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Ben Bidwell, former Chrysler chairman, passes away at 84

by Bill Cawthon on

Bennett E. (Ben) Bidwell, Chairman of Chrysler from 1988 to 1990, passed away surrounded by his family on Friday, October 14 at the Sunrise of Cascade assisted living center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Bidwell’s automotive career began in 1953 when he left a natural gas company to join Ford’s Boston sales office. He took on other field sales positions and graduated to assignments in Dearborn, becoming executive vice president of Ford Motor Credit Company in 1968. Two years later, he was named general manager of Mercury Division. This was followed by a 1973 promotion to vice president and general manager of the Ford Division, a post he held for two years. In 1975, Bidwell assumed the office of group vice president of Ford’s sales, service and product planning.

In 1981, Bidwell left Ford to become president and chief operating officer of Hertz Corporation, a job he soon discovered he didn’t like. Interviewed when he announced his retirement from Chrysler in 1990, Bidwell said, “I’ll tell you what was really boring. That was trying to rent cars rather than sell them.”

In June, 1983, Iacocca brought Bidwell to Chrysler as executive vice president for sales, marketing and public affairs. He became chairman of Chrysler on November 10, 1988.

During his automotive career, Bidwell developed a reputation as one of the industry’s most colorful, outspoken and sometimes profane, executives.

Born in 1927, Bidwell served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He earned a bachelor of science degree from Babson College.

In later years, Bidwell was Chairman of the Detroit Grand Prix Committee and served on the Board of Trustees for both the Henry Ford Health System and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. A long-time resident of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, with a passion for golf, Bidwell was a past president of the prestigious Bloomfield Hills Country Club.

Bidwell is survived by his wife Paula, his sister Ann, his daughter Karen and son Michael, and four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his brother George and a daughter, Susan.

There will be a memorial service at 1:00 PM on Friday, October 21, in the Vasu, Rodgers & Connell Chapel at A.J. Desmond & Sons, 32515 Woodward, in Royal Oak.

It seems somehow prophetic to read it now, but in an interview prior to his retirement 21 years ago, when Chrysler was going through another of its rough patches, Bidwell saw how the company would survive into the 21st Century, saying, “At some point in time, I believe that Chrysler will strengthen its international alliances with somebody as part of the competition for the growth that’s going to occur in markets outside of North America.”

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for just-auto.com, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.


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