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Lee Iacocca, Father Of Mustang And Minivan, Dies At 94

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The man who was synonymous with the American auto industry in the '70s and '80s has died - Lee Iacocca. His career spanned decades. Iacocca started in sales at Ford in the 1940s, working his way up to CEO, from 1970 to 1978. Along the way, he helped develop the Ford Mustang, one of the most iconic American cars. Steve McQueen drove one in the movie "Bullitt," and Wilson Pickett sang about them in 1966.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSTANG SALLY")

WILSON PICKETT: (Singing) Mustang Sally, guess you better slow your Mustang down.

MARTIN: Author Paul Ingrassia told NPR's Scott Simon in 2012 that the Mustang shook up the car industry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PAUL INGRASSIA: What this car did was it caught the baby boomers just as they were coming of age and really captivated them, partly because it was - in its most basic form, the Mustang was a very inexpensive car, only $2,300 - about the price of maybe a new fender today, if you will.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Ford later fired Iacocca, but he landed on his feet. It happened that at the time Chrysler was on the brink of bankruptcy and looking for new leadership, so they hired Iacocca as CEO, and within a few years, the company went back into the black. Iacocca lobbied the government for a federal guarantee of loans. He said the company was too important for this country's economy to just let it collapse.

MARTIN: At Chrysler, Iacocca launched a charm offensive. He started appearing in TV ads as the company's frontman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEE IACOCCA: If you don't agree they're the best Chryslers ever made, the very best America has to offer at a sensible price, then I'm in the wrong business.

MARTIN: He even had a catchphrase.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IACOCCA: Oh, one more thing - if you can find a better car, buy it.

MARTIN: Iacocca became so beloved by Americans that there were rumors he would run for president in 1988.

KING: At Chrysler, Iacocca also helped develop America's first minivans - the Plymouth Voyager and the Dodge Caravan. Here he is talking with our co-host Steve Inskeep back in 2007 about why minivans caught on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

IACOCCA: That was a lifestyle change with the baby boomers coming of age. They all got their driver's licenses when they were 16 with the Mustang crowd, and now they had kids and grandkids. Our minivan has been a cash cow for Chrysler, I mean, in the billions.

KING: He retired in 1992, five years after Chrysler bought Jeep, but he continued to support the auto industry. He went back to Chrysler to give a pep talk to workers in 2008, right before the company declared bankruptcy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSTANG SALLY")

PICKETT: (Singing) I bought you a brand-new Mustang, about 1965. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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