The first time someone called to say his one-of-a-kind, award-winning classic car was at the bottom of a lagoon, Ralph Marano Sr. thought it was a joke.
Then he got another call, and everything after that seemed like a dream. A very bad dream.
Marano was enjoying lunch at Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance around 11:30 a.m. Sunday, right after his 1938 Packard 1605 Super Eight convertible sedan was awarded best of its class. And for good reason, as it’s the only pre-war era car of its kind in the world with a hard top, Marano said.
He said he was told a woman had her hand inside the car shortly before it rolled backward into a lagoon. It’s too soon to tell the cost of the damages or how long those repairs will take after insurance matters have all been sorted out, but there’s no doubt the car will be restored.
“It’s invaluable to me,” Marano said on Monday when he returned home to Garwood, N.J. He’s had the car for 13 years and only just finished restoring it. Now he’ll have to start over.
The car is probably valued at about $1 million, Marano said, but he’ll never find out because he doesn’t have any plans to sell any of his cars. He has a passion for finding and restoring those “odd-ball, nobody’s-ever-seen cars.”
After his car went into the water, Marano said, he met a Hilton Head Island man whose father worked for Packard. Jess Galli’s father received a Hamilton pocket watch from Packard for “10 years of loyal service” the watch’s inscription reads. Galli gave Marano the watch, saying he knew Marano would appreciate and treasure the history of the company.
“I’m never going to sell them,” he said. “It’s not about the money, it’s about the cars. ... I still work 12 hours a day to support this stupid hobby.”
It’s more than a hobby, though, it’s his life.
Marano owns and operates the family business, Marano and Sons Auto Sales Inc., which he started with his father in the 1950s and now runs with his sons.
He owns a collection of 90 cars, 63 of which are his true passion: Packards. They’re displayed 25 at a time in the Toy Box, a private museum that Marano set up in his hometown so friends, family and guests can learn about cars and their history in America, he said. He travels to a handful of car shows and concours events each year to share his unique cars with other car enthusiasts around the country.
At this point, Marano is thankful no one was hurt and “trying to make the best of a bad situation.” He’ll nurse his car back to health just as a car once did for him. He was hit head-on by a drunken driver as a young man and worked on his first car — a Packard — during his year and a half of recovery.
“Cars have been my life,” Marano said. “I’ve been good to them, and they’ve been good to me.”