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Hooniverse Asks- What Was Bob Lutz’s Greatest Achievement?

Bob Lutz, or Maximum Bob to use his porn name, retired from GM last Friday. At 78 years old, some would say it’s about time. Those who know him however, would probably say why so soon? Over his career, which has spanned decades and has touched all the major American manufacturers as well as some notable foreign brands, Maximum Bob has been responsible for some of the most iconic and interesting vehicles of the latter part of the 20th century, and early 21st.

Dodge Viper, Plymouth Powler? Those are both his. The jelly beanic Ford Sierra, which begat the Merkur XR4Ti, gestated during his reign at Ford of Europe. And don’t get me started on the Aussie-derived Pontiac GTO, also a Bob Lutz original. So many great cars and achievements, but come the day when Bob really retires – to the great boardroom in the sky – which of them will best serve as his legacy?

Not only did Bob have massive influence over the cars we drive, but he also protected our nation (despite having been born in Switzerland) as a marine aviator. To this day one of his passions is the collecting of military aircraft in the way average men collect Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editions.

His days at Ford ended after his push to bring European models into the U.S. under the Merkur brand died from a case of exchange rateus unfortunateus. That did allow him to follow his friend, and fellow cigar aficionado, Lee Iacocca to Chrysler, where he pushed the LH platform through development and queried what Lamborghini might be able to do in creating an aluminum version of Dodge’s new 8-litre V10.

Before that, and typical of a mid-level exec, he had a BMW. Unlike many other mid-level execs however, his Beemer was a company car. His time at the German car maker proved influential on the E30 3-series, and refined his tastes for a more continental flavor in the cars he championed.

That’s a long and illustrious career, and one that has not been without controversy. Many of the programs that Maximum Bob advocated turned out to be failures – Merkur, the GTO, etc – but just as many proved to be iconic and lived up to the vision he espoused. Additionally, Bob has been one of the most vocal deniers of global warming, calling it a “crock of shit,” which hasn’t endeared him to the potential advocates of his most recent endeavor, the Chevy Volt. But then, he has been pushing the Volt despite his personal opinion.

So which one of these achievements, either success or debacle, should be Lutz’s legacy?  Should his tombstone be large enough to contain his entire, massive bio? Or is there one event that stands above the rest and may be held up as Maximum Bob’s crowning glory? If there is, what would that be?

Image sources: [Autoweek.com, Caradvice.com.au]

Currently there are "23 comments" on this Article:

  1. Maymar says:

    On one hand, the 3-Series is absolutely the most lasting achievement (it's certainly outlived everything else he's done) and no doubt inspired much of his other work (certainly, without the 3-Series, there may have been no Merkur, or GTO). On the other hand, just how big was his involvement in it? So I'm going to go out on an obscure limb and say the Neon. It was a fairly good car (teething quality issues aside) for the time, Chrysler actually made money on it, gave us the SRT-4, runs well in LeMons, and provided the bones for the PT Cruiser (which may have been one of the few things keeping Chrysler even remotely afloat).

    But I like Bob Lutz just for being Bob Lutz.

  2. Ambersand says:

    I'm waiting for 'neerd to weigh in on this one…

  3. I think the allure (no pun intended) of Bob Lutz is that in many ways we all want his job. He is highly regarded in automotive circles and has a great passion for what we think of as great cars. We envy his reputation, and the cars that he has had a part of bringing to market.

    If you're still reading and waiting for the "but," here it is: The LH cars brought Chrysler back from the brink, but I would have bet it would have happened without him. And what shape did he leave Chrysler in? Don't forget also, that between jobs at Chrysler and GM, he was CEO of Exide Battery Corporation, which he ran into bankruptcy.

    He wanted to bring European Ford's over, but it wasn't done correctly. While we may love the XR4Ti and Scorpio, they were not successes in America.

    The world knew that GM products had to improve, and especially focus on interiors and stopping bad designs. For a fraction of his salary, I would have been able to tell GM not to sell a vehicle that looks like an Aztek. I (or any of us reading this) could have been able to tell GM that fake wood and cheap plastic did not belong on a Cadillac or a Buick.

