In a 2003 interview with Automotive News, Caldwell recalled that the handoff itself was somewhat anti-climatic.
"When I came in the room, in front of the desk he placed two chairs, side by side. He sat down in one and told me to sit down in the other. That's when he said, "I'm going to leave and I want you to run the company," Caldwell said. "It was as simple as that."
Ford had set a U.S. sales record the year before Caldwell took over as CEO. Then, battered by an oil crisis and recession, the company's sales plunged more than 45 percent over the next three years. Its market share dropped 6 points to below 20 percent as Americans flocked to fuel-sipping imports.
As he charted Ford's recovery, Caldwell made quality the company's top priority. And he set the stage for a comeback by backing the bold styling on the car that came to symbolize Ford's comeback: the Taurus.
Caldwell recalled in the 2003 interview that he had put intense pressure on designer Jack Telnack to stretch with the Taurus.
Caldwell -- who had been known for being conservative when it came to design -- said to Telnack: "Are you going far enough? Are you going modern enough? Are you really doing a style and design that is going to be the beginning of a trend rather than the last cycle of a trend?"
Telnack later said: "I'd never heard a CEO say that. … They'd always back off and say, 'You've gone too far.' Phil didn't do that. He pushed us."
In his 2005 book, Six Men Who Built the Modern Auto Industry, Rick Johnson, managing editor of Automotive News, quoted Henry Ford II as saying, "What do you do?" when Caldwell explained that he didn't drink or smoke.
Former General Motors and Ford executive Bob Lutz describes Caldwell as a quirky, humorless teetotaler with a relentless focus on quality and minute details of new vehicles.
In his latest book, Icons and Idiots, Lutz said Caldwell, a former Navy lieutenant, enjoyed collecting free soaps and jams while traveling through Europe and drank only special Malvern Water bottled in England.
Caldwell often invited Lutz to lengthy chats at the end of the workday.
Lutz wrote : "I routinely dreaded these and was always on my guard, taut as a banjo string, because while we talked for two hours, I never felt any genuine intellectual connection. Phil, despite his long-winded homilies, remained sphinxlike. But this one was different. After a while, Phil fell silent as if mulling a thought. Then he said, 'I'm going to show you something that not many people have seen.'
"With that, he reached into the credenza behind his desk and withdrew a heavy, dark maroon leather-bound album. It contained page upon page of pictures of Philip Caldwell in the presence of heads of state, princes, kings, sheiks, Chinese ministers and vice chairmen, notables from the worlds of politics, science, royalty, and show business. It was fascinating.
"Then, when show-and-tell was over and he ceremoniously closed the heavy book, my eyes fell on the gold-embossed title. Suddenly, I understood Phil Caldwell, his hopes, dreams, grandeur, and weakness, all brilliantly encapsulated in one simple phrase. It read: 'Important People Who Have Met Me.'"
After leaving Ford, Caldwell joined global investing firm Lehman Brothers as a managing director. He was also on the board of trustees at Muskingum University, where' he's the namesake of an academic building. In addition, he contributed to a business administration professorship in his name at Harvard's Business School.
A decade ago, as he reflected on his time at Ford, Caldwell said cars like the Taurus -- whose designs came from car experts and not the top executives -- enabled the company to survive.
"When you've been in the swamp, and we were in the swamp, and you get to dry ground, that's where the reward comes," Caldwell said. "You have the financial rewards, but you also have the rewards of accomplishment that you are indentified with."
With his wife, Betsey, Caldwell had three children: Lawrence, Lucy and Desiree.
Nick Bunkley and Adam Rubenfire of Automotive News contributed to this report.