On April 27, 1971, President Nixon met with Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca of Ford Motor Co. for 35 minutes in the Oval Office. The three discussed the push toward safety and environmental regulations. Automakers feared the rules would overwhelm them.
Ford and Iacocca never made a specific request, and Nixon made no promises. But later, the Department of Transportation dropped plans to push for airbags and other passive restraints. Airbags will be required in passenger cars beginning with the 1998 model year, more than 25 years after the meeting.
During their conversation, the three men explored a variety of other subjects. The transcript was made public during the Watergate affair. Here are excerpts:
Nixon, on environmentalists and consumer advocates: 'They're a group of people that aren't one really damn bit interested in safety or clean air. What they're interested in is destroying the system. They're enemies of the system. .*.*. I try to fight the demagogues to the extent that we can.'
Iacocca, on the proposed 5-mph bumper standard: 'We've gotta make our bumpers better, because they're rather fragile today.'
Iacocca, on imported parts: 'The reason we're (sic) underpriced General Motors by $150, we decided to make all our transmissions and axles and engines entirely overseas. So we have the benefit of low-cost components.'
Ford, on the effects of higher prices: 'If these prices get so high that people stop buying cars, they're gonna buy more foreign cars; you're going to have balance-of-payments problems.'