He's been called a car guy, a maverick, a change agent, a curmudgeon. Safe to say, those who have tried to manage him or live with him have some more pet names of their own. But, really, he defies any simple label. And as the cigar-chomping, jet-flying, global-warming-questioning Swiss-American prepares to retire in May - for real this time, he says - we still can't seem to get over our fascination with him. We've traced his seventy-eight years in an attempt to explain, perhaps for the last time, why there is one, and only one, Bob Lutz.
February 12, 1932: Born in Zürich, Switzerland, to an upper-middle-class banking family.
First car memory: Standing between his parents on the front seat of their La Salle convertible.
1938: Remembers road trips in the family's 1938 Jaguar SS 3½ Litre sedan: "We really got to know the Swiss rail system, because we'd depart on a Sunday trip and the Jaguar would come home on a train."
1940: Is a world traveler at age eight, already having crossed the Atlantic five times.
1940: Drives for the first time in his uncle's new Ford V-8 coupe - and crashes it into a stone wall. Meanwhile, another uncle obsesses over an Alfa Romeo Zagato coupe to the point that his wife exclaims, "I never see Freddy anymore - he always has that goddamned Alfa under his ass!" Lutz's three wives would later have similar complaints.
Early 1940s: Traveling between the United States and Switzerland takes a toll on Lutz's schoolwork, as he's always put back a grade when he returns to Europe. Plus, he has a very short attention span, often doodling cars and planes during lectures.
Late 1940s: Kicked out of high school for, among other things, sneaking away with friends to rent a flathead V-8 Ford and, in his words, "showing too much interest in the daughter of the biggest industrialist in town."
Late 1940s: Labors for six months in a leather warehouse; decides school might be a good idea after all. His father agrees to pay for school again, but only on the condition that Bob join the U.S. Marines after graduation to learn some discipline.
1952: Lutz's father buys a new Aston Martin DB2 Vantage (which Lutz now owns) and a Volkswagen Beetle for Lutz's mother - four-speed manual, no synchromesh. As a result, Mrs. Lutz could shift "like a skilled race driver on a road course."
1953: Gets his own Beetle, a 1948, as his first car: "If you've driven an early Beetle on wet cobblestones, there's no amount of sudden oversteer you can't handle."
1954: Graduates from a high school in Lausanne, Switzerland (having become fluent in French; he already spoke German and English), and returns to the U.S. to enlist.
Mid-1950s: Aviator with the Marines, based out of Okinawa, Japan. Marries for the first time.
Late 1950s: Has first of four daughters. Lutz admits he's "never been a big family man."
Late 1950s: Attends Berkeley intending to become a Marine officer but realizes he wants to get into the car business.