Remembering Automotive Icon Lee Iacocca: 1924-2019

President William J. Clinton meeting with Lee Iacocca in the Oval Office of the White House. The image was photographed by Ralph Alswang.

DETROIT — Automotive icon Lee Iacocca passed away on Tuesday at his home in Bel Air, California. He was best known for helping to design the Ford Mustang, Caravan/Voyager minivans and for saving the Chrysler Corporation from bankruptcy. Iacocca was the only executive to serve as CEO of two of the Big Three automakers.

Iacocca was born in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 15, 1924. He attended Princeton University and his first automotive job was an engineer at the Ford Motor Company. Later, he was asked to move into a sales and marketing role.

Iacocca began doing television commercials for Ford vehicles. While at Ford, he gained attention for his “56 for ’56” campaign, offering loans on 1956 model year cars with a 20 percent down payment and $56 in monthly payments for three years.

In 1960, Iacocca was promoted to general manager of the Ford division. Exactly 10 years later, he was named president of the Ford Motor Co. However, some of his plans for the company clashed with those of Henry Ford II and he was fired on July 13, 1978.

Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman released this statement:

“Lee Iacocca was truly bigger than life and he left an indelible mark on Ford, the auto industry and our country. Lee played a central role in the creation of Mustang. On a personal note, I will always appreciate how encouraging he was to me at the beginning of my career. He was one of a kind and will be dearly missed.”


About a year after his firing from Ford, Chrysler was on the verge of bankruptcy. They were struggling to find ways to make ends meet. That’s when they hired Iacocca to rebuild the company from the ground up.

While at Chrysler, Iacocca introduced the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager minivans. They were highly successful. So much so that Chrysler was able to repay its government loans seven years earlier than expected.

In 1992, Iacocca retired as president, CEO and chairman of Chrysler. But in 2005, he returned to their airwaves by starring in a few commercials for the automaker.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles released the following statement:

“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.”

FCA announced today it has lit the two-story “Pentastar” window atop the Auburn Hills, Michigan, headquarters tower in tribute to the passing of Lee Iacocca, the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chrysler Corporation.

The window will remain lit until midnight, July 10, to coincide with Iacocca’s funeral, which will take place at St. Hugo of the Hills Church in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

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