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Four Automotive Legends Cross the Finish Line

As 2019 comes to a close, we are reflecting on the loss of four automotive titans. Lee Iacocca, Ferdinand Piëch, Niki Lauda, and Paul Ingrassia. Lee Iacocca needs no introduction. He brought us the Mustang and saved Chrysler. Ferdinand Piëch was the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche and presided over the revival of Audi and later ran the massive VW Group. Niki Lauda was an Austrian Formula One champion race car driver who won three world championships and was considered among the greatest drivers of all time. Pulitzer Prize winning auto journalist and editor Paul Ingrassia was known for his inquisitive and fact-based reporting, well-written industry books, and his kind personality. I was lucky enough to get to know Paul over the last few years of his life after meeting him at Miles Collier’s Revs Institute Symposium in 2017. We became good friends and exchanged emails on a regular basis. The Turtle Garage library maintains copies of all of three of his books which were only recently hand-signed by the author.

The following are obituaries from the New York Times that cover the extraordinary lives of these automotive legends. During the holidays, enjoy these well-written accounts of four lives that changed the automotive industry.

Lee Iacocca: 1924—2019

Reprinted from the New York Times, July 2nd 2019

Story by Robert D. McFadden

Lee A. Iacocca, the visionary automaker who ran the Ford Motor Company and then the Chrysler Corporation and came to personify Detroit as the dream factory of America’s postwar love affair with the automobile, died on Tuesday at his home in Bel Air, Calif. He was 94.

He had complications from Parkinson’s disease, a family spokeswoman said.

In an industry that had produced legends, from giants like Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler to the birth of the assembly line and freedoms of the road that led to suburbia and the middle class, Mr. Iacocca, the son of an immigrant hot-dog vendor, made history as the only executive in modern times to preside over the operations of two of the Big Three automakers.

In the 1970s and ’80s, with Detroit still dominating the nation’s automobile market, his name evoked images of executive suites, infighting, power plays and the grit and savvy to sell American cars. He was so widely admired that there was serious talk of his running for president of the United States in 1988.

Detractors branded him a Machiavellian huckster who clawed his way to pinnacles of power in 32 years at Ford, building flashy cars like the Mustang, making the covers of Time and Newsweek and becoming the company president at 46, only to be spectacularly fired in 1978 by the founder’s grandson, Henry Ford II.

But admirers called him a bold, imaginative leader who landed on his feet after his dismissal and, in a 14-year second act that secured his worldwide reputation, took over the floundering Chrysler Corporation and restored it to health in what experts called one of the most brilliant turnarounds in business history.

He accomplished it with a controversial $1.5 billion federal loan guarantee, won by convincing the government that Chrysler was vital to the national economy and should not be allowed to fail, and with concessions from unions, new lineups of cars, and a new national spokesman — himself — featured in a decade-long television advertising campaign

ImageMr. Iacocca with a Ford Mustang in the 1970s. He brought out the Mustang in 1964, and it rang up $1.1 billion in net profits over two years.
Credit…The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images

“If you can find a better car, buy it,” the blunt Mr. Iacocca challenged the public. “I’m not asking you to buy any car on faith. I want you to compare.”[Fusing his identity with his company’s to sell cars and win over Washington, Lee Iacocca was a celebrity C.E.O. for the modern era.]

As the 1980s unfolded, his commercials hammered at a theme: “The pride is back.” And so it seemed. The guaranteed loans were repaid in four years, seven years early. Americans were buying cars at a record clip again, including Chrysler’s new minivans and compacts. The company’s $1.7 billion loss in 1980 had become a $2.4 billion profit by 1984.

Chrysler was selling cars as fast as it could make them. Its stock price soared, as did Mr. Iacocca’s popularity. His achievement in restoring Chrysler was all the more impressive because it had begun in a national recession and matured against intense competition from America’s larger automakers, Ford and General Motors, and from a rising tide of imported cars from Japan and other countries.

His book “Iacocca: An Autobiography” (1984, written with William Novak) became a runaway best seller, the leading nonfiction hardcover of 1984 and 1985. With tens of millions of copies in print, it still regales readers with its intimate look at the auto industry of Mr. Iacocca’s day, its cast of larger-than-life characters, its accounts of the author’s dismissal at Ford and his rescue of Chrysler.

In 1987, the company that had nearly failed posted sales of $26 billion and sat on a $3 billion cash cushion. Mr. Iacocca, who had taken only $1 as compensation in the first year after winning the loan guarantee, was now the industry’s most highly paid executive, with salary and stock options worth $18 million.

Television commercials and news photographs had made him one of the nation’s best-known faces, an oval of grandfatherly features: a balding pate, a fleshy nose, mischievous eyes behind half-rim glasses, thin lips chomping an imported cigar, and a bland political smile that gave away nothing.

