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River City Roadster

Real Life Heroes! We Salut America's Firefighters... A Cool Convertible is the Perfect Ride when Things get Hot!

Rob Wallace, III Oct 10, 2002

If you are a theater buff, then the town of River City may ring a bell. You might recognize it as the small-town setting for Meredith Wilson's comedy musical, The Music Man.

Wilson grew up in and was inspired by Mason City, Iowa, and modeled the fictitious locale after his boyhood home. Ray Wood is one of approximately 30,000 Mason City residents, and has served with the community's fire department for 22 years. The Mason City Fire Department was founded in 1870, and now has 35 EMT and HAZ-MAT-trained firefighters working to protect their community.

When things heat up, Ray loves to cool off by jumping behind the wheel of his '74 Corvette convertible, which he has proudly owned for some 23 years. Ray, a member of River City Street Rods, has a couple of buddies who are serious Corvette nuts, having owned at least 50 different Vettes between them over the years. Because of his friends, and their constantly revolving Corvette collections, Ray has had the chance to drive everything from a raced '56 street car to an '87 C4--and every single year in between! They sparked Ray's interest in fiberglass more than three decades ago (and it has developed a healthy love of plastic.)

Ray's first Corvette was a '72 coupe that had a 454, four-speed, and air. "It was a great Vette to drive," Ray explains, "but what I really wanted was a convertible." That's why Ray traded his '72 big-block for a '74 rag-top a couple of years later. The latter combination, Ray and his soft-bumpered, soft-top Shark, are obviously a match made in Heaven since the romance has lasted nearly a quarter of a century and shows no signs of fading.

This full-time firefighter is also a full-fledged car guy. Not only does he love driving his Vette, he is also an avid NHRA Sportsman racer and has spent many of his down-time hours at the firehouse carefully restoring a '39 International Fire Engine. The truck originally served the Mason City Fire Department before it was replaced. It continued its career elsewhere for many more years. Now, the antique is once again owned by the Mason City firefighters, and gets used for parades, parties, and just for the fun of it. With the support of his coworkers and financing from any funds their union can raise, Ray has performed most of the work it has taken to restore the old engine.

When Ray's 24-hour-or-longer shift at the station is done, not just any car would suffice! After all, when you've raced around town in a powerful, bright red, 30-ton fire engine with lights and sirens blaring, just about anything else would just seem ordinary. But his Vette is certainly not. