Hot wheels: art dealer Kenny Schachter pops the bonnet on his car collection

Hot wheels: art dealer Kenny Schachter pops the bonnet on his car collection

Kenny Schachter is a different kind of car collector. The art dealer has bought and sold around a hundred cars over the years, all meticulously catalogued on his website. This year he’s combining his passions with a special show of 13 cars at Design Miami/ Basel, presented alongside a catalogue with photography by Leon Chew and design by Mai Ikuzawa of Bow Wow International Ltd.

‘Coming from the suburbs in Long Island my family had zero connection to art, so I came to cars through industrial design. It attracted me before I even knew what art was,’ Schachter explains. ‘It’s a lifelong passion based on aesthetics.’ Schachter commissioned architect Ab Rogers to design his house and office, placing a glass partition between the garage and work space so his daily drive was there to admire when not in use.

As a result, these are vehicles to be savoured even when they’re standing still. Schachter favours the perverse and the off-kilter, rather than the headliner collector pieces and believes that the heyday of unique design is on the wane. ‘Kids don’t react to cars the way they used to. Now it’s just Uber,’ he says. ’The title, "Manual", refers to a car you have to drive yourself, not just the transmission. Perhaps one day you’ll need to go to a theme park to drive. But these are handmade objects that existed before regulations homogenised the industry. They’re relics.’

124 Abarth Spider, 1972. Photography: Leon Chew

They’re also steeped in rich colour, including hues from the era before taste ossified into dull black, white and silver correctness. One of Schachter’s favourites is the Renault RS Turbo, its rear seats stripped out and replaced by a racing engine. ‘[Giorgetto] Giugiaro did the back half and it’s one of the most outlandish automotive behinds I’ve ever seen.’ Even the acknowledged classic beauties – the Lancia Aurelia B20 GT, a clutch of Alfa Romeos – are still drawn from the left field, cars that often overlooked in favour of more conventional and popular choices. ‘It’s about the objects themselves, and not the brands,’ Schachter says, ‘for me a totally restored car is the worst. You want the smells and the patina.’  

Most impressively, he collaborated with Zaha Hadid on two prototypes of the Z-Car, designed between 2005 and 2008 as an exploration of how asymmetry and new forms might work in a famously conservative industry. Chew’s photographs ably capture the sculptural beauty, formal oddity and sheer industrial exoticism embodied by these cars, the richness of their colour and the functional simplicity of their design. From the winged and fluted forms of the 1973 Porsche RSR, the potent, boxy fury of the little Renault 5, and the precise beauty of the Lancia Fulvia

As an American driving in London’s narrow streets, Schachter appreciates small-scale design – a classic original Mini is among the exhibits – and his collaboration with Hadid was intended as a move away from supersized machines. ‘I’ve never been attracted to flashy cars,’ he says, ‘I maybe lost money on 97 per cent of the cars I’ve owned. I’m very good friends with my mechanic.’ Leftfield car culture has never looked so good.

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