The Legacy of Lee Iacocca

July 5, 2019

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The Automotive Hall of Fame is joining the rest of the automotive industry in remembering the great, Lee Iacocca, who passed away on July 2nd at the age of 94. Mr. Iacocca was the mastermind behind the Ford Mustang. He was also responsible for Chrysler’s survival in the 1980s. Those being just two examples of his many achievements throughout his life.

Lee Iacocca began his automotive career in 1946 at Ford Motor Company as an engineer. His interests quickly changed when he took a position in marketing and found his passion. One of his most popular campaigns, the “56 for ’56,” was used to combat the flat sales Ford was experiencing at the time. Customers would make a 20% down payment for a car and then make monthly payments of $56 for the next three years. This campaign put Iacocca on Ford executives’ radars after it brought his Philadelphia district from the bottom to number one in the nation in units sold.

He eventually became the youngest man to ever head Ford’s Flagship Division and would spearhead the efforts to push the Mustang to production. Iacocca’s keen sense of current trends and anticipation of the market helped him boost Ford’s sales and portfolio. The Continental Mark II, the Escort, and the revival of the Mercury brand were all because of Iacocca. 

After a 32-year career at Ford, Iacocca accepted the challenge that was the Chrysler Corporation in 1978. Iacocca instantly began rebuilding the company, bringing several Ford associates with him. He was able to successfully convince the federal government to grant Chrysler federal loans because they were worth surviving. And survive they did, after the success of the K-car, Chrysler was able to repay their loans before they were due. Chrysler is also where Iacocca was instrumental in the development of the minivan with Hal Sperlich. Iacocca remained a pillar in the industry even after he retired in 1992, returning to Chrysler in 2008 at the age of 83. He helped the company navigate another particularly rough fiscal time which would end with the famous Fiat-Chrysler merger.

Referring to his life after retirement and achievements in a 1999 interview with Automotive News, Iacocca surmised “I’ve always felt that when I die, if I can say I’ve done well by my family…then I’ve lived a full life and a good life. What else is there?” It’s safe to say he’s done well by more than just his family.

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