From 1967 to 1969 he was advertising director of Aquatic Marine Corporation in Newport Beach. In 1970, he joined Mefford, Wolff and Weir Advertising in Denver, where he became a vice president and creative director.
He began writing fiction at home in the late 60s, but his first two books, “Pacific Vortex” and “The Mediterranean Caper,” were repeatedly rejected. Unable even to get an agent, he staged a hoax. Using the letterhead of a fictitious writers’ agency, he wrote to the agent Peter Lampack, posing as an old colleague about to retire and overloaded with work. He enclosed copies of his manuscripts, citing their potential.
It worked. “Where can I sign Clive Cussler?” Mr. Lampack wrote back. In 1973, “The Mediterranean Caper” was published, followed by “Iceberg” (1975) and “Raise the Titanic!” (1976).
Despite an improbable plot and negative reviews, “Raise the Titanic!” sold 150,000 copies, was a Times best seller for six months and became a 1980 film starring Richard Jordan and Jason Robards Jr.
While Dirk Pitt books appeared throughout his career, Mr. Cussler also wrote other series: “The NUMA Files,” featuring the hero Kurt Austin and written with Graham Brown or Paul Kemprecos; “The Fargo Adventures,” about husband-and-wife treasure hunters, written with Grant Blackwood or Thomas Perry; “The Oregon Files,” set on a high-tech spy ship disguised as a freighter, written with Jack DuBrul or Mr. Dirgo; and “The Isaac Bell Adventures,” about an early-20th-century detective, written with Justin Scott.
His nonfiction included “Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed” (1998, with Mr. Dirgo) and “Built for Adventure: The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt” (2011). Mr. Cussler, who had homes in Arvada, Colo., and Paradise Valley, Ariz., restored vintage cars and had about 100 in his museum in Arvada, including a 1906 Stanley Steamer, a 1913 Marmon and a 1921 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.