LIVING THE DREAM 84
Stephan Szantai drops in on Auto Kennel, deep in the heart of OC
Paul Kramer describes himself as passionate – some would say fanatical – about Porsches. This infatuation led to the launch of Auto Kennel, helped by his father Ed. Specialising mainly in the sale of Porsches, the outlet sits in the heart of Orange County, California, in a cool complex where vintage automobiles reign as king!
Businesses specialising in classic Porsches come in all sizes, shapes and areas of expertise. In the case of Auto Kennel, donʼt expect to witness a well-staffed team wrenching on a bunch of cars – thatʼs not what the Southern California-based outlet is all about. Company co-owner Paul Kramer describes his speciality as ʻthe sales and brokerage/consignment services of vintage carsʼ. And most turn out to be Porsches.
His outlet isnʼt huge by any means; but the 15-plus vehicles displayed in a cool environment can be certain to make the enthusiasts weak at the knees; Classic Porsche therefore decided to pay the place a visit. As an added bonus, other vintage automobile-centric shops happen to inhabit the same complex. Here is what Paul had to say during our exclusive interview…
CP: How did the company start?
Paul: My dad/co-owner, Ed, and I officially opened in 2005 as an incorporated company; but business started 10 years before that with a friend of mine, Jason. We worked together in the radio industry. We loved cars and raced autocross, etc.
Being in the entertainment industry, we saw and had access to a lot of cool high-end cars. We would help those people sell them. Pretty soon, Jason and I were buying them together – all we wanted was to make money on the side. At one point, I had 20 vehicles under car covers outside my house, some I owned, some I was selling. This led to the idea of looking for a building for a car storage business and car dealership. We got a dealer licence, found a property… It turned out to be way more difficult and far more expensive than I ever imagined.
CP: How did you find cars?
Paul: Through people we knew and a lot of friends, or going to auctions, which was a horrible idea. As we transitioned, I was still working two full time jobs and my dad, Ed, who retired from the medical industry, would join me for fun two or
three days a week. I eventually quit my two other jobs – I was now just excited to work one job 100 hours a week! Auto Kennel turned into a consignment business; but we quit offering storage, as it was unprofitable and high risk. About 13 years later weʼve sold almost 1000 cars on consignment.
CP: Tell us about your love for cars…
Paul: I always wanted to be around cars, as I like everything about them, although I was never one of those people fascinated with working on them, unlike my dad. As a kid, I loved their design and how they moved on the road; I drew cars, too. To this day, I donʼt work on cars, though I can tell whatʼs wrong with them. My all-time favourite vehicle was the Lamborghini Countach. I never owned one and I know itʼs a horrible car, but one day I will have one.
CP: How about Porsches?
Paul: Shortly after college in the early ʼ90s, I read an article about the Beck Porsche 550 Spyder replica – it struck me as a beautiful car and it was attainable. So, I got a loan and bought a replica Spyder, putting 20,000 miles on it and doing many track days. I even joined PCA (Porsche Club of America) with it, even though youʼre not supposed to with a replica. Once you start hanging out
“WE’VE SOLD ALMOST 1000 CARS ON CONSIGNMENT…”
with Porsche people, itʼs kind of infectious. Iʼve owned 15 to 20 pre-ʼ90s 911s since and several other Porsches, too.
CP: So, Auto Kennel is just you and your dad, correct?
Paul: Yes. I never had employees. I never thought of it as a business, but rather as a hobby that gets bigger and bigger. Iʼm a little of a control freak and everything you see (photographs, marketing…), I do all that. My dad manages the website and takes care of the paperwork – he does the behind the scene grunt work.
My favourite aspect of the business is to photograph the cars and get really intimate with them; thatʼs when you start seeing certain details. I also like researching the history. There is nothing like sitting down on a Sunday and reading a hundred pages of mechanical receipts! I typically spend 20 hours photographing, researching, writing on a car, before I introduce it to people.
CP: Can you walk us through your shop?
Paul: Our physical space is about 2500 square feet. We have two lifts and I can squeeze 19 cars here, but there is an overflow space in the courtyard we can use. I prefer staying small because I can control how much work I can take in – I never wanted to be that hundred cars a month dealership. This place feels comfortable, like a bigger version of my home garage. There are 30 years of collecting on the walls,
such as a replica of a 917 Pink Pig door, by artist Claude Dudouit. Iʼm enthusiastic about stuff thatʼs personal, like original paintings and art done by friends. Some of the more personal memorabilia is in the bathroom!
CP: What cars are your best sellers? Paul: 911s by far, mostly ranging from the late ʼ70s to 2010. I would venture to say that Porsches represent 90 per cent of the sales. I do enjoy selling other brands, but Iʼm more comfortable with Porsches, especially ʼ80s cars, although I also have many 996s. I try to stay away from 356s and 912s, because good ones are hard to find. Occasionally, we see race cars, including an RSR that competed consistently from ʼ77 until the ʼ90s. I sell other German cars, too, mainly BMWS and a few VWS, because I like them and own them.
CP: What Porsches do you own now? Paul: I have a 1984 928 and a green ʼ74 2.0-litre 914, bought from the original owner in North Dakota when it had covered just 43,000 miles. I also own the green rally 911 you saw in the shop (see Classic Porsche #52), which is almost a family member, being driven close to 15,000 miles per year.
CP: It seems that your neighbours in your small complex are into Porsches, too… Paul: Yes. Juan Ortiz has an upholstery shop – he is the best upholsterer for vintage cars in my opinion. Itʼs the only business here. The rest are enthusiasts who store their vehicles. Lan has French cars and Porsches; Barry has a few Porsches, too. Another unit houses several 911s owned by Mike, who goes by the name ʻCheezʼ. He is in the music industry and works with many bands like Sublime; but I think heʼd rather just play with cars.
CP: So, is Auto Kennel your dream come true? Paul: Itʼs my livelihood, but there are a lot of easier ways to make better money. I would be doing this regardless. I love the cars and people, but also working in this environment and driving all the vehicles I experience – thatʼs the ultimate primer to the story.
Below: From the outside thereʼs little to suggest what lies behind these grey walls, but Auto Kennel and its neighbours are a treasure trove for Porsche enthusiasts
Above: To the right is a ʼ72 911S, with 50,000 original miles. Never restored, but Paul reckons itʼs ʻOne of the best early 911s Iʼve drivenʼ
Below right: Accurate ʼ72 Kremer replica, as driven by Fitzpatrick, one of the most recognisable factory STS built. Even the replicaʼs pistons and cylinders are identical to the Kremer car
Below left: Variety is the spice of life, they say…
Above: Auto Kennelʼs signature car, the rally-look 911, was featured in issue #52 of Classic Porsche
Below left: Paul and Ed, the father and son team behind Auto Kennel
Below right: Paulʼs personal 2.0L 914 – see text. Next to it, a black ʼ97 993 Turbo
Below: Neighbour Lan and his collection of Porsches and French cars, comprising mostly Citroëns (DS, 2CV, Mehari…). Quite a mix!
Above left: Wall art from Claude Dudouit
Above right: Cheezʼs collection of cars. He is the manager of Sublime