Start Small & Dream Big - The American Sunroof Corporation Story: Part 1

The story of American Sunroof Corporation, or ASC, is similar to many small companies founded by young started from humble beginnings and grew larger over time. While its a sort of "rags to riches" story that we've all grown fond of, the ASC story is also one mired in tragedy. In order to understand how this supply and innovation giant became such a big player in the automotive industry, we'll need to head back in time and travel the sun-laden freeways of 1960's southern California. 

Heinz C. Prechter, Founder of ASC
A young German immigrant by the name of Heinz Prechter founded American Sunroof Company in 1965 in Los Angeles, California. At this time Prechter was a mere 23 years old and had finished his business studies as an exchange student at San Fransisco State College. He started his shop with some experience as a cab driver and automotive trim worker. He borrowed $700 worth of tools, threw together a makeshift metal workbench, and the popular European concept known as "the sunroof." Americans hadn't quite seen such an item except for a rare Nash option in the late 1930's and the 1954 Mercury Sun Valley and 1954 Ford Crestline Skyliners, which had a plexiglass roof portion over the driver's seat. Ford's cars looked futuristic and gave driver and passengers a look like never before...but you didn't quite get that open-air feeling that you could get with a convertible. You also couldn't close the sunroof because it was the roof, and there were no curtains or shades to draw closed. Your head sizzled 365 days a year. The public didn't really care much for the design, and both cars didn't appear in the 1955 model year lineup.

After selling less than 10,000 units, Ford pulled the plug on the bubbletops, but wouldn't totally abandon the idea of a sunroof.

As Volkswagens started to take the country by storm during the 1960's, American consumers noticed that a roll-back canvas sunroof could be ordered for the cars, giving VW fans an open-air experience when they wanted it, and the convenience of a hardtop when they didn't. It wasn't long before Prechter realized money could be had in retrofitting popular American cars with a German-style rollback or removable sunroof for a modest price. After performing clean sunroof installations in many cars out in California with limited resources, Ford Motor Company executives took notice of the upstart company. Prechter was granted a handsome contract to perform 'factory' approved installations in 500 Mercury Cougar XR-7's for the 1968 model year. That same year, American Sunroof took a more active role in automobile production and moved a satellite office to Detroit, Michigan to be closer to the automotive decision makers. It was about to get serious. Larger contracts with Ford continued over time, and many motorists nationwide started enjoying the sun and the sky while driving something from the "Ford Family of Fine Cars".

Prechter's aftermarket company was gaining the attention of numerous automotive manufacturers in the late 1960's, not just the blue oval boys. Ford remained his bread & butter, and by 1973, Ford execs sent ASC their flagship Lincoln Mark IV coupes to get "moonroofs" or glass roll-back sunroofs installed. (The term "moonroof" was coined by a Lincoln marketing guru during this time.). It seemed that the future was getting brighter each year for the company. Later projects included a custom engineered vinyl rear top and fiberglass frame for the Lincoln Versailles, a move that essentially redesigned the roofline of the sedan that was based on the Ford Granada platform. Ford had been good to ASC, and the relationship was strong. But heading into the 1980's, the R & D portion of ASC would soon be tapped to bring true open-air motoring back to Ford's biggest rival...General Motors. 



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