A heroic figure to many Americans, he became chairman of a project to restore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and was in demand for speeches and public appearances that took on the color of a campaign. He conferred with President Ronald Reagan, members of Congress, governors and business leaders. He was mobbed by admirers and pursued by the press. Polls confirmed that a run for the White House was realistic, and his denials of political ambition only fueled public interest in a possible candidacy.

“The loan guarantee debate, Chrysler’s subsequent return to health, and the publication of his best-selling autobiography conferred mythic status on him as the nation’s economic Winston Churchill,” Doron P. Levin, a former reporter and Detroit bureau chief for The New York Times, wrote in “Behind the Wheel at Chrysler” (1995). “At the peak of his popularity, many Americans believed not only that Iacocca held the answers to the nation’s economic ills but also that he should lead the country as president.”

But by the late 1980s, storm clouds that Mr. Iacocca and other auto executives had long ignored were gathering. The stock market had plunged in 1987, and Japan, long since recovered from the disasters of World War II, had become a world-class economic power, whose fuel-efficient cars were flooding the United States. Americans wanted reliable, well-built cars with innovations like airbags, and Honda and Toyota were supplying them.

Mr. Iacocca, as he acknowledged, had drifted too far from day-to-day operations. Instead of reinvesting in new models to rival Japanese imports, he had aggressively expanded into other ventures, acquiring the corporate jet manufacturer Gulfstream and American Motors, a small competitor. By the 1990s, many American cars could not compete with Japanese innovations.

The Iacocca magic, like Chrysler’s earnings, faded as the nation dipped into recession. He persuaded Congress to give some protection to the American auto industry from imported cars, but Japan just set up factories to build cars in the United States.

Mr. Iacocca barnstormed the country, demonizing the Japanese as alien invaders. He argued that Chrysler made better cars, that Japan’s “Teflon kimono” had deceived Americans and that the United States was suffering from a “national inferiority complex.”

It backfired. Critics accused him of “Japan bashing” and said Chrysler’s offer of $1,000 rebates suggested a fire sale.

Trying to reverse the decline, Mr. Iacocca established partnerships with Mitsubishi, Maserati and Fiat, but they were no panacea. Finally surrendering to pressures to step down, he hired Robert J. Eaton, the head of G.M.’s European operations, as his designated successor, and retired as Chrysler’s chairman and chief executive in 1992.

“He’s like Babe Ruth,” Bennett E. Bidwell, a retired Chrysler executive, said of Mr. Iacocca. “He hit home runs and he struck out a lot. But he always filled the ballpark.”

He was born Lido Anthony Iacocca on Oct. 15, 1924, in Allentown, Pa., one of two children of Nicola and Antoinette Perrotto Iacocca, immigrants from San Marco, Italy, who named him after the Venice beach resort. He and his sister, Delma, grew up in Allentown.

Their father had little education. He started as a hot-dog vendor in Allentown, borrowed money and went into real estate and other ventures. He lost nearly everything but his Orpheum Weiner House in the Depression. But he later acquired several movie theaters and opened one of the country’s first car-rental companies with a small fleet of Fords, and Lido grew up talking cars with his father.

“The Depression turned me into a materialist,” Mr. Iacocca recalled in his autobiography. “Years later, when I graduated from college, my attitude was: ‘Don’t bother me with philosophy. I want to make ten thousand a year by the time I’m 25, and then I want to be a millionaire.’ ”

He also heard anti-Italian slurs in streets and schoolyards. While attending Allentown High School, he suffered a severe case of rheumatic fever. Unable to compete in sports, he pushed himself in his studies and graduated with honors in 1942.

Lingering effects of the illness kept him out of World War II. At Lehigh University in nearby Bethlehem, Pa., he became a talented debater, had excellent grades and in 1945 graduated after three years with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.

He also impressed a Ford recruiter and was hired for an executive training program. He took a leave to attend Princeton on a scholarship, and after earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1946 returned to Ford. Instead of engineering, he saw his future in marketing in the postwar boom years and lined up a job in sales in Ford’s Chester, Pa., office, assisting dealers in the eastern Pennsylvania region.

He decided to change his foreign-sounding first name to Lee, a serious concession for a young man proud of his ethnicity. He worked endless hours in the 1940s and early ’50s, honing his speaking skills, studying sales trends and coordinating the strategies of his dealers. They sold cars aggressively, and his career flourished.

In 1956, Mr. Iacocca married Mary McCleary, a Ford receptionist in Chester. They had two children, Kathryn Iacocca Hentz and Lia Iacocca Assad, who survive him, as do his sister, Delma Kelechava, and eight grandchildren. His first wife died in 1983 from complications of diabetes. In 1986 he married Peggy Johnson, a former flight attendant. The marriage was annulled in 1987. In 1991 he married Darrien Earle, whom he divorced in 1994.

