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...the Man Behind the Amazing 789 Automobile
(and Many More Surprises!)
For some time MyBestYears.com has followed the amazing story of Fred Kanter’s
789 concept car that combines timeless elements of the three Chevrolets that
inspired the sweepingly breath-taking design—the 1957 Bel-Air’s distinctive
“hooded eye” headlights and chrome grill bar, the 1958 Impala’s mid-body and
unique three-toned interior, and the 1959’s jet-winged tailfins.
Curious, we interviewed Fred recently. What we discovered is a remarkable man
on a mission to return passion and emotion to the American automobile industry.
MBY: Anyone who sends outside-the-box
catalogs like yours is obviously unique,
and it is obvious that you have extremely
creative people working with you. Still
how did n2a Motors (stands for no 2
alike!) and Kanter Concepts come to be?
FK: I’ve been in the collector car industry
and loved autos all of my life, but in the
early 2000s, I started Kanter Concepts.
I wanted to try to influence what Detroit
was doing and the cars they were
bringing out, much as the Ghia people
had done from the 1950s to the 1980s.
MBY: Ghia, the Italian company?
FK: Right. They were the consummate design and fulfillment firm in the world. They
designed and built one-off bodies for private clients, did design work for OEs, built concept
cars, and they produced short runs of niche cars for Alfa, Fiat and many other companies.
During the 1960s they produced their own line of vehicles. In the 70s they were purchased
by Ford. Sadly, Ghia is no more.
MBY: You’ve got quite a collection of one-off (a prototype, or only one auto produced at a
time) concept cars, right?
FK: I do. In fact, I have five one-off Fords made by their Ghia subsidiary in Italy.
MBY: You’ve followed the pattern of inventiveness and creativity that Ghia stood for. We
understand that you even have GHI in one of your company’s names? Is that deliberate?
FK: As Ray Stevens of "Ahab the Arab" songwriting and singing fame said in his "Mr.
Businessman " song, "I can wheel and deal the best of them and steal it from the rest of
them.” Bob Lutz (General Motors Vice Chairman of Product Development and Chairman of
GM North America) has often been quoted as saying “GM has to build `Gotta Have it!’
cars.” We decided to trademark the phrase for automobiles and also the designation "GHI",
which stands for the same thing.
MBY: That’s awfully close to Ghia.
FK: On purpose. In fact, last night I was
speaking with Bruce Wennerstrom, President
of the Madison Ave Sports Car Driving and
Chowder Society (formed in 1957 to provide
sports car enthusiasts an opportunity to get
together to talk about their favorite subject).
As a relative latecomer to the club (1972),
I’m only a vice –president. Anyway, he asked
me to speak at this month’s meeting, and
while we were working together on copy for
the announcement postcard, I mentioned
how I patterned us after Ghia, and in the
same breath told the “Gotta Have It!” story.
While I was saying it, boing! The lightbulbs went off. The acronym for "Gotta Have It,
America!” is what else?
MBY: What made you want to
follow Ghia’s example?
FK: For many years I, like so
many other people, have been
disappointed in what has been
coming out of Detroit. I grew up
when General Motors controlled
much of the industry. For
example, in 1955, GM had 58% of
MBY: Because they were so inventive…
FK: Yes. By the time I actually started Kanter Concepts in 2003, GM had dropped to 28%
of the market.
MBY: How the mighty have fallen!
FK: And now the American manufacturers—all together—barely have over half of the
automobile market. I heard so many people who had all the answers to the problems in the
market, but they weren’t doing anything. Well, I knew I didn’t have all the answers, but I did
know a few things. Much of my inspiration has come from my 47 years as a car collector
and listening to collectors, enthusiasts, friends, neighbors and the thousands of people I
meet at new and collector car shows. I also feel that I have a good eye for what has worked
through the years and what hasn’t.
MBY: The designs that have stood the test of time…
FK: Yes! Things get hot, then get cold, but certain
designs have always been admired.
MBY: For example?
FK: The 1957 Dual Ghia convertible.
