Discovering the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum

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Photography by Stephen Sessa
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The first time I went to Italy I was constantly surprised by the interiors of so many non-descript churches. Stucco or sandstone on the outside, gold and marble inside, with priceless collections of art. Paintings, scullpture, tapestries, wooden carvings.

When I first approached the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum, I was confronted by a large plain building closer to the railroad tracks than the Ocean Drive. Then this handwritten note on paper, "Ring Bell Just Once." I was being set up again like in Italy.

The moment I stepped inside, I was overwhelmed by what has to be the pre-eminent antique car museum in the world.

When A. O. Stone, who founded the museum with his wife, Shirley, was a young man, he made his living with push cart in the Bronx selling flowers and vegetables. Inspired by the well-to-do driving by in their fancy cars, the young Stone promised himself that one day he would own a Packard. There were many other kinds of elegant cars of course, but the Packard, with its polished chrome and stately lines, was the symbol of success.

In time, A.O. Stone became very successful in the floral business. He and Shirley were able to indulge their passion for those dream cars of their youth.

Stephen Sessa
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The Packard brothers, along with a partner, founded the Ohio Automobile Company in 1900. By the end of 1903, they had built 400 cars and earned a reputation for quality. In 1902, the Warren Ohio startup became the Packard Motor Car Company. Soon the company would move to Detroit and build a massive and modern manufacturing facility.

By 1908, Henry Ford had perfected the Model T, designed to roll of a production line with a price an average middle class person could afford. Between 1908 and 1927, the Ford plant had produced 15 million Model T's. Ford's was a very different business model from what Packard was doing.

In this museum, there are 39 fully restored and operational Packards from 1909 to 1958 plus Packards modified to serve as a fire engine, paddy wagon, tow truck, and pick up truck. The memorabilia alone would fill a small museum.

At two, three, four or more times the price of other cars, every Packard was made to hight standards an considered something of a luxury. But some Packards were even more expensive and luxurious than others. The 1931 Model 845 seven-passenger convertible shown at left, was built in the Packard's custom division hand sported such features as chrome plated wire wheels.
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At Left: The 1925 Model "326" Runabout. At a price of $2,775, and several times more expensive than a Ford, this car was a sporty convertible for the wealthy. Viewed from the side, it looks spacious, but when you look at it head on, you can see that the wide fenders and running boards resulted in a very narrow passenger area.

At Right: 1941 Model 19th Series "160-190S" Touring Limousine Sedan. In this model year, Packard had moved into a new decade and a more modern look with a rounded hood. The design maintained an elegant chrome grill with a vertical look. This styling evolution was interrupted by the outbreak of war, and would be picked up again after the war… more round and less vertical. The 1941 Packard still had the spare on the side of the car between the fender and running board.
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One of the things that made Packard cars unique was their beautifully sculpted hood ornaments. Up until the late 1950's the grill was its chrome plated radiator cover, and the hood ornament was an embellishment of of the radiator cap. The photo at far left adorned the radiator of the 1923 Packard Model 126 and is typical of the ornaments prior to 1923. Around the mid Twenties, the Goddess of Speed appeared and went through a number of subtle design variations in subsequent years. The second Goddess of Speed at left was used for a late Thirties Packard, which was one of the first to feature a rounded hood with no radiator. The classic radiator had gone under the hood.
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The graceful swan with raised wings shown at right was used for the modernized 1940 Packard
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