Ex-Chrysler design chief John Herlitz dead at 65

Herlitz: Key man in '90s renaissance
John Herlitz, Chrysler's former senior design vice president, died Monday, March 24, after a slip-and-fall accident at his vacation home in Florida. He was 65.

Herlitz, a resident of suburban Detroit, is perhaps best known for his design work for the 1970 Plymouth Barracuda and 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner.

"If you talk to any Mopar fanatic, those cars are downright iconic today," Joe Dehner, Chrysler vice president of small, premium and family vehicle design and a former colleague of Herlitz's, said last week. "They resonated back then just as they do today, and that just goes to show how well thought out and how instrumental those cars were in putting Chrysler on the map back then."

Herlitz also had a major hand in the Chrysler design renaissance of the 1990s, where his production teams gave birth to the LH platform's LHS, Intrepid and Concorde, as well as the Neon and Intrepid sedans and other post-K platform vehicles. "The most excited we saw him get about a product line was when they introduced the concept of the cab-forward design on the LH platform in the early 1990s," Herlitz's son Kirk told Automotive News in an e-mail.

Kirk Herlitz said it was not in his father's nature to take personal credit for his design work. His humble, self-effacing manner always pushed Herlitz to credit his team of designers and managers.

Said Dehner of the 1990s design successes: "It was a group effort with our advanced area and production, but really, at the end of the day it was John's guys, the production guys, that really put the vehicles on the road. John's guys made it happen, with a lot of his leadership."

Herlitz also designed a number of Chrysler concept cars over the years and aided in the creation of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in suburban Detroit.

Herlitz joined Chrysler Corp. in 1965 as a stylist. He was named styling studio manager in 1968 and moved up the design ladder, holding many design management and executive posts before retiring in 2000 as the Chrysler group's senior vice president of design.

"John made a significant impact on Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Plymouth vehicles' design," Trevor Creed, Chrysler LLC senior vice president of design, said in a statement. "He had a heartfelt passion for the automotive industry, and he will be greatly missed." 

You can reach Ryan Beene at autonews@crain.com

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