by Mike Ferguson
I met Ray Carbone when I joined the Positive Earth Drivers Club (PEDC) in 1993. I heard about the club through the LBC grapevine and could sense this was the place to be. At my first meeting, I introduced myself stating that I had a 1963 Austin-Healey 3000 (BJ7) which I acquired in 1988 and was finally starting to work on the old rust-bucket. And, what a surprise, by the end of the meeting I’m in a detailed restoration discussion with my soon-to-be dear friend. Ray came right over to me saying I’m sure something like: “You bought a Healey, and the engine is seized, and it’s full of rust, and you don’t know much about Healey 3000s—that’s great! We’ll get it on the road. You can rebuild anything on a Healey!” I didn’t know then, but here was a generous, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, genuine, and kind soul brought into my life and who would bless it forever, just as he blessed so many others.
A month later, Ray was at my house expounding on restoration strategies—no problem is too big, too complex, or too costly. (Actually, Ray was a genius at doing great, high quality work on the cheap. Just see any of the many articles he wrote for PEDC, The AH Experience forum, and other venues.) He was there the first time I took a cutter to my car, fabricated my first patch-panel, sprayed my first coat of paint, and rebuilt so many components and systems. I think, and later learned, that he saw a lot of his nature and approach to his work in me. So, he understood me and I him, except when I procrastinated beyond reason. Then he would prod me like a father and say something like “Are you going to look at it or do it? Do whatever you want, but do it.”
With any restoration these days, you spend a lot of time online in search of the holy grail of answers for whatever ails your car that day. In a ground up restoration like mine, you do this at least weekly. What amazed me and never surprised me week over week, was, as I read through pages of posts, eventually, I’d come to one that made complete sense and was intelligently and articulately written. And then I’d see the byline—RAC—and I’d smile.
In the land of Healeys and LBCs in general, everyone knew Ray. Sitting with him at any British car club meeting or attending any British car show, it was like a scene from the old TV sitcom, Cheers. “Ray!” was our “Norm!” equivalent. And, one by one he’d greet each of us with as genuine of a greeting as I ever heard. Ray’s, “How ya doin’?” as I came to know meant, how are you, how is your car, and are you having fun with it? And he cared about all three sincerely. Maybe that’s because, as an original owner of a 1964 Austin-Healey 3000 Mk II, he knew personally how the joys, frustrations, challenges, and successes of owning an LBC contribute meaningfully to one’s life and, in turn, to those around him. His car was as close to a family member as a car can get. It was there when he courted his wife, Mary Lou, and when they brought their son Ray home from the hospital, and it was in so many parades with kids and grandkids overflowing in the seats.
In the remaining months of his life, Frank Muratore, Ray, and I (a.k.a., “The Healey Boys”) would visit, as the medical conditions allowed, or talk on the phone or FaceTime a few times a week. Until the last week or so of his life, he always talked about what modification/improvement he wanted to make to his car—change the seat support so it reclines, reglue the vinyl on the door panels, install new “fuzzy” door trim, etc. These plans, goals, and dreams were like shots of adrenalin to Ray, boosting his morale and energy more than any drug could. Near the end, when he couldn’t sleep because of the pain, he’d get up in the middle of the night, go to the garage, and work on his current modification. (It’s important to note, as Ray would want me to, that no modification he ever did was invasive or permanent to the car. The ability to return it to original configuration and condition was always a paramount requirement for Ray.)
In each of these recent conversations I’d ask, “How are you doing, Ray?” Sometimes he’d answer briefly, other times he’d be direct and say, “Let’s not talk about that.” Always, he’d shift the discussion to my Healey restoration with a “How ya doin’? What are you working on? …Right, well, you’ve got to remember, when they designed the Healey…” In these moments, just like the treasure trove of similar ones over the course of our 27-year friendship, he always educated and suggested, but never did he tell me what to do. He would say, “You’re going to do it your way, the way you want, and you should because it’s your car…that’s what will make you happy, it’s your decision.”
As I said to Mary Lou, his wife and love of 54 years, Ray and my relationship was so very special. At times, he was like a brother to me, at others, like a father, and always as a dearest of God-given friends. Someday my 34-year and counting Austin-Healey 3000 restoration will be completed and Ray will be my first and always passenger asking me, “How ya doin’?” MM
February 3, 2023 @ 7:56 pm Bob Elseth
Thanks Mike for taking the time to share this great story of yourself and Ray. A mentor, friend, companion like Ray is the best.
Bob Elseth in north MN
February 26, 2023 @ 3:02 pm Michael Ferguson
Thank you Bob. You said it right, friends like Ray “are the best.” He added immeasurably to my lifetime enjoyment of our hobby and the friends within it.