Trying to make his way in the world as a young man during the Great Depression, Arthur O. Stone was enamoured of the sleek, flashy cars driven by the well-to-do. He especially liked the ostentatious autos being produced by the Packard Motor Company; the magnificent automobiles had the class and style to which Stone himself aspired.
"I couldn't afford a Packard during the Depression," says Stone, age 80. "It was a question of pure envy. I decided that one day I would make enough money to acquire a whole bunch of 'em."
He has, but he started off slowly. Stone bought his first Packard in 1948 but didn't hang on to it for long. In the landscaping business at the time, Stone picked up the 1931 Packard Super 8 for $750 worth of grass sod, in a trade with a client. But in a pinch for cash, he sold the monstrous black car shortly thereafter for $800.
The former flower mogul and avid antiques collector now owns 17 of the luxurious cars. But why Packards? "They are some of the most beautiful cars ever made and the best-built cars," Stone offers.
That may help explain why Stone's 1928 Packard 443 Roadster convertible still runs like a top and looks like new. Well, it also has something to do with car-restoration expert Russ Gagliano, Jr., who maintains Stone's Packards and the rest of the old auto memorabilia as curator of the sprawling Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum.
Since the facility opened at the beginning of the month, folks have been able to steep themselves in automotive history and -- unlike at most stuffy museums -- actually get a closeup view of the cars, which aren't roped off.
The oldest car in the collection is a 1909 Packard Speedster, of which only 1500 were made. In its day it was a rich man's car with an asking price of $3200. A 1930 Packard Sedan is long and luxuriously appointed with silver paint, maroon trim, and a cream top. The 1921 "Twin Six" Phaeton happens to be the car in which pilot Charles Lindbergh rode during the New York City ticker tape parade after his famous flight. All of the cars here sport sensuously curving fenders and Packard's trademark nickel-plated and chrome grilles.
The building is as elaborate as the cars. The museum's massive main showroom could double as a sports field house. Its horizontal paneling and exposed trusses are made of bug-resistant Dade County pine, which Stone stored away decades ago for the Packard shrine he knew he'd build. Collections of grilles, period side lamps, and original Packard dealership signs hang from the walls; car clocks, hood ornaments, and custom gear-shift knobs are displayed in antique wood-and-glass cases.
Those displays account for just a portion of the antique-auto ephemera in the 18,000-square-foot building. The research library is home to Hemming's Motor Newsissues dating back to the 1950s. The Bar Room, intended for social functions, boasts a 125-year-old bar from Europe and an 1895 fireplace mantel salvaged from the New Jersey home of Samuel F.B. Morse, inventor of Morse code. Also open for viewing are the Headlight Room, a library of vintage-auto literature, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (one of Stone's favorite presidents, FDR preferred Packards), and the Packard Room -- a small gallery of framed Packard photographs.
On exhibit in the Transportation Room are more cars and cases full of antique gauges, tools, and rare brass and bronze carburetors. A row of vintage gas-station signs and a selection of framed car advertisements from old Lookand Lifemagzines are also on display here.
"It's like going back in time," says Gagliano. "[Stone] wanted to make it look like it had been here for a while."
That mission -- and Stone and Gagliano's attempt to preserve Packard history -- has been brought off in fine style indeed.