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Straight Shooting

Bob Lutz, president of Chrysler, tells it like it is...all the time.
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

(continued from page 3)

Another incident a month later didn't fare as well. When coming in for a landing, Lutz was distracted by another pilot who aborted his takeoff and crossed Lutz's runway. Lutz landed safely but with his landing gear still retracted. Meeting soon after with a group that included a few journalists, rather than downplay the matter, Lutz strode in with a "you won't believe what I just did" attitude. "I have always wondered since my days in the Marines what it would be like to do a wheels-up landing," he said. "Now I know." Lutz was unscathed by the incident, but his L-39 faces a few months in the shop.

Lutz certainly doesn't look--or act--like a man entering his golden years. He could pass for someone a decade younger. "The aging process has slowed since I became a vegetarian," he offers as explanation. "Everything improves. Your energy level improves. Your sense of taste gets sharper. I get by with less sleep and hardly ever get a cold." He'll nibble the occasional Thanksgiving turkey or a piece of venison from a deer he's bagged, but Lutz says he went vegetarian "partially out of health concerns and partially out of malicious obedience." It's one of the rare barbed comments he'll make about the collapse of his second marriage, which he refers to as "a sad chapter."

With a new wife, a new jet and a garage full of toys, Lutz wouldn't mind a little more time off, but retirement is something he's not looking forward to. He's not alone. "Bob Lutz deserves a lot of credit for the turnaround at Chrysler," says David E. Davis Jr., a former racer, and editor and publication director of Automobile Magazine. "He'll be a hard man to replace." The Chrysler board of directors apparently agrees. This old soldier was supposed to fade away on Feb. 12, 1997, his 65th birthday, but the board has voted to extend his contract. He's likely to relinquish his stripes as president and chief operating officer, but even in a diminished capacity, he'll have plenty to do. "I've tried to be the creative engine," Lutz says. "I'm trying to institutionalize the legitimacy of [right-brain thinking] before I leave."

Though Lutz will stay on at least two more years, there are those inside Chrysler who'd like him to stick around even longer. And Lutz admits, "I'd like to continue working until I'm 75, but at some point we all have to go. At some point, every car executive has lost it, and I'm not going to be an exception."

While Bob Lutz says he'd like a little more time to himself, he doesn't act like a man slipping gracefully into the golden years. He recently signed on as the newest board member at Silicon Graphics Inc., the vaunted computer company that brought dinosaurs to life in Jurassic Park. Lutz describes Silicon Graphics as the "ultimate right-brained company." He's also considering the idea of teaching "the creative approach to decision making."

Blowing a perfect smoke ring that lingers in the air, Lutz knows there are still some things left to accomplish. He'd love to get his hands on that Talbot Lago coupe he longed for as a child, but when you get down to it, there isn't much room left in the garage. He's received all the accolades anyone could expect in a career. And when it comes to marriage, the third time is proving to be a charm. The man from Zurich is living the American dream.

Paul A. Eisenstein runs The Detroit Bureau, an independent automotive news service.

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