    I also wonder if the date of his final retirement from GM (after GM came out of bankruptcy) had more to do with his retirement package then any commitment he has to the company.

    Bob Lutz? They guy we all wish we could be. Had an awesome job, awesome salary, and awesome reputation among "car guys." For that, I give him the credit that he is due.

  4. engineerd says:

    The E21, GTO, Merkur, Sky, and many of the other cars he's had a hand in the creation of are grand. Even the Chrysler LH platform was a good platform at its time. Although, it's hard to argue with owning the Aero Vodochody L-39 as his greatest achievement.

    • engineerd says:

      Another great achievement? He's a likable guy, so I didn't kick his ass when he walked right into my shot with his entourage at the Detroit auto show last January.

      Well, that and at 120 years old, he can still probably kick my ass.

    • engineerd says:

      Another great achievement? He's a likable guy, so I didn't kick his ass when he walked right into my shot with his entourage at the Detroit auto show last January.

      Well, that and at 120 years old, he can still probably kick my ass.

  5. Mad_Science says:

    With the exception of the Neon and the Volt, it seems Lutz spent most of his career returning to the "Performance is good for business" well. It worked for him at BMW and with the Viper, but almost never again.

    In fact, it failed more often than not.

    In some ways he's the enthusiast's best friend for his involvement* with so many awesome vehicles. On the other hand, he may well be our greatest enemy, for providing a mountain of evidence as to why all the things we weirdo enthusiasts want make horrible business sense.

    Since I'm taking a positive spin on this, I'll go with the BMW E9 and E24 coupes, which he had an hand in shaping.

    *The amount of credit Lutz gets for the car's he's famously associated with may or may not really be due.

  6. M44Power says:

    His greatest achievement is that people continued to listen to him, even after his reality was clearly only occasionally brushing up against the real world. Sure, he was involved with some of my favorite cars. But more importantly, he was the image of what working at an automaker was all about. Sitting down at a table while smoking an absurdly large cigar to figure out what oversized engine to stuff into a subcompact? Sure. Flipping a car on a test track and then having an iconic photo made commemorating the event. Is it Tuesday already?

    I respect the heck out of the man, however all too often he was solidly in the marketing side of the equation. He did manage to sell me on the automotive image, though, and I will always admire him for that.

  7. JeepyJayhawk says:

    Perhaps the CTS throwdown that caused all this?

  8. Maymar says:

    On one hand, the 3-Series is absolutely the most lasting achievement (it's certainly outlived everything else he's done) and no doubt inspired much of his other work (certainly, without the 3-Series, there may have been no Merkur, or GTO). On the other hand, just how big was his involvement in it? So I'm going to go out on an obscure limb and say the Neon. It was a fairly good car (teething quality issues aside) for the time, Chrysler actually made money on it, gave us the SRT-4, runs well in LeMons, and provided the bones for the PT Cruiser (which may have been one of the few things keeping Chrysler even remotely afloat).

    But I like Bob Lutz just for being Bob Lutz.

  9. Alff says:

    His greatest achievement? Probably retaining the respect of car people while working for two automakers that generally can't find their asses with two hands and a flashlight.

  10. P161911 says:

    Probably the Dodge Viper. In 1989 the Viper ushered in the modern performance car era and put the final nail in the Malaise era. From then on cars would be more powerful and faster than they were "back in the day" (late 60s-early 70s). Viper was one of the first cars to go from show car to showroom in a relatively short period of time. The Viper said that it was OK to make a performance car with a BIGGER engine than the last one. It introduced the first new Big Block engine in decades. Proving once again that "There is no substitute for cubic inches".

    I'd still take a Vette over a Viper, but competition improves the whole breed. I seriously doubt we would have the ZR1 Corvette of today if there hadn't been a Viper.

  11. Ambersand says:

    I'm waiting for 'neerd to weigh in on this one…

  12. muthalovin says:

    Ah, Lutz! He has been a consistent cog in the automotive world. The cog that made things better. I like Lutz, and his accomplishments and achievements are many, so its tough to think of one great one. Maybe the Viper. Maybe the E30. I would have to say smoking Siler's Evo in a CTS-V.

