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Heinz Prechter, promoter of sunroofs, dies

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DETROIT — Heinz C. Prechter, millionaire auto parts entrepreneur who is credited with popularizing the sunroof in the United States, died Friday, apparently a suicide. He was 59.

Prechter, who suffered from depression for many years, died at his home in suburban Grosse Ile, said Cheryl Dolan, executive assistant to the vice chairman of ASC Inc. She gave no details.

Prechter founded ASC in 1965. Today, the company, based in Southgate, is the flagship of Prechter Holding, a conglomerate of automotive, newspaper, real estate, investment, and livestock companies with 5,300 employees worldwide.

He also was a major fund-raiser for President Bush, Bush's father and other candidates. He served in the first Bush administration as chairman of the President's Export Council.

"My vision always was to make a difference in what I do," he said in a 1989 Associated Press interview. "I first and foremost want to be a businessman."

Keith Crain, chairman of Crain Communications Inc., which publishes Automotive News, said Prechter made a tremendous difference in Detroit, the auto industry and the American political arena.

"He was a great salesman when he believed in something, whether George Bush . . . or a new product his company was making," said Crain, a friend of Prechter's for 30 years. "He had a great passion."

Born in 1942 in Germany, Prechter began his automotive career at age 13 as an apprentice in automotive trim and other specialties.

In 1963, he came to the United States. While studying business administration and English at San Francisco State College, he began installing sunroofs — then virtually unknown in the United States.

Fifteen months later, Prechter founded American Sunroof Co. in a garage in Los Angeles, according to the company's Web site.

He expanded his operation to Detroit in 1967. As the years passed, the company ventured beyond the sunroof to products such as custom-tailored vinyl tops, special-edition vehicles and one-of-a-kind show cars.

"He lived the American dream and wanted nothing more than for everyone to have that same opportunity," Gov. John Engler said in a statement.

Prechter is survived by his wife, Waltraud "Wally" Prechter, and their two adult children, twins Stephanie and Paul.