Seeing Hal Sperlich inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame last week was great fun. It's nice when people are honored and they're still around to appreciate it.
According to the program, Sperlich was honored for being a "product planning genius as a chief architect of the original Ford Mustang and Chrysler minivan."
No argument there.
The Mustang and minivan created market segments that changed the American way of life -- or at least a lot of American lifestyles.
As Sperlich said, he had a lot of teammates who contributed to both efforts.
Teammates are important in the auto industry, and so are the circumstances that create winning teams. One of Sperlich's most important teammates -- at Ford and Chrysler -- was Lee Iacocca.
The only thing that could have made the evening better would have been Lee Iacocca standing there in Dearborn, patting his friend on the back. Of course, I'm not even sure Iacocca made the trip when he was inducted in 1994.
But Iacocca sent a letter of congratulations to Sperlich. In it, Iacocca apologized for missing his friend's ceremony, explaining that "I'm in Italy touring the Tuscan countryside in my Chrysler Town & Country."
Sperlich's acceptance speech was lighthearted and fun, which you don't always hear on such august occasions.
Filtered by more than a quarter century of success, Sperlich joked that the product development cycle for the minivan was long, inefficient -- and he wouldn't recommend it.
Both Sperlich and Iacocca wanted to do a front-wheel-drive minivan at Ford but were overruled. Sperlich got crosswise with Henry Ford II in 1977 and went to Chrysler. Two years later Ford fired Iacocca, who followed Sperlich to Chrysler.
When reunited, they used the K Car platform to create the minivan, which saved Chrysler and changed the look of suburban America.
Sperlich said the real reason he was inducted was that he had satisfied millions of soccer moms.
That's one way to look at it.