Most auto people remember Ben Bidwell as one of Lee Iacocca's cohorts at Chrysler. But Bidwell, who died this month at age 84, spent 27 years at Ford, running both Ford and Lincoln-Mercury and later the North American car and truck group. He also worked for Iacocca at Ford and with Henry Ford II.
In 2003, Bidwell told us a memorable story about Hank the Deuce that still resonates.
"In the late 1970s, we were working on the so-called Erica program that became the Ford Escort. It was going to be a couple-billion-dollar program. It wasn't going to make any money, but we had to do it for fuel-economy purposes.
"It was a Memorial Day weekend, and we were in the design center. I also was championing a program called the Monica, a competitor to General Motors' X cars, a compact. He and I were the last people to leave the meeting. He said, 'Ben, do you have a minute?' I said sure.
"It was sweltering hot. So I got my Cougar because it had air conditioning. He probably had never ridden in a Cougar. He got in, and he said he was going to vote for the Erica program at the board meeting next week. But not the Monica program.
"'I just committed $2 billion of my family's money, and I don't want to go for another billion. I don't want to put my family that deeply in hock,' he said.
"It demonstrated to me the difference between a private family company and a public company like GM. It hit home to me that he was the last industrial tycoon funding major programs in effect out of his pocket."
Was the Monica ever made?
"No," Bidwell said. "Lee [Iacocca] went over to Chrysler. Chrysler had the K car, which was the perfect platform for what became the minivan. We [at Ford] were unable to do the minivan because it had to be low-floor, front-wheel drive. The Escort wasn't big enough or wide enough. So in effect the program from Ford was done at Chrysler because the platform existed there.
"Had we done the Monica, we would have had the platform to do what became the front-wheel-drive minivan."