Born in 1942 in Kleinhöbing, Germany, Prechter began his automotive career at the age of 13 as an apprentice in automotive trim, tool and die making and coach and body building. After completing his studies at the Berufs-Oberschule in Nuremberg, Mr. Prechter furthered his education at Nuremberg's Ohm Polytechnic Engineering School.
During his studies, Prechter gained a wide range of practical experience working for a number of German companies, including Faunwerke (a truck and military equipment supplier), Siemens (an electronics firm), and Deutz (a diesel engine manufacturer).
In 1963, he came to the U.S. as an exchange student. While studying Business Administration and English at San Francisco State College, he began installing sunroofs – then a virtually unknown product in the US.
Fifteen months later, in 1965, Prechter founded the American Sunroof Company (now ASC Incorporated) in Los Angeles. He spent US$764 on tools, a workbench from an old door covered with aluminum and a sewing machine from a junkyard. This one-man enterprise soon became well known for its "custom" sunroofs as well as its creative approach to supporting the development of specialty vehicles for the film industry.
Today, ASC is a supplier of highly engineered and designed roof systems, body systems and other specialty-vehicle systems for the world’s automakers. Now headquartered in Southgate, Michigan, the company employs approximately 1,000 employees at facilities throughout the U.S.
In addition to ASC, Prechter founded Heritage Network Inc., a group of Michigan companies involved in the transportation, hospitality and communications industries. His Heritage Network group included a weekly newspaper chain (one of the largest in the state of Michigan), a real estate development company and a beef cattle business. In early 1997, he created Prechter Holdings, which owned the ASC and Heritage businesses.
Heinz Prechter was recognized for his entrepreneurial accomplishments, broad community involvement and political achievements.
He was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Harvard Business Club and received the Automotive Hall of Fame's Automotive Industry Leader of the Year award. He sat on many community and corporate boards, including those of Detroit Renaissance, Comerica Bank and ThyssenKrupp's automotive supervisory board.
He died from suicide on July 6, 2001, after battling intermittent bouts of bipolar disorder for most of his adult life. Seven hundred people gathered for Prechter's funeral. The eulogy was delivered by his good friend, Michigan Governor John Engler and Heritage Media Publisher Donald W. Thurlow. Mr. Prechter is survived by his wife and twin children.
President George W. Bush issued a presidential press release saying, "Laura and I were saddened to hear of the death of Heinz Prechter".
His widow Waltraud "Wally" Prechter established a foundation in her husband's memory in October 2001. The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund at The University of Michigan Health System, will advance breakthrough medical research — especially in the fields of psychiatric genetics, pediatric bipolar disorder, neuroimaging and neurosciences — to help find cures for bipolar disorder. In 2003 and 2004, Prechter awarded grants totaling almost $2 million to seven different universities to further advance breakthrough medical research to help develop cures for bipolar disorder. The Fund focused on research particularly in the fields of psychiatric genetics, pediatric bipolar disorder, neuroimaging and neurosciences.
On October 5, 2004 he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.