It took a decade for Mr. Iacocca to distinguish himself in Ford’s huge work force. Then he had a clever idea for a sales pitch. It was “56 for 56”: offering 1956 models with 20 percent down and $56 a month for three years. The idea was so successful regionally that Ford turned it into a national campaign and made him the corporate director of truck marketing.

He also came to the attention of Robert S. McNamara, Ford’s vice president for car and truck sales and a future Ford president and secretary of defense. As a McNamara protégé, he learned to be an executive — to run meetings, analyze trends and mediate the often competing interests of Ford’s bean-counting financial analysts and its aggressive marketing and sales forces.

He also learned the subtle, sometimes brutal, strategies of the executive scramble — to court allies, evaluate and undercut rivals, whatever it took to gain the next rung up the corporate ladder. Associates said he could humble a subordinate for a mistake one day and praise him the next. He once fired an executive and, on the way to the door, reminded him of their families’ dinner date later in the week.

Mr. Iacocca succeeded Mr. McNamara as vice president and general manager of the Ford Division in 1960, and four years later secured his place in automotive history by bringing out the Mustang, a small, rakish car with bucket seats and a floor shift that appealed to affluent young buyers and motorists of all ages who had dreamed of owning a sports car.

The Mustang was the hottest-selling new car model in Detroit history, ringing up $1.1 billion in net profits over two years. Its success landed Mr. Iacocca and the Mustang on the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week in April 1964. The garrulous Mr. Iacocca became a favorite of reporters, who delighted in his candor, rare in the car industry.

He produced other winners — the Maverick to compete with imports, the Lincoln Continental Mark III to challenge G.M.’s Cadillac Eldorado. There were missteps: The Pinto burst into flames in rear-end collisions, and lives were lost. For years he opposed airbags, mandatory seatbelts and other safety items, insisting they did not sell cars.

But he outmaneuvered rivals for the executive suite and was named president of Ford in 1970, the No. 2 post, reporting only to the chairman, Henry Ford II.

In the next eight years, as gasoline prices and foreign competition rose, Mr. Iacocca cut costs, streamlined operations and turned unprofitable divisions around. He nurtured managers who challenged conventional wisdom and solicited ideas from dealers and unions.

He also began to revel in the glitzy perquisites of his lofty position. He traveled in a private Boeing 727, entertained in lavish Ford suites at the Waldorf Astoria in New York and Claridge’s in London, and partied with Frank Sinatra and other celebrities. His extravagances reportedly offended Mr. Ford.

Mr. Iacocca’s relationship with the boss had never been close. Mr. Ford visited his office only a few times in his eight years as president. Their families rarely socialized. The company was publicly held, but Mr. Ford remained autocratic, deciding the fates of executives who came and went.

He fired Mr. Iacocca in July 1978, saying he just did not like him. He never gave more detailed reasons. The company posted a $1.8 billion profit that year. Some industry observers said Mr. Ford could not tolerate a nonfamily rival, especially one of Mr. Iacocca’s brass. In his memoir, Mr. Iacocca detailed a long struggle between them, and called Mr. Ford a man of limited vision with ethnic and racial biases.

Several months later, Mr. Iacocca joined Chrysler. It was debt-ridden, losing millions and had virtually no credit. He closed plants, cut the work force in half, won large union concessions and sold assets to raise cash. It was not enough. He turned to the government for help, igniting a national debate over a “bailout.”

But Mr. Iacocca did not ask for a handout, or even a loan, just a federal guarantee of loans from banks and other creditors. Taking him at his word — that he could resurrect Chrysler, that it was too important to be allowed to fail — Congress passed and President Jimmy Carter signed the loan guarantee, enabling the company to get back on its feet. Ultimately, Chrysler borrowed only $1.2 billion of the $1.5 billion that was guaranteed, and paid it back long before it was due.

Many factors accounted for the turnaround, but among the most important were the success of the K-car, a small, fuel-efficient, front-wheel-drive sedan, and the minivan, which seated seven people and was sold as a family or delivery vehicle. In 1987, Chrysler acquired American Motors and its Jeep division. Its Jeep Grand Cherokee was introduced in 1992, the year Mr. Iacocca retired, and became one of the biggest sellers in Chrysler history.

After retiring, Mr. Iacocca moved to Bel Air, Calif., where he invested in electric bicycles, olive oil and other ventures and promoted diabetes research. But he was restless for action.

In 1995, he and his friend Kirk Kerkorian, a corporate raider who had been accumulating stock in Chrysler, made a hostile takeover bid for the company. Chrysler rebuffed it and canceled plans to name its headquarters and technology center in Auburn Hills, Mich., after Mr. Iacocca, whose action was portrayed as a betrayal of the company he had rescued.

