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July 22, 2009 > A man of many parts

A man of many parts

The impresario of a zillion auto parts

By Marty Friedman
Photos By Bill Mancebo

The Reader's Digest had a monthly feature years ago: "The most unforgettable person I've ever met." If that feature ran today, Don Knopp would be nominated in a second.

Take that wonderful drawing in the window of a man wearing a derby with a boutonniere (flower in his lapel), symbolizing both the shop and Don Knopp

Once inside, walk by auto parts for a 128 Buick, a '54 Chevy carburetor, a drive shaft for a 1937 Dodge... there's not much competition for what Don offers. After all, he's the Willie Wonka of auto parts. In fact, nothing is quite real here. One guy pulled up in a beautifully maintained 1952 Oldsmobile. The man fully expected to find a key part to his tailpipe. It was one of the few times that he walked away, frustrated.

Think that American quality isn't the best? Then check with Don. He'll happily point out that he continues to buy old parts from Japanese and European dealers.

How do you get into a topsy-turvy business like this in the first place? Just start out working for three separate dealers while you're in high school. Work every night for seven nights a week and don't slow down. At age 75 you don't have to work seven nights a week, although you do need to drive to Fresno every weekend to check on a parts inventory house.

And, oh yeah, just for a change of pace, you'll need to rewire a car in three days just to keep your hand in it.

So next time you're in Niles, look for the elfin figure wearing the derby hat in front.

One thing more - see if you can talk Don into hosting a scavenger hunt.
Antique Auto would be great for it.

Don's Antique Auto Parts
37317 Niles Boulevard, Fremont
(510) 792-4390

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