Chrysler’s ownership of Lamborghini was brief, but it was a thing that definitely happened, and made for one glorious press conference in 1991 where the legendary Diablo shared a stage with Lee Iacocca. And the Dodge Stealth.
Chrysler bought Lamborghini for about $25 million in 1987 which, even back then, wasn’t considered much for an entire automaker. “Chrysler paid only a relatively small amount for the 300-employee company,” the New York Times wrote when the news was fresh.
The American car corporation dumped Lambo in ’94, selling “to the evocatively-named MegaTech, a Bermuda-registered company owned by a pair of Indonesian businessmen,” as Road & Track wrote in a retrospective.
But not before Iacocca, who was nearing the end of his tenure running Chrysler when the Diablo came out, got to say: “let’s take the wraps off another lackluster Chrysler product,” as a bright red Diablo was shown off to the public.
He lists off a blind-spot warning system, rain-sensitive wipers, “and even navigation” which, I think might have been more impressive than a 202-mph top speed claim in 1991.
“The final design of the Diablo was a collaborative effort,” Iacocca said in an apparently unofficial Diablo documentary that Petrolicious found. “...the interior was done by the U.S. studios and [Marcello] Gandini [at Lamborghini] did most of the outside work.”
That video is also worth watching, by the way:
Mark Smeyers at LamboCars.com wrote a paper on the Diablo that added a little more context:
“For the design of the bodywork Lamborghini contacted Marcello Gandini, he also designed the Miura and Countach, so he was the obvious person to design the new Lamborghini, but his initial design was altered, first under his own directions, later by the Chrysler Styling Center in Detroit.”
But, yeah. As deeply amazing as it may seem, late-’80s Chrysler, the brand that was turning out the K-Car, also had a huge role in making the freaking Lamborghini Diablo happen.
As for the Dodge Stealth, well, many people reading this may already know that that car was also a collaborative product. The Stealth was a restyled Mitsubishi 3000GT, and I have a feeling Iacocca’s presentation you just watched was the last time one of them was parked that close to a mint Diablo.
The Stealth tends to get written off as an also-ran even now, as ’90s performance cars gain popularity. But it was a limited-production machine too, with Chrysler hoping to sell “20 to 25,000” a year as Iacocca said at the presentation. And of course the Stealth had all the same basic trims as the 3000GT, including the RT/TT with the twin-turbo AWD situation of the top-of-the-range VR-4 model Mitsubishi.
Lee Iacocca will probably be best remembered for bringing the Ford Mustang to life and effectively saving Chrysler from obscurity, but he also oversaw the birth one of the wildest Italian supercars to ever roam roads, and that’s pretty cool.