Published: September 22, 2010 By JAMES EMOLO SPECIAL TO NEIGHBOR NEWS Neighbor News (Boonton Edition) Print
You’ve seen it.
Fred and Dan Kanter outside their Monroe Street facility in Boonton with a 1955 Packard Caribbean.
Visible to northbound traffic along Route 287, the vintage yellow convertible perched atop an old brick mill in Boonton has earned a reputation of being one of North Jersey’s most familiar roadside oddities. But the weathered 1937 Packard is much more than a curiosity; it’s a landmark. Since 1977, the relic of the American automobile industry’s heyday has marked the location of Kanter Auto Products — worldwide supplier of parts and products for antique and classic American cars.
Owned by Dan Kanter of Morris Plains and Fred Kanter of Mountain Lakes, the business was started by the brothers in 1960 in the basement of their parents’ home in Morris Plains. But the seed for the business was planted a few years prior to that.
“When we were in high school (Morristown), we rebuilt the engine of our dad’s 1953 Packard in the driveway,” said Dan, the senior of the two Kanters. “Then we bought a 1937 Packard that had no engine and no transmission, and got it running.”
“We bought the parts from a junkyard in Kearny,” added Fred, Dan’s junior by three years. “But we had a lot left over, so we decided to sell them.”
And … they’ve been selling them ever since, as 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the company. Packard remains Dan’s and Fred’s sentimental brand, having bought out the parts inventories of closing Packard dealerships in the early years to build their business. Today, however, Packard parts and products account for only 6 percent of Kanter’s business. But Dan is still 100-percent Packard. “It’s my passion,” he said of the marque that represented 50 percent of the American luxury automobile market in the 1930s, and is now faithfully represented in the brothers’ personal collection of cars and vehicles.
“My favorite ‘driver’ is a 1955 Packard Caribbean. It’s white and black with a red stripe through the middle. I’ve driven it to Des Moines and South Bend … it gets a lot of looks and smiles,” said Dan about the vintage convertible that he cruised in recently at the Lead East car show in Parsippany.
The jewel of the Kanter brothers’ car collection, however, is a Packard 734 Speedster. Originally owned by legendary polo player Tommy Hitchcock, Jr., the Speedster is one of 117 built in 1930 — the only year of production. Today, just 14 are known to exist. Dan and Fred had the Speedster restored and repainted (Mack Truck orange and black), then received an invitation to show the car at the exclusive Pebble Beach (CA) Concours d’Elegance — the premier rare automobile show in the country.
But despite their love of everything Packard, by far the largest part of the Kanters’ business is parts and products for all American cars from 1930 to 1990. The main building for the business contains 50,000 square feet of inventory space, and an even larger warehouse, located minutes away, contains 125,000 square feet of inventory space.
“We have hundreds of thousands of parts,” said Dan, “and customers around the world.”
The worldwide demand for antique and classic American automobile parts has created an international business for Kanter, which contracts with foreign vendors to create out-of-production parts from originals and sells to customers as far away as Europe, the Middle East and Japan.
“The king of Norway is one of our customers and we’re restoring a 1935 Buick for a customer in Dubai,” said Fred, who launched Kanter’s restoration shop two years ago. Celebrities, too, are among Kanter’s customers. “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, actor Jack Palance, tenor Sergio Franchi, comedian/actor Dan Aykroyd, and actor/singer Barry Bostwick have all purchased parts for their cars. In fact, Bostwick did so over the counter at the Boonton business.
But most of Kanter’s sales are through catalog, telephone and website purchases. “I like the parts more than the cars,” said Dan. “It’s kind of like the individual parts are greater than the sum of the parts for me.”
Although, it hasn’t been all fuel pumps and front-end kits for the Columbia (Dan) and Lehigh (Fred) engineering school graduates. The fun-loving pair routinely dons costumes to liven up the covers of their products catalogs, which are published three times a year. “It’s fun,” said Dan. “If you enjoy your job, you never have to work a day in your life.”
Kanter Auto Products is located at 76 Monroe St. in Boonton. For more information, call 973-334-9575 or 800-526-1096. To visit the website, go online to www.kanter.com. – See more at: http://www.northjersey.com/news/kanter-auto-products-parceling-out-classic-car-parts-for-50-years-1.224278#sthash.zsfv7kkR.dpuf