Father of the Ford Mustang and former chairman of Chrysler Lee Iacocca has died of natural causes at his home in Bel Air, Calif., his family said Tuesday. He was 94.
Iacocca, born in Allentown, Pa., on October 15, 1924 as the child of Italian immigrants, started working at Ford Motor Company in 1946 and is heralded as the leader of the team that created the first Mustang in 1964. He ascended to CEO of the company in 1970 but was fired by Henry Ford Jr. in 1978.
The auto mogul later slammed Ford, saying in his autobiography, “If a guy is over 25% jerk, he’s in trouble. And Henry was 95%.” Iacocca later reiterated the same sentiments to Time magazine in 2001, saying Ford was cruel, crude and paranoid.
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The famed businessman moved on to Chrysler Corp. in 1978 and became the CEO a year later, pulling the company out of bankruptcy after taking it over. He successfully persuaded the federal government to provide the company a $1.2 billion loan in 1979 and made major cuts to the workforce, slashing wages, including his own which he shrunk to $1 a year and closing plants. He also introduced fuel-efficient cars and the minivan.
His efforts were successful and Chrysler made a comeback, profiting $20 million.
In 1983, Iacocca announced that Chrysler, which had become a part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, had begun paying back the $1.2 billion in government-backed loans that helped save the company, a feat he was able to accomplish seven years early.
Iacocca became a household figure when he appeared in a number of Chrysler TV commercials with the catchy slogan daring American consumers; “if you can find a better car, buy it.”
The turnaround and Iacocca’s bravado made him a media star. His “Iacocca: An Autobiography,” released in 1984, and his “Talking Straight,” released in 1988, were best-sellers. He even appeared on “Miami Vice.”
A January 1987 Gallup Poll of potential Democratic presidential candidates for 1988 showed Iacocca was preferred by 14 percent, second only to Colorado Sen. Gary Hart. He continually said no to the “draft Iacocca” talk.
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Also during that time, he headed the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, presiding over the renovation of the statue, completed in 1986, and the reopening of nearby Ellis Island as a museum of immigration in 1990.
Iacocca is survived by two daughters and eight grandchildren.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.