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Lee Iacocca, father of the Mustang and the minivan, has died

Chrysler Corp. Chmn. Lee Iacocca posing in front of full-sized clay model of the proposed Viper sports car being worked on by staff technicians.
Lee Iacocca. Photo: Taro Yamasaki/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

Lee Iacocca, the cigar-chomping auto industry icon who invented the Ford Mustang and later saved Chrysler from bankruptcy, has died. He was 94.

Why it matters: The hard-charging Iacocca was the United States' most famous CEO and corporate pitchman in the 1980s, fiercely competitive and a symbol of the American auto industry's triumphs and challenges, Automotive News writes in a comprehensive obituary.

  • In the early '80s, Iacocca ranked behind only President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II in a Gallup-poll list of the world’s most respected men, according to the Washington Post, and his self-titled 1984 memoir was a best-seller for 38 weeks.

Iacocca's salesmanship was legendary: "If you can find a better car, buy it" and "Buy a car, get a check."

His big gamble at Ford — bringing the low-priced but sleekly styled Mustang "pony car" to market in 1964 — was a smash that put his career on the fast track.

  • He was famously fired by Henry Ford II in 1979, but then scooped up almost immediately by Chrysler, which was in desperate need of a turnaround.
  • In 1980 he persuaded Congress to approve federal loan guarantees of $1.5 billion, then restored Chrysler profitability and paid the money back 7 years early — with interest.
  • Along the way, he hit another home run — the family hauling minivan.

The cause of his death on Tuesday was complications from Parkinson’s disease, his daughter Lia Iacocca Assad told WashPost.