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Fort Lauderdale, 1 May, 2017

Preston Henn, one of America’s most colourful Ferrari characters passed away on 30 April 2017 at the age of 86. He founded his famous T-Bird Swap Shop in Fort Lauderdale in 1963, which initially was a drive-in movie theatre, and proved to be a huge success for him, making him a fortune, but he still went there every day at the crack of dawn. He has been quoted as saying “I could be anywhere I wanna be - I wanna be right here”, such was his passion for the empire that he had created.

Apart from the main 88 acre site in Fort Lauderdale, he also had further Swap Shops in Lake Worth and Tampa. However, nothing could match up to the spectacle of the original one, which featured both a massive indoors two storey mall and an outside vendor area, a drive-in movie theatre, a display of cars from his extensive collection, and for a number of years also a circus, with daily performances.

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This fusion of culture, kitch and fun made it an irresistible combination as a popular tourist attraction, with a reported 12 million visitors a year. The car collection features a number of high end supercars, with Ferraris prominent in their numbers, including a F50, an Enzo and a FXX, participating in the latter in the factory’s Corse Clienti programme. The jewel in the crown of the collection is the 275 GTB/C “Speciale”, chassis # 06885, which had finished 3rd overall and won its class in the 1965 Le Mans 24 Hour Race, which he had owned since 1985, and had refused a number of multi-million dollar offers for it.

On the subject of Le Mans, he raced there himself as a driver five times, finishing 10th in 1983, partnered by Claude Ballot-Lena and Jean-Louis Schlesser in a Porsche 956. The same year he won the 24 Hours of Daytona partnered by Bob Wollek, A.J. Foyt and Claude Ballot-Lena driving a Porsche 935. He also owned and raced a Ferrari 512 BB/LM during the eighties, along with his daughter Bonnie.

Behind the cowboy demeanour and southern drawl, Preston Henn was a Vanderbilt graduate with an engineering degree, and a very astute businessman. He is on record as saying “So many New Yorkers think they can take advantage of me because I talk slow. They think I think slow, but I don’t think slow.”
The instantly recognisable figure in his customary 10-gallon hat and blue jeans may have moved to the great ranch in the sky, but his memory will linger long with all who knew him, and the Swap Shop a monument to his achievements.

Keith Bluemel