  13. scroggzilla says:

    The OG 3 and 6 series BMW's.

  14. Tomsk says:

    I love the Viper, GTO and G8 as much as the next hoon, but I'd have to say his magnum opus is, without a doubt, the CTS-V Sportwagon.

  15. longrooffan says:

    And finally, here is rest…don't get to mad at me Mad_Science.

    But this third time E30 owning Hoon will always appreciate the enjoyment of his involvement in the creation of the E30, whatever that level of involvement was, it resulted in this.
    http://oleragtop.blogspot.com/2010/03/this-olelon

    (sorry, working on Youtube embeds)

    Thanks Maximum Bob and I look forward to driving whatever you can market, develop or promote during this time, or my next time, around

  16. longrooffan says:

    And finally, here is rest…don't get to mad at me Mad_Science.

    But this third time E30 owning Hoon will always appreciate the enjoyment of his involvement in the creation of the E30, whatever that level of involvement was, it resulted in this.
    http://oleragtop.blogspot.com/2010/03/this-olelon

    (sorry, working on Youtube embeds)

    Thanks Maximum Bob and I look forward to driving whatever you can market, develop or promote during this time, or my next time, around

  17. engineerd says:

    The E21, GTO, Merkur, Sky, and many of the other cars he's had a hand in the creation of are grand. Even the Chrysler LH platform was a good platform at its time. Although, it's hard to argue with owning the Aero Vodochody L-39 as his greatest achievement.

  18. Mad_Science says:

    With the exception of the Neon and the Volt, it seems Lutz spent most of his career returning to the "Performance is good for business" well. It worked for him at BMW and with the Viper, but almost never again.

    In fact, it failed more often than not.

    In some ways he's the enthusiast's best friend for his involvement* with so many awesome vehicles. On the other hand, he may well be our greatest enemy, for providing a mountain of evidence as to why all the things we weirdo enthusiasts want make horrible business sense.

    Since I'm taking a positive spin on this, I'll go with the BMW E9 and E24 coupes, which he had an hand in shaping.

    *The amount of credit Lutz gets for the car's he's famously associated with may or may not really be due.

  19. longrooffan says:

    In this olelongrooffan's, relatively uneducated, opinion, Bob Lutz is an enigma. He has always been far ahead of the market, for the most part, during the times he had significant input. While it is true, he is not an engineer or a marketing guy, or even a CEO, he promoted what he thought we Hoons wanted in our daily drivers. And I think he did his d*mnedest.

    While the Merkur XR4ti may have not been a success here in the good ole USA, IMHO, that had nothing to do with Mr. Lutz. After all, the Cosworth was a huge success across the pond. I believe that the Powers That Be at the Blue Oval in the Motor City at the time did not possess the know how as to how to market this type of "cross breed" automobile in North America. Remember, its introduction was while the first gen Taurus was being developed. Imagine a two door SHO, that describes the 1984 Merkur a good buddy of mine purchased new with high expectations. Unfortunately, dealership parts availibility and service know how was non-existent. I hope the Focus of the future is treated differently.
    .

    • longrooffan says:

      As usual, this olelongrooffan is too wordy. Here is part of the rest of my rant;

      With reference to the Viper, no questions one of the reasons the Corvette Racing Team is as magnificent as they are was because they were challenged, early on, by the Viper. Now, Corvette continues to meet the challenges provided by some of Europe's finest marques and are meeting that challenge and often besting the mark. And thanks to Bob Lutz for making me proud for creating something to challenge the Corvette which required them to rise to above and make an American sports car significant on the European scene, once again.

      And, Maymar is correct, the Neon, and the resultant PT Cruiser, were huge money makers for the Pentastar. And also for liking Bob Lutz for being Bob Lutz.

      And engineerd is correct that Bob Lutz could probably kick many of our Hoon's *sses with a huge cigar in his right hand and a scotch in his left while dreaming of flying one of his fighter jets to yet another fly in of his choosing.

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