In 1998, Daimler-Benz A.G., the German company that made Mercedes-Benz cars, acquired Chrysler in a $36 billion merger that was the largest industrial takeover in history and the biggest acquisition of any American company by a foreign buyer. Mr. Iacocca said it might not have happened if his takeover had succeeded. The company is now owned by the Italian company Fiat.

In addition to his autobiography, Mr. Iacocca wrote “Talking Straight” (1988) with N.R. Kleinfield, then a reporter for The Times, and “Where Have All the Leaders Gone?” (2007) with Catherine Whitney.

In 2008, months before Chrysler and General Motors declared bankruptcy after years of mounting losses, Mr. Iacocca visited Auburn Hills and was greeted with thunderous applause by a thousand Chrysler workers.

“Don’t get panicked,” he told them. “Things are going to be O.K. Now is the time to show your stuff. We don’t have any alibis. The truth is automobiles in America are still a vital business.”

Ferdinand Karl Piëch, 1937—2019

Reprinted from The New York Times, August 26th 2019

Story by Jack Ewing

Ferdinand Piëch, a scion of the Porsche carmaking family who led Volkswagen for two decades marked by rapid international expansion but also by scandal, died on Sunday in Rosenheim, a city in Bavaria. He was 82.

Mr. Piëch’s wife, Ursula Piëch, said in a statement that he died “suddenly and unexpectedly” but did not give a cause. German news media reported that Mr. Piëch collapsed in a restaurant.

Along with his grandfather, Ferdinand Porsche, the designer of the Volkswagen Beetle, Mr. Piëch ranked among the most influential car executives of the last century. Under his leadership Volkswagen became the largest car company in Europe by a wide margin and rivaled Toyota for the title of largest automaker in the world.

Mr. Piëch was also a notoriously demanding boss who ran Volkswagen like a personal fief. His record of firing or demoting executives who failed to meet his goals, and his apparent tolerance for questionable behavior, led to criticism that he created the authoritarian company culture that bred a costly emissions cheating scandal.

During World War II, Anton Piëch managed the vast Volkswagen factory in the newly built city now known as Wolfsburg. Ferdinand later recalled that one of his earliest memories was of riding a train that delivered fuel and raw materials to the production lines at the factory, which during the war was used to repair bombers and to make anti-tank weapons, mines and other munitions.

Fascinated, young Ferdinand told his parents that he wanted to work at the factory someday. Not in an office like his father, he wrote in his autobiography, “but for real, down there, where the workers repaired the airplanes and rode the trains, for real, with my hands.”

Still not old enough to go to school, Ferdinand was apparently oblivious to the slave laborers, including inmates from Auschwitz, who made up most of Volkswagen’s wartime work force.

After the war Mr. Piëch (pronounced pyecch) earned an engineering degree at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, a famed technology university in Zurich. He went to work at the fledgling sports car company that his uncle, Ferdinand Porsche, known as Ferry, had created after the war.

At Porsche, Mr. Piëch oversaw the racing program. He earned a reputation for pushing technical boundaries, sometimes with fatal consequences for drivers.
Mr. Piëch in 2014. A year later, he resigned as head of Volkswagen’s supervisory board in the wake of a bitter power struggle with Martin Winterkorn, whom he had named chief executive in 2007.
Credit…Julian Stratenschulte/Deutsche Presse-Agentur, via A.F.P. — Getty Images

Mr. Piëch left Porsche after he and other family members quarreled so intensely that Ferry Porsche banned them from the company. In 1972 he got a job at Audi, a Volkswagen subsidiary then known for stodgy middle-class sedans. It was the first time anyone from the Porsche and Piëch clan had played an official role in Volkswagen management since the end of World War II.

Within three years Mr. Piëch rose to a position on Audi’s management board, where he received much of the credit for transforming the division into a luxury brand able to compete with BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Mr. Piëch used technical innovations to set Audi apart from the competition, a trademark of his career. For example, he equipped passenger sedans with four-wheel drive, then a novelty. Audi still uses the Quattro brand created by Mr. Piëch and his engineers.

While at Audi, Mr. Piëch also acquired a reputation as a ruthless corporate infighter and dictatorial manager with no patience for underlings he regarded as incompetent. But his success there outweighed any reservations that Volkswagen’s supervisory board might have had when, in 1992, they named him to lead the parent company out of an existential crisis.

“Only when a company is in severe difficulty does it let in someone like me,” Mr. Piëch wrote in his autobiography, with startling frankness. “In normal, calm times, I never would have gotten a chance.”

When Mr. Piëch took over Volkswagen, the heyday of the Beetle was long over and the company struggled to develop new products with as much appeal. Parking lots around the factory overflowed with unsold vehicles. In America, where Volkswagen had once been the best-selling import, the company was reduced to a niche brand. There was talk of bankruptcy.

Within months Mr. Piëch replaced almost the entire Volkswagen management board, cut costs by persuading labor leaders to accept a shortened workweek, and set about renewing the product lineup.

