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Fred Kanter ’66: Cruisin’ in the auto industry

Kanter '66 owns over 100 antique cars.

There are things in life that we have to do. And there are things in life that we want to do. Lady Luck, it seems, has smiled upon Fred Kanter’66 and blessed him with a career in the latter.

With a 17-foot boat in his oak tree and a nine-layer bowling ball pyramid artistically situated on his side lawn, Kanter can draw a smile from just about anyone…well, anyone except the Mountain Lakes, NJ building inspector, who wanted the tree sculpture removed this past February. “I live in a town where we are entitled to rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of conformity,” he says.

Determined to stand his ground, Kanter lost the case in local court, but later won on appeal. “The law was misapplied as written,” says Kanter. “It was clear, and I owe my know-how to the business law class at Lehigh. It’s one of the best classes you can take. It teaches you how to think.”

The legal skills that preserved his bowling ball pyramid aren’t the only thing Kanter relates back to Lehigh. The owner of over 100 antique cars, Kanter’s collection includes a 1956 Packard from alumnus Edwin Snyder, a founder of Lehigh’s Asa Packer Society. Kanter also found his college dream car, a 1930 Packard Speedster, parked on the street behind Packard Lab on campus. He bought that exact car 10 years later from Skip Walter, another Lehigh alumnus.

Amazingly, Lehigh’s automotive legacy can be traced beyond Kanter’s Packard collection to James Ward Packard, an 1884 graduate, who funded the construction of Packard Lab with a $1,200,000 donation from his automobile business.

“In the 1920’s there were 16 cars in the fine car field,” says Kanter. “Packard had over 50 percent of the market.” Kanter’s oldest car is a 1924 Packard truck, which, like the first automobile produced by Packard (which is still on display in Packard Lab today), is still in running condition.

While Packard may be the established name in car construction, Kanter is now the established name in antique car parts. With a yellow 1937 Packard in the roof of his Boonton, NJ office, Kanter Auto Products is now the biggest antique parts supplier in the auto field. “We make it easy and inexpensive for collectors to enjoy their hobbies, he says. “It’s one stop shopping.”

Kanter Auto Products caters to a niche market of antique car collectors across the country. “We’re too small and specialized to have competition from bigger industries,” he says.

Kanter’s business started when he was 15 years old. He sold antique car parts throughout his college career and drove his friends around in a 1940 Packard Hearse. He says, “It was like a pick-up truck.”

After earning his dual degree in industrial engineering and applied sciences, Kanter worked as a management consultant for five years. At 26, he resigned to volunteer for Ralph Nader’s Health Research Group and started his own business shortly there after.

Kanter now has over 70 employees and a museum-worthy collection of one-of-a-kind antique cars. There’s a 1980 white Stutz with a gold plated dashboard once owned by Kenny Rogers, and a car from Woody Allen’s movie “Sleeper.” His collection also includes a 1972 Cadillac, called “When Jackson Pollack Met Matisse,” which is a one-of-a-kind, hand-painted art piece. His bubble-top former Secret Service limousine, which was used by a former Pope, is currently on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, CA.

Kanter’s private collection of non-car stuff also includes hundreds of Hawaiian shirts – which he wears all 12 months of the year – and over 200 spatulas. Why? “Why not?” Kanter replies.

Clearly, Kanter is one to celebrate the unique things in life. “The beauty of America is the enjoyment of the freedoms we have and the interests we can to pursue….I went to a Spam festival just because I think it’s ridiculous. When you’re 60 you can do anything you want to!” says Kanter.

Sporting a great sense of humor and a contagiously adventurous life-perspective, Kanter is also modest about his accomplishments. “A person who rests on their laurels is sitting on the wrong end,” he says.

So, what’s next for Kanter? “Just wait for Fred the movie,” he says. “Coming soon to a theatre near you!”

--Heidi Schwartz

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin Online
December 2005

Posted on Wednesday, December 14, 2005

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