MBY: An amazing car…
FK: It was a collectible from the day it was made. There has never been a time when it has
fallen out of favor. And if you look at any car that Detroit has made, even the 1957
Chevrolet Bel-Air, which was an iconic design, and is probably the most recognized of
American cars, but it was just a used car for many years. Dual Ghias were never just used
cars, nor was the 1953 Packard Caribbean convertible, nor the 1948 Tucker. They had
certain designs that touched emotions. Our idea has been to bring back the designs that
would evoke strong emotional feelings, much like the whiff of perfume from a long lost love.
MBY: Emotions, indeed!
FK: It is missing in today’s cars.
MBY: The Tucker is a great example that new ideas aren’t always encouraged by the
established automakers. What has been the response to your designs, for example, the
FK: The first showing of the vehicle was at SEMA FK: I really did, right from the day when the idea for the 789 came together.
(Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las
Vegas last fall. It was the talk of the show. People
would come by and look at it for five minutes, then
they would come back in a half-hour for awhile
longer, then they would come back with ten friends
an hour later. When you walked around the
exhibition floor, you heard people asking, “Did you
see the 789 on the C6 chassis?” Everybody was
talking about it! When I asked a GM chief designer
what he would change, he said, “Absolutely nothing!”
MBY: That had to be a great feeling after all the
work. Did you have a feeling all along that it was
going to be that big?
MBY: How did it happen?
FK: I was at the Atlantic City Collector Car Show event in 2004 and bumped into my friend
George Kerbeck, the world’s largest Corvette dealer, and he mentioned that he was
thinking about taking sheet metal from three different Chevys—the `57, `58 and `59—to
conglomerate them into one car. I said, “George, what a great idea. Let me have my
designers do something with that idea for you.” I called out to California, gave them the
idea for the `57 front, the `58 middle and the `59 back. I said, “Draw something!” A half-
hour later they came back with an ink sketch that is almost exactly dead-on to what you see
MBY: And you had that special feeling from the beginning?
FK: From the minute George said it to the next instant when the picture of what I wanted
popped into my head, I knew it was going to be a hit.
MBY: How did you know?
FK: The secret is that it touches people’s emotions.
MBY: You talked about emotions before, and the 789 definitely does that! Why aren’t the
major manufacturers touching emotions like this?
FK: An example is the current Chrysler 300. It is smart. It is different. It has an ungainly
proportion with a very high waistline and a low roof, so it grabs your attention, but it is
without a soul. It came in as a big hit and sold like crazy, but it died very quickly. That’s one
of the problems with designs like that. They’re a flash in the pan.
MBY: Is it meant to be that way, sort of like planned obsolescence?
FK: I don’t believe so. Nobody needs anything to die that quickly. If it was meant to be, they
would have something better right on its heels, and they don’t. In this day and age, you
don’t have the luxury of a two-year design cycle.
MBY: Good point. Who has been instrumental with you in helping to design and build the
FK: It’s the team at Kanter Concepts that President Gene Langmesser has assembled and
nurtured. The secret is to hire people smarter than you are in a particular field and actually
listen to them. I hired Gene, and he hired the team. He comes from a thirty year career in
automotive component design and manufacturing with Fisher Body and Modern
Engineering. He also had a company in Europe that worked with Karmann, the
manufacturer of many OE convertible conversions and mechanisms, such as with the
Mercedes and Audi people. He did a lot of work with the disappearing top conversions,
which is now all the rage.
MBY: The combination of you, Gene and all your team is obviously working well. Do you
have a projection of how many of the 789s you will be making, or is that a closely-held
FK: It’s a closely-unknown figure! (laughs)
MBY: With a list price of $135,000, including the base Corvette chassis and engine, are
people concerned about too many of the 7-8-9s being made?
FK: The name of our company is n2a Motors—no two alike. There will be no two identical
MBY: That’s obviously a great selling point.
FK: I think so. People seem to like it. I was recently at a Cruise-In at Ford’s Premier Auto
Group Headquarters in Irvine, California, at 6 A.M. on a Saturday morning. There were 300
cars there. One of them was a silver Ford GT with white stripes and black interior. Three
cars away was an identical silver Ford GT with identical white stripes and black interior.
