Lee Iacocca, 'father' of Ford Mustang who helped save Chrysler from bankruptcy, dead at 94: reports

Lee Iacocca, father of the Ford Mustang and former chairman of Chrysler, has died of natural causes at his home in Bel Air, Calif., his family said Tuesday. He was 94.

Born in Allentown, Pa., on Oct. 15, 1924 as the child of Italian immigrants, Iacocca 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 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.

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 1980, file photo, Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee Iacocca sits on the hood of K Car Number One, a Plymouth Reliant, in Detroit. Former Chrysler CEO Iacocca, who became a folk hero for rescuing the company in the '80s, has died, former colleagues said Tuesday, July 2, 2019. He was 94. (AP Photo/Dale Atkins, File)

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 1980, file photo, Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee Iacocca sits on the hood of K Car Number One, a Plymouth Reliant, in Detroit. Former Chrysler CEO Iacocca, who became a folk hero for rescuing the company in the '80s, has died, former colleagues said Tuesday, July 2, 2019. He was 94. (AP Photo/Dale Atkins, File)

His efforts were successful and Chrysler made a comeback, profiting $20 million.

In 1983, Iacocca announced that Chrysler 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. (The company eventually became part of today's Fiat Chrysler in 2014.)

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."

FILE - In this March 28, 1990, file photo, Chrysler Corporation Chairman Lee Iacocca sits in a 1990 Dodge Viper sports car as the Chrysler in the 90's six city tour makes a visit to New York. Former Chrysler CEO Iacocca, who became a folk hero for rescuing the company in the '80s, has died, former colleagues said Tuesday, July 2, 2019. He was 94. (Associated Press)

FILE - In this March 28, 1990, file photo, Chrysler Corporation Chairman Lee Iacocca sits in a 1990 Dodge Viper sports car as the Chrysler in the 90's six city tour makes a visit to New York. Former Chrysler CEO Iacocca, who became a folk hero for rescuing the company in the '80s, has died, former colleagues said Tuesday, July 2, 2019. He was 94. (Associated Press)

A January 1987 Gallup Poll of potential Democratic presidential candidates for 1988 showed Iacocca was preferred by 14 percent, second only to U.S. Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado. 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.