Detroiters have been wistful of late, recalling how Lee Iacocca charmed Congress three decades ago and won approval for Chrysler's federal loan guarantee.
But things didn't start out well for Chrysler then. The first guy it sent to Washington to argue for the loans, John Riccardo, got the same rough treatment as Rick Wagoner, Bob Nardelli and Alan Mulally did last month. Riccardo was Chrysler's chairman, and in Washington he acted like a Detroit fat cat right out of central casting — a cranky auto exec who blamed all of his problems on federal regulation. He was a lightning rod for the anti-loan forces.
Iacocca joined the company in 1978 as Riccardo's second-in-command — after being bounced from Ford
When Iacocca replaced Riccardo as chairman on Sept. 18, 1979, congressmen expected another Riccardo. Instead, Iacocca used humor to disarm D.C.
Rep. Stewart McKinney told Iacocca: "If you do what you did for Ford with Chrysler, you're going to be a man that needs a big bronze statue put somewhere." Iacocca, evoking the image of a lynching, cracked, "I hope it's not a live statue." The room erupted in laughter.
At a hearing, Iacocca once noted that the Washington subway system was getting a federal loan guarantee bigger than Chrysler's.
"It's a transportation system," answered one congressman.
Iacocca replied: "What the hell do you think Chrysler is?"