Both cost 200-grand. Identical!
MBY: But not with n2a…
FK: Nope! Our cars of a particular model are the same design, but you will never park next
to one just like yours at the country club or Burger King. No identical color schemes will
ever be made.
MBY: Are you anticipating, based upon those who have ordered 789s, that people plan to
mothball them exclusively as an investment or actually drive the cars?
FK: We don’t really know. People don’t usually tell you what they plan to do. What I do
know is that we have no casual buyers. They all say, “I want that car!!!” Many times they
don’t really know what they intend to do. I would say it is probably half-and-half.
MBY: Jumping back, let’s talk about your career. You’ve had a long and extensive career in
the collector car industry, as well as collecting cars yourself. What are some of the favorite
autos that you have collected.
FK: Sometimes I say that my favorite car is the last one I bought, and the last few I bought
were `55, `56 and `57 Rambler station wagons. There’s something about them that I
absolutely love. I think they are cool. They caught people’s attention back then because
they had such unusual paint—two-tone greens, pink and gray, or tri-tone white, red and
MBY: What are some of your other favorite cars in your collection?
FK: One that I have is the Mark II Continental. It’s so distinctive looking. And the Austin
A30—the classic eleven-foot-long British-made car of the Fifties that looks like it belongs in
a comic book. In 1958 British Leyland rebodied it and presto! The MG Midget was born.
MBY: Other cars?
FK: I have enjoyed collecting a Ford one-off concept cars built by Ghia.
MBY: What was the very first car that you bought.
FK: A `37 Packard 120 black 4-door sedan.
MBY: As you talk about these cars, it is apparent that you enjoy every minute of owning
FK: …and searching and dreaming. Every single minute!
MBY: What’s the most unusual car that you own?
FK: A Packard Speedster with the rumble seat.
MBY: Obviously the car is unusual. It was only built one year, right?
FK: One year—1930. But what makes this one unusual is that it was owned by Tommy
Hitchcock, Jr. He was the greatest polo player in United States history. In fact, today in polo
the “Tommy Award” is still given annually in his honor. In World War I, at age 17, he
volunteered in France as a fighter pilot. He was Harvard-educated. He married Peggy
Mellon, of the famous Mellon banking family. He was immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in
The Great Gatsby as “Tommy Buchanan” and in Tender Is the Night as “Tommy Barban.”
You get an idea what kind of a guy he was.
FK: He owned the Packard Speedster from 1930 until 1944, which is a long time for a
wealthy, high-profile person to own a car. Then he volunteered for World War II in order to
help the American effort. He was an aviator. In fact, during the 1930s, he used to commute
from Kings Point on Long Island (in The Great Gatsby, “West Egg” and “East Egg” were
fictionalized versions of the Long Island’s real North Shore villages of Kings Point and
Sands Point) to Wall Street every day in his amphibious plane. Well, he was the one who
worked with our Army Air Corps during World War II to help develop the P-51 Mustang, the
one with the supercharged Packard engine. He died during 1944 test-flying one. Nine
months and six days later I was born. And in 1963, while at Lehigh University, I was reading
a Car Life Magazine with a story about Packard Speedsters. I walked off campus after
reading that article and, believe it or not, I walked past a Packard Speedster parked on the
MBY: Obviously more than a mere coincidence…so you
FK: I bought it ten years later when my brother Dan’s and
my budget could finally afford the ever-escalating asking
price. I had seen one like it in the movies with Clark Gable. I
have lots of stories like that with the cars I collect. They are
more than just cars to me.
MBY: Your love for cars is obvious. So is the passion. Going back to the 789, now that it is
well on its way to being a collectible, what’s next?
FK: We have a 789 coupe coming next.
MBY: With the `58 “scoop” on top?
FK: Yes. Definitely. And after that we
will be coming out with a Corvette
derivative called the 753. Then a
Buick Wildcat derivative, then a Nomad
wagon called the 765 GoMad with a
`57 front, `56 midsection and `55
back—you get the naming scheme.