He was obsessive about quality, insisting that his engineers narrow the so-called body gaps, the spaces between the car doors and car bodies. He once boasted that he fired any assembly-line managers whose body gaps were too wide.

One of Mr. Piëch’s most significant innovations, which would later have fateful consequences, was to combine engine computers and fuel injection to make diesel technology practical for passenger cars. Volkswagen diesels offered superior fuel efficiency but were quieter than other diesels of the period. They also did not smell as bad.

But Mr. Piëch’s commercial success was shadowed by scandal.

During his tenure, Volkswagen was accused of stealing corporate information from General Motors and of supplying prostitutes to Volkswagen labor representatives to secure their cooperation. Mr. Piëch was never charged with a crime, though people who reported to him were.

Mr. Piëch retired as chief executive in 2002, but retained substantial influence as chairman of the supervisory board, including the power to hire and fire top managers. In 2007 he named Martin Winterkorn, a longtime protégé with an equally demanding and authoritarian management style, chief executive.

With Mr. Piëch’s encouragement, Mr. Winterkorn announced that Volkswagen would aim to surpass Toyota as the largest carmaker in the world. As part of that ambitious plan, Volkswagen would try to restore past glory in the United States by selling Americans on the supposed virtues of “clean diesel.” The stage was set for the scandal that would later cost Volkswagen tens of billions of dollars.
Beginning in 2008, the Porsche and Piëch families also reasserted their control over Volkswagen for the first time since the end of World War II. They used sports car profits to acquire a majority of Volkswagen’s voting shares, which were cheap in part because of Mr. Piëch’s indifference to the stock price and refusal to kowtow to investors.

Eventually Porsche and Volkswagen merged, on terms that other shareholders complained were skewed in favor of the Porsche and Piëch families. But there was little the other shareholders could do about it.

Mr. Piëch’s domination of Volkswagen was so complete that he was able to install his second wife, Ursula, better known as Uschi, on the supervisory board. A former governess who had cared for the Piëch children, she had never worked in the auto industry.

But Mr. Piech’s sway over Volkswagen came to an end in April 2015 after he became disenchanted with Mr. Winterkorn’s performance and criticized him in public, igniting a power struggle. Other members of the Porsche family, with whom Mr. Piëch had long bickered, backed Mr. Winterkorn. Mr. Piëch resigned as supervisory board chairman. Ursula Piëch resigned her seat on the board.

Mr. Piëch’s departure may have been, for him, a blessing in disguise. He was no longer in the line of fire in September 2015, when Volkswagen admitted that its so-called clean diesels were fitted with illegal software that hid impermissibly high emissions from regulators. By 2019 the scandal had cost Volkswagen more than $30 billion in fines and civil settlements, and largely killed sales of diesel passenger cars in Europe.

There has never been any evidence that Mr. Piëch was aware of the illegal software. But he is often blamed for creating the company culture that drove employees to cheat rather than risk their jobs by admitting they could not achieve a technological target.

Little was heard publicly from Mr. Piëch after his departure. He sold his shares in the family holding company, which were valued at more than $1 billion, in 2017.

In her statement on Monday, Mr. Piëch’s wife said that in addition to her, he is survived by 13 children and more than twice that many grandchildren. In his autobiography, Mr. Piëch wrote that the mothers of the children included his first wife, Corina; Marlene Porsche, with whom he had a relationship while she was still married to a cousin of his; a woman he declined to identify; and Ursula.

“The life of Ferdinand Piëch was characterized by his passion for the automobile and for the workers that made them,” Ursula Piëch said. “To the last he was an enthusiastic engineer and car lover.”

Mr. Piëch’s name lives on in the auto industry. At the Geneva Motor Show in 2019 a son, Anton Piëch, displayed a prototype of a high-performance electric car. It’s name: the Piëch.

Niki Lauda, 1949 to 2019

Reprinted from the New York Times, May 21st 2019

Story by Robert McFadden

Niki Lauda, the Austrian racecar driver who won three world championships in Formula One, the sport’s highest level of international competition, and was regarded as one of the greatest racing drivers of all time, died on Monday in Zurich. He was 70.

His family confirmed the death, at University Hospital, in a statement to the Austria Press Agency. No cause was reported.

Lauda was injured many times in race crashes and once nearly killed. He had kidney transplants in 1997 and 2005, and last August, while struggling with severe lung disease, he underwent what was described as a successful lung transplant at a hospital in Vienna.

The scion of an industrial family that opposed his daredevil driving career, Lauda (pronounced LAO-da) was a road warrior who dazzled motoring experts and crowds that lined the twisting, turning Grand Prix courses of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas for grueling all-weather races. For a driver, it took guts, focus and precision moves among the shifting packs roaring at high speeds.

