Editor's Note: An April Ward's Dealer Business column mentioning Lee Iacocca inspired Mike Nicoloff of the Starr Automotive Group in Glendale, CA, to share these memories.
Coming from a Chrysler dealership family, I was fortunate to have had personal experience with Mr. Iacocca on many occasions. My father in law, Joe Boccalero, was our dealer and I accompanied him to every corporate meeting, gathering and show.
The first time we met the newly fired president of Ford and the newly hired president of Chrysler Corp. was in San Diego in the spring of 1979 where Mr. Iacocca held his first Southern California dealer get-acquainted meeting.
The first thing you noticed about him was that he was over 6 feet tall and wearing a tailored business suit; definitely a professional, commanding appearance!
The second thing was his welcoming demeanor and smile as he met each Chrysler dealer. He chatted with all of us, sharing pleasantries, and then held a business meeting emphasizing that he was depending on us to help ourselves out of the declining sales resulting from the oil embargos of that decade.
He then stated that Chrysler was not producing the right products for the market. Big, fuel-inefficient cars just were not being purchased by the public.
His idea was to build a smaller, fuel-efficient 4-cyl. vehicle that would meet the needs of a broad-based sector. Out of this idea came the famous line of K cars.
Dealers were surprised at first for Chrysler was known for big sedans. But Iacocca had the charisma and leadership skills to help us believe in him. His enthusiasm was contagious and all the dealers eventually got on board. We sold the hell out of the K-car line.
In 1985, Mr. Iacocca hosted a dealer meeting in Las Vegas. He wanted to personally thank us for helping turn the company around.
He pumped hands, talked cars and let dealers know how much he appreciated everything we had done for the company and for him over the past five difficult years.
Always gracious, personable and approachable, he was a genuinely dealer-focused auto executive who knew the value of a strong relationship between manufacturers and dealers.
He always worked to forge and maintain this high-quality bond during his career with Chrysler.