In all, we have at least 25 more designs
in the works.
MBY: All will be built on the same
FK: All are on the Corvette C6, which is
a space frame. Most cars have a
unitized body with no frame. The body
panels are part of the structure and the
strength of the car, so you can’t hack
fenders without destroying the integrity
of the vehicle. We have very strict crash standards that we have to keep, plus we have to
deal with the practicality of having a car that will hold up for a very long time.
MBY: Who knows? You may end up influencing Detroit after all?
FK: Detroit has the largest, best and richest design legacy of any auto
industry in the world. It needs to make better use of it. They have
something that nobody else has. It’s just that the passion seems to have
been gone from the industry for years. They just need to re-discover
that emotion sells cars!
Certainly with no lack of passion, Fred Kanter is working hard at what he loves
and having more fun than ever. As he says, “You’ve got to be first with the best!”
His philosophy is obviously working. Photos of his concept cars are all over the
Internet. The industry buzz about him and his amazing cars, especially the 789, are
humming everywhere among people who love autos. Best of all, he is helping to
re-introduce emotion into the automobile world again!
|A one-of-a-kind '58 Dual Ghia 400 with
400-hp Chrysler power belongs to Fred
and Dan Kanter. This Ghia is a prototype
based on a Gilda styling study, built on a
'57 Chrysler 300 chassis.
|Fred Kanter (along with
his brother Dan) has
built the largest antique
parts supplier in the
auto industry. Along the way
the lifelong collector car
enthusiast has collected
automobiles, each with
an unique story.
|Fred Kanter's collection
of one-of-a-kind cars
includes a 1980 Stutz,
once owned by singer
Incidentally, Fred also
shirts, hundreds of them,
which he wears all 12
of the year!
|Fred is known around the
world for his sense of
spirit and contagious love
of life. Of his own
however, he says, “A
person who rests on their
laurels is sitting on the
Dual Ghia, built by Carrozeria (coachbuilder) Ghia,
the Italian firm that was contracted by Dual Motors
of Detroit to fashion a car inspired by the Chrysler
Fire-Arrow prototype. The Dual Ghia went on sale in
1956, with 100 built, each costing $7600. It was
America's first four passenger sports car and was
especially popular with the Hollywood Rat Pack
(including Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford and Joey
Bishop) and other celebrities such as Desi Arnaz and
Sterling Haydon. Today, 66 of the original 100 are
accounted for. Says Fred Kanter, "With that kind of
survivorship, you know the Dual Ghia was a
collectible from Day One."
|Kanter Auto Products is
now the biggest antique
parts supplier in the
auto field. Fred's
business started when
he was 15 years old, and
he continued selling
antique car parts
throughout his college
career at Lehigh
University in Bethlehem,
|Fred and one of his Ford Ghia Concept Cars
|The 1957 Dual Ghia Convertible...
a collectible from Day One!
|The 789..."The secret
is that it touches
|Tommy Hitchcock, Jr.
First Owner of Fred's
1930 Packard Speedster
|Click on the image for
about n2a Motors and
the 789 Concept Car.
|Click on the image for
about Kanter Conceps.
|Based on the Vette chassis, the `54 Buick
Wildcat II is still regarded by many in the
hobby as the quintessential Fifties dream
car. n2a Motors has updated it on a C6
chassis and calls it the WoW,
for Wildcat on Wheels.
|In 1930 Packard put its
largest straight-8 engine
into its smallest possible
chassis to create the
quick little speedster
that topped out at 100
mph. No other car at the
time had the same style
and grace as this rare
gem. Only 113 were
costing $5200, more than
the price of an average
home during 1930 and
twice the price of a
Roadster, the dozen or
Speedsters are worth
|When the `56 Buick
Centurion concept car
was on display recently
at the Petersen
Museum in Los Angeles,
it got hundreds of
comments: “If they built
that car today,
I'd buy one!"
|Go to the current
SENIOR CLASSICS for
more information on
both Fred Kanter's
|The 789 by n2a Motors...everyone who
loves cars seems to be talking about it!