“Formula One is simply about controlling these cars and testing your limits,” Lauda told The Telegraph of London in 2015. “This is why people race — to feel the speed, the car and the control. If in my time you pushed too far, you would have killed yourself. You had to balance on that thin line to stay alive.”ImageLauda driving a Ferrari 312T2 during the Grand Prix of Monaco in Monte Carlo in 1977.

Credit…Tony Duffy/Getty Images

Unlike the Indianapolis 500, America’s Memorial Day weekend classic in which drivers take 200 laps around a 2.5-mile rectangle with rounded corners, Grand Prix races are held worldwide on public roads with hills and turns and on odd-shaped specially built circuits with right- and left-hand curves of varying sharpnesses.

In his 17-year career (1969-85) in the open cockpit of Porsches, Ferraris, McLarens and other high-tech torpedoes on wheels, mostly in Formula One competition, Lauda won 25 Grand Prix races. Points were awarded to the top six finishers in a race (today it is the top 10), and by amassing the highest point total in 16 authorized races, Lauda won the Formula One world driving championships in 1975, 1977 and 1984.

Since the crowns were first awarded, in 1950, only five drivers have surpassed Lauda’s three titles. The record, seven, was set by Michael Schumacher, of Germany, between 1994 and 2004.

Lauda, a licensed commercial pilot, founded and for years ran his own airline, Lauda Air, first as a charter, then as a scheduled carrier from Austria to Southeast Asia, Australia and the Americas. He sometimes piloted his airline’s flights. In 1991, a Lauda Air jetliner crashed in Thailand, killing all 223 people on board. Lauda was personally involved in the investigation, which was ruled an accident.

After winning his first world driving championship, Lauda seemed destined to repeat in 1976. He won five early events and came in second in two more. But in his next race, the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring, a 14-mile, 76-curve course, things went drastically wrong for him and his 1,300-pound blood-red Ferrari.

It had rained, and he hit a slippery patch at 140 miles per hour. He spun out, broke through a restraining fence, which snagged and tore away his helmet, then hit an embankment and bounced back onto the track, where he was hit by several following cars. His ruptured fuel tank burst into flames, which engulfed him in the cockpit.

By the time three other drivers pulled him from the wreckage, he had severe burns of the face, head and hands, a concussion, a broken collarbone and other fractures. His right ear was badly burned. Noxious smoke and gases from the car’s burning interior seared his lungs. He was taken to a hospital in a coma, then to a burn center, seemingly near death.

On Lauda’s third day in intensive care, a Roman Catholic priest gave him the last rites of the church. Lauda was conscious, and the rites only made him angry.

“I kept telling myself, If he wants to do that, O.K., but I’m not quitting,” Lauda told Newsday after he began a remarkable recovery.

He had a series of operations and skin grafts that left permanent scarring on his head. He lost part of his right ear, the hair on the right side of his head, his eyebrows and both eyelids. He chose to limit reconstructive surgery to the eyelids, and thereafter wore a red baseball cap to cover the worst disfigurements. But he began talking, walking and making plans for his return to racing.

Six weeks after his devastating crash, Lauda returned to competition in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, near Milan. He finished fourth. Against all odds, he began winning again, and finished as runner-up to the 1976 world champion, his British friend James Hunt.

Sustaining his comeback a year later, Lauda again won the world championship, beating Jody Scheckter by 17 points. Seven years later, after a series of poor racing seasons and a two-year “retirement,” Lauda won his final Formula One championship. He retired from racing in 1985.

For many years, Lauda championed safer racecar and track designs, and urged tighter controls over driving conditions and rules governing race organizers.

“Racing on substandard tracks or in unsafe weather doesn’t test courage,” Lauda told The Boston Globe in 1977. “At present, some of the Grand Prix circuits we drivers are asked to race on do not fulfill the most primitive safety requirements. Also, the decision to call off or stop a race can’t be left entirely to the organizers, who too often put prestige before the safety of the drivers. We need independent experts whose authority should be supreme.”

Over the years, in response to deadly crashes and the increasing power of engines, sanctioning organizations have mandated many changes in safety regulations and technology, including electronic driver aids and grooved tires, to improve the road grip and cornering controls of cars, as well as rules limiting racing in extreme weather conditions to minimize dangers of aquaplaning. Tracks have been redesigned and stronger barriers built to increase the safety of spectators. Major accidents in Formula One racing have steadily declined.

Niki was a bright but lazy student, and his parents wanted him to go into the family business. But cars became his passion. As a schoolboy, he drove an uncle’s BMW around a paper mill yard, and at 14 he was taking Volkswagens apart. At 18, he quit school, borrowed money to buy a Mini Cooper and got into mountain racing. A year later, he went deeper into debt to acquire a Porsche 911.

