Innovation & Design

Your 'Vette, Your Way


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What would Henry Ford think of custom car fabricator N2A Motors? While the maker of the Model T promised customers "any color -- so long as it's black," Fred Kanter, the CEO of the new N2A Motors, promises any color (really) and a range of optional upgrades. In fact, N2A stands for "No Two Alike." The company builds customized retro-inspired bodies onto the C6 Corvette chassis. "Cars are about expressing your individuality, like a fashion statement", says Kanter, referring to N2A as an "automotive fashion house."

The 61-year-old Kanter is no stranger to auto design and one-of-a-kind custom cars. At age 15, Kanter bought his first fixer-upper, a 1937 Packard that was barely running. An engineer by trade, Kanter and his brother, Dan, started their first automotive business, Kanter Auto Parts, in 1960 when they were teenagers. That company is now the world's largest supplier of new, used, and reproduction parts for vintage American cars. In 2003, the entrepreneur founded Kanter Concepts because he was "sick and tired of complaining about Detroit's faults."

Kanter Concepts constructs show cars for Volvo (VOLVY), Honda (HMC), Chrysler (DCX), and Hyundai (HYMLF) from the ground up, but N2K follows in the lapsed tradition of the French brands of the '20s and '30s, building a custom body on a commercially available chassis. Customers hand over a 2005 to 2007 Corvette and one month later they drive away in a custom set of wheels, all for a cost of roughly $40,000 (not including the price of the C6 Corvette or chassis).

VINTAGE UPHOLSTERY. Kanter announced N2A and unveiled its first line of "Greatest Hits" models at New York's exotic auto retailer, Manhattan Motor Cars, on Apr. 11. N2A's two launch products are named to reflect the production years that have influenced the overall design. The 789, for instance, has the "hooded eyes" and chromed grille of a '57 Chevy, "bird in flight" tail fins of a '59, and midsection reminiscent of a '58 Impala.

The 5 to 1 model has the front end of a '55 and the "six-taillight rear clip" of a '61 Impala. While the standard interior trim pieces and switchgear won't stray far from that of the donor Corvette, buyers are offered the option of two- or three-tone '50s-style cloth or leather upholstery.

Despite their retro appearances, the 789 and 5 to 1 are made of lightweight composite body panels retrofitted to a modern C6 frame that was chosen, says Kanter, because "it is the ultimate evolved expression of the Corvette principles of strength and performance." The logic behind N2A products is that they provide the image and soul of classic American cars coupled with the modern-day reliability, warranty, and performance of a modern Corvette.

FROM THE GROUND UP. "No matter what you spend to modify or modernize a '57 Chevy, it's still a 50-year-old car," says Kanter. "It can never be totally modern, sometimes it won't start, and will be decades behind the speed, handling, and ride of a new 'Vette." (For the record, a new Corvette hits 60 miles per hour from a standstill somewhere in the 5-second neighborhood, thanks in part to a 6.0 V8 pumping out 400 horsepower and 400 pounds of torque.)

N2A owners can customize their new rides beyond designer sheet metal. Kanter offers upgrades like engine turbocharging and supercharging, wheels, tires, and sound systems. N2A places particular emphasis on the importance of wheels to the overall effect of vehicle design, and approximately 50 designs will be offered, including Cragar types and styles inspired by classic Corvettes and hot rods.

CHOOSE YOUR HUES. Optional body color schemes and interior combinations are numerous, and N2A can match paint to any shade you present to them, from your favorite lipstick shade to a color chip off an old boat. "There is no limit and no two cars will be alike," says Kanter.

N2A expects to sell roughly 100 units in the first year of production and deliveries will begin around Sept. 1 of this year. The all-American autos will be hand-built at Kanter Concepts in Santa Ana, Calif., and customers will receive complimentary roundtrip airfare to the facility.

And in case you're thinking N2A creations are limited to Chevy-inspired vehicles, the N2A team has already started design studies for models inspired by Buicks of the past.

Schwartzapfel, a certified car freak, writes BusinessWeek Online's "Concept of the Week" column. He has studied the automotive marketplace and worked as an advertising/marketing strategist for major manufacturers. He does not write about any car brands for which he currently works


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