Lee Iacocca just died. And with him, an era.
The era of the car guy executive.
Iacocca wasn’t a transplant from a toothpaste company – and he was an engineer, not a “human resources” manager. He smoked cigars, told ribald stories.
Most of all, Lido knew cars – and the car business. Put more precisely, he knew how tosell cars by making cars people wanted to buy; this is art less practiced today.
He is most famous for two cars – the Mustang and the K-car (which became the basis for the tsunami-successful Caravan and Voyager minivans of the Reagan Years) though he had a hand in many other cars as well.
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Before the Mustang – which made its formal debut mid-way through the ’64 model year – there was no such car as a “pony” car. That is to say, a perky, personal car that could be almost anything needed by anyone. There was the GT version – with its famous “Hi-Po” 289 cubic inch V8, rumbling at idle, vacuum hissing through its Holley four barrel carburetor. Or get a convertible with an economical six.
Or something in between.
Like the VW Beetle, the Mustang was a car for pretty much everyone – but especially the young. Iacocca saw what others were blind to: The coming-of-age cohort of postwar baby boomers, who were looking for the kind of car their parents didn’t drive.
Lee built it for them.
And – per Field of Dreams – they came. In their hundreds of thousands. Each year, for years ongoing.
The Mustang became – and still is – one of the greatest sales success stories in the history of the car business; it is one of almost no other cars that is still in production today – going on 60 years after the fact – without any interruption of production during that entire time.
The rest of the car business bum-rushed to copy the Mustang – the sincerest form of flattery – but none of them nearly as successfully. GM scrambled and got its Camaro/Firebird twins to market; Dodge came later, with the Challenger. Of these, only Camaro survived the brutal ‘70s – and only just barely (GM almost cancelled Camaro in 1972 and did cancel the performance-minded Camaro Z28 for 1975 and 1976).
Challenger didn’t make it past 1974 – to be resuscitated decades later. Firebird last until 2002 and then was – and is – no more.