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Under the hood: Fred Kanter

April 7th, 2010 by Austin

Pictured: Vintage auto parts giant, eccentric car collector and Packard maniac Fred Kanter with his current daily driver, a two-tone 1979 Buick Electra Limited

We arrived at Fred Kanter’s massive Boonton, NJ warehouse early on a Sunday morning. I had seen the old building a million times before while speeding past on nearby I-287 and was always intrigued. You can’t really miss the place – it has a massive Packard sign affixed to the side as if the iconic, and now defunct, automobiles were being manufactured inside. But Fred, an engineer by trade, is in the business of preserving old cars not building them new. Along with his brother Dan, the Kanter bros started their first automotive business, Kanter Auto Parts, in 1960 when they were teenagers. That company is now the world’s largest supplier of new, used, and reproduction parts for vintage American cars.

Needless to say, Fred has a penchant for collecting cool old cars. All told, he has about 100 of them split between two massive NJ warehouses. Some of the cars are a little tired and haven’t been run in a few years while the others are rare and valuable collectibles that would fetch a pretty penny at any upscale auto auction worth its salt. The one consistent theme throughout Fred’s diverse collection is that there is nothing wrong with impulse buying. From an aerodynamic bubble car Woody Allen drove in the 1973 film Sleeper to several Ford concept cars and a Screaming Orange 1930 Packard Speedster that is 1 of 2 remaining rumbleseat roadsters built, what Fred wants, Fred gets.

Fred’s 1967 Lincoln Continental 4 door convertible with removable plexiglass roof. It was used in NYC by Secret Service agents to move around dignitaries during various parades, Johnson and Nixon daughters on Honeymoons, all Apollo astronauts and was even sent to South America in ’68 for use by the Pope.

Did your parents drive a Packard? If not, what influences made you so fond of the brand?
MY FATHER BOUGHT A ’53 PACKARD PATRICIAN IN 1955 AND IN 1959 AT AGE 14 I DID A VALVE JOB ON IT IN THE DRIVEWAY

You have 100 automobiles at your disposal. How does one even attempt to decide what to drive? Do you have different cars for different occasions?
USUALLY MY EVERYDAY CAR IS ONE I RECENTLY BOUGHT OR JUST FINISHED RESTORING

Any of the new cars on the road doing it for you these days? Anything new you would be excited to own?
ABSOLUTELY NOTHING

Does walking through your collection take you to another place?
NO, I LIVE IN THAT “OTHER PLACE” WHERE INDIVIDUAL STYLE, COLOR AND DIVERSITY ARE THE NORM.

Can you describe your personal style?
YES, IT HAS A SPECIAL NAME, FRED KANTER ECLECTIC WHICH OF COURSE INCLUDES HAVING A 17 FOOT RUNABOUT BOAT MOUNTED 30 FEET UP IN AN OAK TREE IN MY FRONT YARD.

Tell me about that first Packard you bought with your brother Dan
IN 1960 DAN, A FRIEND AND I BOUGHT A 1937 PACKARD MODEL 120 SEDAN FOR $50.  THE ENGINE WAS APART AND FULL OF WATER.  OVER THE SUMMER WE FOUND THE ITEMS WE NEEDED INCLUDING A $40 ENGINE IN A JUNK YARD AND IN A FEW MONTHS IT WAS ON THE ROAD.  IT WAS MY EVERYDAY RIDE IN HIGH SCHOOL, THEN I TRADED IT FOR A BEAUTIFUL 1954 PACKARD CONVERTIBLE AND WAS ON MY WAY TO 50 YEARS OF CONTINUOUS PACKARD OWNESHIP.  NOW DAN AND I HAVE SEVERAL DOZEN PACKARDS

Anything that you absolutely must add to your collection? Something you’ve wanted for a long time perhaps.
THE KEY TO CONTENTMENT IS WANTING WHAT YOU HAVE, NOT HAVING WHAT YOU WANT.  I’M NOT SEEKING ANY PARTICULAR CAR, BUT IF SOMETHING EXCITING COMES ALONG THAT HAS “GOTTA HAVE IT” WRITTEN ALL OVER IT WELL…..

1983 Ford Probe IV Concept Car

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