In 1969, he began racing in earnest, and won eight races at a low level of competition. Over the next few years he borrowed on his life insurance and, without authorization, used his family name to finance better cars for tougher racing events. His success drew the attention of Enzo Ferrari, the aging head of the Italian motor car company, who in 1973 invited him to join the Ferrari racing team.

Lauda jumped at the chance. He marveled at the Ferrari test track at Fiorano, near Modena in northern Italy, comparing it to a NASA training site, with a private track, automated timekeepers, closed-circuit television facilities and an army of automotive engineers, fitters, technicians and administrators.

“I couldn’t imagine how such a setup could fail to win,” he wrote in “My Years With Ferrari” (1978), one of his five books. Two years after joining the team, he gave Ferrari its first victory in 20 years at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, and went on to win the world championship.

In 1976, Lauda married Marlene Knaus. They had two children, Mathias and Lukas, and were divorced in 1991. He also had a son, Christoph, in an extramarital relationship. In 2008, he married Birgit Wetzinger, a flight attendant 30 years his junior, who gave birth to twins, Max and Mia, in 2009. European news reports said his survivors include his wife and children.

Lauda established Lauda Air as a charter service in 1979, and it began scheduled flights in 1987. He sold the company in 1999 and four years later started a new budget airline, Niki. He often piloted its flights twice a week. Niki merged with Air Berlin in 2011, and in 2016 he took over another charter airline, calling it Lauda Motion.

For many years he was a commentator on German television for Grand Prix races.

Ron Howard’s 2013 biographical sports film, “Rush,” portrayed the 1976 Grand Prix season rivalry between Lauda (played by Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). The film grossed nearly $100 million at the box office. (Hunt died in 1993.)

“Mr. Howard doesn’t just want you to crawl inside a Formula One racecar,” Manohla Dargis wrote in a review for The New York Times, “he also wants you to crawl inside its driver’s head.”

Lauda praised the film, whose exhilarating race sequences were shot on location at German and British racetracks, as a “very accurate” drama.

Paul Ingrassia, 1950—2019

Reprinted from Reuters, a tribute from Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler

September 16th 2019

Paul Ingrassia was the strongest person I’ve ever known.

Intensely joyful and bristling with enthusiasm for journalism, cars, fly-fishing, golf, people in general, and his adored family in particular, he was also cruelly afflicted. He survived lung cancer surgery 22 years ago, only to lose his beloved son Charlie to cancer earlier this year. He suffered through other cancer diagnoses in recent years, gamely tackling each treatment and, between relentless medical interventions, managing to sneak in a fishing trip, a golf game, or an appearance on CNBC. In accepting the Gerald R. Loeb Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, he acknowledged his bouts with cancer by deadpanning: “I often think that my biggest lifetime achievement is simply having a lifetime.” But Paul did so very much more than survive. He was a force of nature and a rare inspiration, sharing with everyone around him his exquisite generosity, his lifelong devotion to unbiased and illuminating journalism, and his fierce love of life.

At Reuters, where he was Managing Editor from 2011 until 2016, he combined a deep understanding of financial markets and clarity of news judgment with a keen eye for emerging talent. As recently as this month, in the midst of an especially toxic round of chemo, he wrote to compliment one of his “discoveries” for an extraordinary piece of reporting from Latin America. He also had a penchant for remembering everyone’s name and face in an organization of thousands of journalists, and he managed to greet each person he encountered with a specific, thoughtful comment or question. It seemed like a magic act, and it awed all of us, but what it really reflected was how much he simply cared about people. Far from an act, it was his essence.

Paul’s serious business-journalism chops were tempered by an eye for the personal and quirky. A classic example was the time he crafted a feature about dinner with Vladimir Putin shortly after Russia had annexed Crimea. The main course, it turns out, was Crimean flounder. Everyone at the dinner talked about it. Only Paul had the wit to write about it. When I met him in 1988 at a Wall Street Journal bureau chief meeting, he seemed earnest and strait-laced. But he turned out to be nerdily funny, with a super-dry and sometimes corny sense of humor that found its outlet in droll one-liners and some wonderful and ridiculous doggerel. This was how he said farewell to the Reuters London team at the end of 2015:

On England’s shore I did arrive

In Reuters’ buzzing London hive.

So many desks, so many chairs

All filled with Nigels and Alistairs.

My culture shock was plain to see

No pickup truck, no SUV!

How could I find a way to bond

With colleagues from across the pond?

I tried country music, golf and cars,

And even hanging out in bars.

Till through the haze of British booze,

We found our bond, our love of news.

Paul spent three decades at Dow Jones, in senior leadership roles both at the newspaper and the newswire, before coming to Reuters. He was the best possible partner and managing editor here, eagerly moving to London in 2013 when it became clear we needed his senior presence there and traveling everywhere in the world to connect with and mentor our far-flung journalists. And bear in mind he did all this with just one lung in some of the most polluted cities in the world.

