1957 Mercury Montclair

Fighter pilot Don led life to the (Mini) Max

Don DeLaRossa influenced car designs at Ford and Chrysler in a career that spanned 43 years.

Don studied engineering at University but decided to enlist in the US Air Force during WWII where he flew fighter planes in combat missions.

He liked to draw cars in his spare time.

When the war finished he began selling insurance.

A relative saw some of his car sketches and suggested that his career should be in that area.

In 1946, he was given an intern role at GM styling and began work in the Buick studio.

He transferred to the Cadillac studio in 1947.

In late 1947, he was enticed to move to Ford and worked in the Lincoln studio and on the 1955 and 1957 Mercury.

DeLaRossa became the manager of the Lincoln studio from 1957 to 1961.

He also worked on Philco industrial product designs, including TVs.

While working in one of the Mustang design teams he became good friends with Ford boss Lee Iacocca.

It was Iacocca who put Don in charge of Ghia, after Ford bought it in 1968.

He ran the Italian coachbuilder from Detroit, jetting back and forth frequently.

It was during this time that Don became involved in another of Iacocca’s projects, a front-wheel drive ‘garageable’ van called the Mini Max.

But Henry Ford II did not like the idea and the project was shelved.

When Iacocca was fired by Henry Ford II and went to Chrysler, DeLaRossa , then aged 55, decided it was time to retire and went to live in Florida.

But life hadn’t finished with him yet and his career was far from over.

Iacocca convinced him to come and work with him at Chrysler, as the vice president of design, a role he held from 1979 to 1985.

It was at Chrysler that Iacocca decided to revive the Mini-Max project and with styling by DeLaRossa , the minivan was developed.

In 1985, Don relinquished the Design VP role and became full time head of Chrysler Pacifica, a creative design and engineering studio in California.

DeLaRossa finally retired from Chrysler in 1989. He passed away in 2007.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


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