Northwest Airlines flight 334 from Los Angeles circles, then smoothly lands at Detroit's Metropolitan Airport.
As it taxis to the gate, the tall septuagenarian closes the briefcase on his lap, then asks himself: “What the hell am I doing here?”
Unlike the old days, there are no TV cameras, no grungy print reporters and no hangers-on waiting as he walks briskly along the ramp and into the airport.
Despite boasting a face once recognized instantly by millions, he moves along toward the baggage carousel unnoticed, perhaps helped by his swoopy Hollywood sunglasses and his LA Dodgers cap.
“Hey, Pops, need some help with your bags?” asks a skycap. “I got your ‘Pops,’” he snarls, grabbing his two leather bags purchased on his frequent trips to his Italian villa.
Once outside the terminal he casually selects a Cuban cigar from a row stashed in his jacket pocket and lights it. “Ah, four hours without a puff,” he says to himself.
Sniffing his cigar, passersby pinch their noses in disgust. “Screw you,” he murmurs.
A blackConcorde is waiting at the curb. The driver hustles to grab his bags and stow them in the trunk. Back behind the wheel, he asks “Where to?” “Auburn Hills, and move it,” snaps his only passenger. “And don't go through Dearborn. I never want to see a oval again.”
As he leans back in his genuine Corinthian leather seat for the 40-mile trip on a blustery early March day in Michigan, Lee Iacocca closes his eyes and thinks back to 1991. Yeah, at 67 maybe it was time to let the younger guys take over. But I sure as hell didn't want to go. Hell, didn't I savefrom bankruptcy when no one said it could be done? Didn't I get the government to come with $1.8 billion to keep us afloat?
That bought us time to launch the new K cars (1981) and the minivan we invented (1984). And don't forget, we paid back Uncle Sam seven years early — every penny.
After we got going I bought Gulfstream (later sold) and finally got my own jet. It looked great with all of those gold fittings. Great perk. Great ride.
They said I was nuts when we bought American Motors Corp. (1987). But I always wanted Jeep. I loved those photo-ops where I took the wheel of one of those old World War II olive-drab jeeps. Some guys said I looked like George Patton in civvies.
I hated those TV commercials pushing our iron, but somebody had to do them. “Buy a car, get a check.” Now how could you say no? And those books I wrote didn't hurt our car sales. People loved ’em. I sold millions.
Hey, I was an American icon, a hero. And now look at my successor, Bob. He's a goat if there ever was one.
But I gotta admit. It hasn't been much fun on the sidelines. That electric bike deal I got into — “EV Global Motors” — is no big shakes. And I guess I screwed up on that deal with (Kirk) Kerkorian to take over Chrysler. Kirk had a big stake in Chrysler and all of those Vegas billions. I thought we had it made.
Some of my critics say that set up the-Benz takeover. “ABIK: Anybody But Iacocca and Kerkorian.” So that guy Jerky, or whatever, Schrempp, got his mitts on my company, and now look what's happened.
It's snowing lightly as the Concorde guns north on I-75, “DaimlerChrysler Headquarters Next Exit” looming ahead. The passenger grimaces as he spots the sign, then smiles as he sees the Chrysler Pentastar still gleaming atop the headquarters tower. “Well, at least they haven't changed that,” he mumbles. “That building should have my name on it. I built it.”
As the Concorde enters the complex, three hulking Mercedes 500 sedans, their windows tinted black, are roaring away in the opposite direction.
“So long Zetsche, bye-bye Bernhard,” he says with a triumphant wave.
Arriving at the executive garage, he remains incognito. Once king of the Chrysler empire, he's just another senior citizen wearing a baseball cap. Probably applying for a janitor's job.
His cover is blown when, arriving at the executive office sign-in desk, he fills out a visitor's card. Looking at it, the receptionist, still at her post despite DC's decision to get rid of 26,000 people, including 6,800 salaried types, exclaims: “Mr. Iacocca! You're back!”
Soon the floor is buzzing with the news. Lee takes off his cap, revealing a tad less hair than when he departed. He replaces his shades with regular glasses that are a little thicker. But he's still trim and retains his commanding presence.
Entering the office President Dieter Zetsche has just vacated, he gets on the phone. “Get me Lutz,” he barks. “Sorry, he no longer works here.” “Get me Stallkamp.” Same response as he goes down the list. “Gale, Pawley, Cunningham” and so forth. “Where in the hell is everybody?” “They're all gone — the lot,” says the operator.
“Well get hold of them wherever they are and tell them to get the hell back here pronto,” he bellows. “We've got work to do.”
Then, rummaging through Dieter's desk he finds a screwdriver. “Here's my first official act,” he says with a chuckle as he removes a “Rauchen Verboten” sign on his office door, lighting up a fresh stogie and disappearing into his office in a cloud of smoke.