His career took him from the foundry floor through the corporate ranks at General Motors, but by many accounts Jim McDonald remained a manufacturing guy at heart.
McDonald, who died last year at age 87, has been described as a man of integrity who was focused on quality. A more obscure claim to fame: He twice stepped into jobs vacated by the considerably more flamboyant John DeLorean.
"Jim was a manufacturing man who only wanted to make improvements in the automotive world," his brother Tom told the Saginaw News, a newspaper in McDonald's Michigan hometown.
Jim McDonald was a former Navy officer whose GM career started at a foundry in Defiance, Ohio.
He previously had worked at a Saginaw iron plant. That job would be pivotal for McDonald, according to an article published by Kettering University, which houses McDonald's papers: "During his time on the plant floor, he perfected a new conveyer-belt system, which helped seal his reputation as a troubleshooter and innovator."
In 1969 McDonald succeeded DeLorean as head of Pontiac. In October 1972, at age 50, he again succeeded DeLorean, this time as general manager of Chevrolet.
The Chevy stint would last just more than two years, until December 1974, when he became an executive vice president of GM and joined the company's board.
In 1972 Chevrolet achieved a milestone: For the first time, it sold 3 million vehicles in the United States. The next year, Chevy's U.S. sales approached 3.4 million.
1974 brought the debut of one of Chevrolet's most famous ad campaigns: "Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet."
As Automotive News Senior Editor John K. Teahen Jr. later recalled, McDonald grew so fond of the jingle that he played it for reporters covering a national preview of one of Chevrolet's new models. That didn't go over so well: Some reporters grumbled about being forced to listen to an ad pitch.
While McDonald was in charge of Chevrolet, GM was facing increased competition from overseas, and small cars were a big issue.
As recounted in the book Chevrolet: A History from 1911 by Beverly Rae Kimes and Robert C. Ackerson, in 1974, McDonald assembled a team and challenged it to develop the small car of the future.
In the book, Lloyd Reuss, who headed Chevrolet product planning at the time, recalls: "The important thing, I think, with the assignment was not to look four years down the road, but to take a look at what we ought to have in the Eighties."
Working from the ground up, the team laid the groundwork for what would become the family of front-wheel-drive X cars, including a new Chevy Citation.
Around the same time, McDonald faced a dilemma: How to spice up the Vega small car.
According to published reports, his answer was an ambitious promise to roll out the high-performance Cosworth engine by the end of 1973. The pricey engine ---- originally a DeLorean project -- would be delayed until 1975. It was scuttled after a short production run.
McDonald had a humorous side. In a January 1973 article in Automotive News, Editor Robert Finlay describes one of McDonald's first meetings with reporters after he was named head of Chevy. Said McDonald: "I'm at the happy stage at Chevrolet. I don't understand all the problems yet."
At the same meeting, he was asked about taking over at Chevrolet. He replied: "I don't think anyone ever does take over Chevrolet."
From Chevy, McDonald would continue to move up at GM, eventually becoming president and COO under another leader who would become a household name: CEO Roger Smith.
McDonald retired in 1987.
1922: Born in Saginaw, Mich.
1940: Enrolled at General Motors Institute, under sponsorship of Saginaw Malleable Iron plant (later part of GM's Central Foundry Division)
1944: Graduated from GMI and began serving as an engineering officer in the Navy's submarine service
1946: Returned to Saginaw Malleable Iron as a draftsman, but asked to be transferred to plant floor. Served in engineering, sales, production and control and manufacturing positions.
1955: Manager at GM foundry in Defiance, Ohio
1963: General manager at Detroit Transmission Division, later called Hydra-matic Division
1969: General manager at Pontiac and a GM vice president
1972: General manager of Chevrolet
1974: Executive vice president and a member of the board of directors
1981: GM president and COO
1984: Began reorganizing North American vehicle operations from 5 car-making divisions into 2 groups: Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada and Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac
1987: Retired from GM
2010: Died at age 87