My automotive heroes: Lee Iacocca


Once in a while I will talk about some of my automotive heroes. Guys who had a huge passion for what they did and those who I highly admire. A couple of weeks ago I talked about Colin Chapman. This week I will talk about the guy who’s straight talk and risk paid off when he took up one of most difficult jobs that any automotive entrepreneur could take. No, I am not for once talking about John DeLorean. I am talking about Lee Iacocca.

Lido Anthony Iacocca, an American patriot with Italian passion.

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Some of my closest friends already know that on my phone and my laptop I have a picture folder entitled “Car Guys”. Call me nuts, but in this folder I have pictures of most recognizable and talented executives in automotive world. I flick through them once in a while to gain confidence and to regain the boost for my inspiration: work in a car company. Until recently the dominant person in there was John DeLorean. But recently I read Bob Lutz’s “Icons and Idiots” where he talked about the executives he worked with during his life. The biggest chapter in the book was titled “The name is an acronym for “I Am Chairman Of Chrysler Corporation Always” which was about Bob’s work under Iacocca’s leadership. Though in some areas of this chapter Lutz painted the picture of Iacocca in dark colors the overall vision of him was truly remarkable. So remarkable that I decided to look into what has this man done…and I almost fell of my chair from amazement from the achievement this man has made. So here are some big achievements this man has made that has changed the automotive world forever:

1) HE IS THE FATHER OF MUSTANG

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Lee Iacocca studied industrial engineering and began his career at Ford Motor Company as an engineer. But, after a couple of months he understand that this job is not for him, he asked if he could be moved to marketing and sales. So they did…and that is where the true genius of this man started to show. His selling genius was recognized nationwide while working in Philadelphia as assistant sales manager with his “56 for 56” campaign, i.e. all 1956 Ford model range cars with $56 monthly payments for three years (about £285 in today’s money). Because of this he was transferred to Ford’s Headquarters where in 1960 he became the Vice-President. Then in 1964 he introduced a car that changed the automotive industry forever and changed the idea of “American automobile” – Ford Mustang.

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The Mustang almost didn’t happen, because of Ford’s then recent fiasco that became a household name for “disaster”: Ford Edsel (the car who’s grill resembles the one on Bugatti Veyron). It was thanks to Lee Iacocca’s straight talk and determination that they got green light for the car. And it sold…in less than 2 years they sold over 1 million Mustangs and, as many car historians have said, Mustang “put America on wheels” as it was very good value for money.

For Mustang’s 45th anniversary (this year Mustang celebrates 50 years, by the way) Ford produced a special “Lee Iacocca” Mustang to immortalize the name and the legacy that this great man created (the car you see below).

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2) HE GOT FIRED FROM ONE “BIG 3” COMPANY ONLY TO LAND HIMSELF INTO ANOTHER ONE

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By 1970 Lee Iacocca was made the president of Ford Motor Company. He did make one terrible mistake with the Ford Pinto (look at “Episode 3” of my YouTube blog https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D16-y-B0lY) and was known for saying “Safety doesn’t sell”, but under his watch Ford Motor Company flourished. Then suddenly, in 1978, when the company he managed was making healthy $2 billion, he was fired for clashing too much with ideas made by another board member, Henry Ford II. This came at the right time, because straight after he was made chairman of another American giant, Chrysler Corporation, where his actions became legendary.

3) IF NOT FOR HIM, CHRYSLER WOULD’VE COLLAPSED

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The Chrysler Corporation in everyone’s eyes were dead in 1978. The company was making losses so big, workers were praying God that the collapse won’t hurt them too much. Iacocca, being an extremely tough guy, saw a huge potential in the company and went to the U.S. congress, asking for a loan of $750 million to save Chrysler. Some of congressmen went crazy, saying that this investment would ruin American economy and it would be wasted. On the other hand, Lee came back, arguing that if they do let Chrysler fail, the damage to the Economy would’ve been far more disastrous than the loan itself (approximately $10 billion a year).

In the end the government trusted Iacocca, giving him $1.5 billion to invest into Chrysler corporation and asked to repay this loan by the end of 1990. Lee kept his promise and turned the company and repaid the loan already in mid 1983 (below: him celebrating the loan repayment)

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The introduction of the K-car (i.e. K-platform car that had front-wheel drive and economy engines) brought tons of money into the company despite the economic decline at the time and made Lee Iacocca a household name. Lee also made sure that Chrysler was synonymous with “quality” and “reliability”.

4) HE INTRODUCED THE MINIVAN WE ALL KNOW

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GM and Ford already were under way with introducing a minivan, but Iacocca got the formula right – a spacious, front-wheel-drive getabout for those new families, groups of friends and wannabe rockstars. By this time Lee was so sure of himself that he started appearing regularly in car commercials. He has been famous for saying “If you can find a better car, buy it.” And they didn’t, as Chrysler was the best at the time in the States.

5) HE SAVED LAMBORGHINI

There was another company with one foot in the grave at the time – Automobili Lamborghini. Because of Iacocca’s Italian parents and his love for the country (he had a property there) he decided to make a gamble for it and it paid off. Diablo instantly became Lamborghini’s best selling car and saved the dying Italian company. Also, with help from Lambo people, Chrysler developed a V10 engine that they put into their Viper, another legendary car that was born during Iacocca’s time at the helm.

 

So there you have it. This guy, though having some lows, in the car world he’s going to be remembered as a legend that changed the face of automotive industry forever. A living legend. I wish him good health and still long enough time on this Earth to have a chance to do plenty of charity work what he has been doing for most of his retirement.

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