Lately, in addition to his public appearances, he had been serving as editor and writer at the Revs Institute, an automotive history and research center in Naples, Florida, where he and his wife Susie happily made their home in recent years. He also served on the Dow Jones Special Committee, created to monitor editorial integrity after News Corp acquired the company. In that role, he characteristically dove into WSJ newsrooms around the world so he personally could take the pulse of the staff on ethics issues.

Throughout his career, Paul wrote brilliantly and passionately about cars — in newspapers, magazines, and books. It was at The Wall Street Journal in 1993 that he won his Pulitzer Prize, along with colleague Joe White, for coverage of a boardroom revolt at General Motors. Among his astute, highly readable books were Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars, and Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster. The latter spawned a documentary, Live Another Day, a title that might easily have served for a memoir as well.

I’ll remember so many lovely moments when I remember Paul, but I’ll especially cherish the times we spent, and the joy we shared, in just covering the news. Paul Ingrassia was a devoted, charming, and utterly decent man who refused to let illness deflect him from his passions or deny us the immeasurable gift of his brilliance, humanity, and love.

Reprinted from the New York Times, September 16, 2019

Story by Sam Roberts

Paul Ingrassia, an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who placed readers in the boardrooms and executive suites of the nation’s automotive industry and put many of its leaders under scrutiny, died on Monday in Naples, Fla. He was 69. His brother, Lawrence, a former deputy managing editor and business editor of The New York Times, said the cause was complications of cancer.

Mr. Ingrassia was the Detroit bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he and his deputy, Joseph B. White, shared the 1993 Pulitzer for beat reporting for their coverage of the upheaval in the executive ranks of General Motors. Their coverage also earned them a Gerald Loeb Award, administered by the University of California, Los Angeles, for distinguished business and financial reporting.

Mr. Ingrassia was the bureau chief in Detroit from 1985 to 1995 in a three-decade career with The Journal, where he was also an editor and executive. He was later managing editor of Reuters.
ImageMr. Ingrassia and Joseph B. White followed up their Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the automotive industry with this book in 1995.
Credit…none

Mr. Ingrassia and Mr. White followed up their prizewinning reporting with a well-received book, “Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry” (1995).

The authors “excel at reporting, and they succeed in creating a genuine sense that the reader is present as much of their drama unfolds,” The New York Times Book Review said.

Mr. Ingrassia also wrote “Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster” (2010), a narrative of the bankruptcies and government bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors in the 2000s. It inspired a documentary film, “Live Another Day” (2016).

“The city’s battered economy was reflected on the football field,” Mr. Ingrassia wrote of Detroit in the book, “where the University of Michigan was enduring its first losing season in forty years, and the Detroit Lions were plummeting to pro football’s first 0–16 season. During their 47–10 drubbing on Thanksgiving Day 2008, fans unfurled a banner reading bail out the lions. It was a gallows-humor reference not only to the football team but also to the weakest teams in town — General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.”

Writing in The Journal around the time the book was published, Mr. Ingrassia asserted that in return for any direct government aid to G.M., “the board and the management should go.”

“Shareholders should lose their paltry remaining equity,” he wrote. “And a government-appointed receiver — someone hard-nosed and nonpolitical — should have broad power to revamp GM with a viable business plan and return it to a private operation as soon as possible.”

He added: “Giving GM a blank check — which the company and the United Auto Workers union badly want, and which Washington will be tempted to grant — would be an enormous mistake.”

Mr. Ingrassia’s latest book was “Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars” (2012), which The Times described as “a highly informed but breezy narrative history of the vehicles that have shaped and reflected American culture.”

Paul Joseph Ingrassia was born on Aug 18, 1950, in Laurel, Miss., to Angelo and Regina (Iacono) Ingrassia. His father was a research chemist, his mother a homemaker. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master’s at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He began his news career at the Lindsay-Schaub Newspaper Group in Decatur, Ill. in 1973.

Mr. Ingrassia worked for Dow Jones & Co. from 1977 to 2007. From 1998 to 2006, he was president of Dow Jones Newswires, an arm of The Journal’s parent company. He was vice president for news strategy at Dow Jones when he left the company in 2007, after it had been bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Mr. Ingrassia was named deputy editor in chief of Thomson Reuters in 2011 and was managing editor of Reuters when he retired in 2016. Most recently he was editor at the Revs Institute, an automotive history research center in Naples.

He lived in Naples with his wife, Susan (Rougeau) Ingrassia, who survives him. In addition to her and his brother, he is survived by two sons, Adam and Daniel, and a grandson. A third son, Charles, died of cancer this year. Lawrence Ingrassia said his family was genetically predisposed to the disease. Two sisters died of cancer before they were 40.

In 2016, Mr. Ingrassia received the Gerald Loeb Lifetime Achievement Award.

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