Stephan Szan­tai drops in on Auto Ken­nel, deep in the heart of OC

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words & pho­tos Stephan Szan­tai

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


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

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