July 3 (UPI) -- Automobile icon Lee Iacocca, the man credited with jump starting the American "pony car" market with his invention of the Ford Mustang, died Tuesday at his Southern California home. He was 94.
Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said Iacocca had a deep and lasting impact on the company.
"Lee Iacocca was truly bigger than life and he left an indelible mark on Ford, the auto industry and our country," Ford said. "Lee played a central role in the creation of the Mustang.
"On a personal note, I will always appreciate how encouraging he was to me at the beginning of my career. He was one of a kind and will be dearly missed."
The auto executive began his decades-long career at Ford Motor Company in 1946, where he envisioned the Mustang and other prolific vehicles, like the Pinto. He became president in 1970.
Iacocca left Ford in 1978 -- after a tempestuous relationship with Henry Ford II -- to lead rival Chrysler, where he was credited with reviving the fading brand in the early 1980s. He retired as Chrysler CEO and chairman in 1992.
"Lee gave us a mindset that still drives us today -- one that is characterized by hard work, dedication and grit," Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said in a statement. "We are committed to ensuring that Chrysler, now FCA, is such a company, an example of commitment and respect, known for excellence as well as for its contribution to society.
"His legacy is the resiliency and unshakeable faith in the future that live on in the men and women of FCA who strive every day to live up to the high standards he set."
In designing the Mustang, Iacocca wanted a vehicle that would have youthful appeal, strong performance and a low price -- an auto variant later termed a "pony car." Unveiled in 1964, the Mustang used the engine, transmission and axle from the Ford Falcon with a new chassis and body. More than 400,000 Mustangs were sold in the first 12 months, and the model remains one of the most popular in the United States.
At Chrysler in 1980, Iacocca secured federal loan guarantees that helped the company avoid bankruptcy and gave the go-ahead for the automaker's Voyager line of minivans that revitalized the company during the latter part of the decade. He was part of a $3 million lawsuit against Ford in 1982 that questioned the safety of the Pinto amid claims its gas tanks were explosion-prone during crashes.
"Attorneys for [plaintiffs] contend Ford and Iacocca met with [President Richard] Nixon in April 1971 to discuss the possibility of weakening federal fuel tank safety standards. They claim Ford relaxed its standards shortly after the meeting," UPI reported at the time.
Ford ultimately recalled the Pintos to add safety shielding to the fuel tanks.
Iacocca was also famous for spearheading efforts to restore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where his parents settled as Italian immigrants.