launch of the Ford Mustang. With several promotions in the interim, he was made president in December 1970 and fired rather publicly by Henry Ford Jr. in 1978.

“I began my life as the son of immigrants, and I worked my way up to the presidency of the Ford Motor Company,” Iacocca wrote in his 1984 autobiography. “When I finally got there, I was on top of the world. But then fate said to me: ‘Wait. We’re not finished with you. Now you’re going to find out what it feels like to get kicked off Mt. Everest!’”

He was almost immediately hired by Chrysler in 1978 at a time that the company was in danger of going out of business and was appointed CEO in 1979. Mr. Iacocca asked Congress for a loan guarantee, thereby saving the automaker. Three years later, under his stewardship, Chrysler introduced the first minivans in the United States, the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, which were highly successful.

Many Americans remember him from a series of television commercials for Chrysler in which he appeared as CEO, saying, “If you can find a better car, buy it.”

Mr. Iacocca retired from Chrysler in 1992, although he returned in 2005 as its pitchman, with a reprise of his trademark line from the commercials of the 1980s.

Lido Anthony Iacocca was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on October 15, 1924, to Italian immigrant parents. He attended Lehigh University and attained a degree in industrial engineering. He was awarded the Wallace Memorial Fellowship and continued studies at Princeton University, where courses including politics and plastics.

His first wife, Mary McCleary, whom he married in 1956, died in 1983. He married Peggy Johnson in 1986 and the marriage was annulled the following year. In 1991, he married Darrien Earle. The couple divorced in 1994.

He is survived by two daughters from his first wife and eight grandchildren.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)