Sometimes the road to a new car model is through the airport.
That is the case for program manager Leia Horton, responsible for the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider.
The 20-year employee has crisscrossed the globe for the past few years to bring a modern-day version of the classic convertible roadster to market.
During that time, she has logged more than 1 million miles traveling among the three continents where the 124 Spider was being designed, developed and built.
“It’s a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week job. You can’t get around that on a global project,” said Horton, who started her career with Chrysler at the former McGraw Glass Plant and has worked her way up to her current position. “We worked together as a collaborative team to create a really dynamic car. It was a fantastic experience.”
In her multi-faceted role to deliver a unique vehicle, Horton worked on the design, engineering and vehicle integration for the 124 Spider.
The multi-continent team worked to develop specific tuning on the engine, transmission and steering for the new convertible. Also, the various teams paid special attention to the exhaust sound.
“We care about exhaust,” Horton said.
Similar to the original 124 Spider, which was first introduced in 1966, the new 124 Spider is rear-wheel drive and “fun to drive.”
“We still did that,” said Horton. “We just modernized it into today’s market. We added some safety features. We added some comfort features, but still we kept the soul of it to be fun to drive.”
She should know something about fun-to-drive cars – her first car was a convertible 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit. It was diesel and a manual.
“I learned how to drive a manual on that car,” she said. “I loved that car.”
Her next car was a 1983 Mustang convertible, and ever since, she has had a car that gives her fresh air and sunshine.
“I am very particular with my cars. I either like a convertible car or one that has a sunroof. I like the open-air feeling,” she said.
This history with convertibles, and various engineering and quality jobs in the company, “gave me the opportunities and experience to work on another convertible car, the Fiat 124 Spider.”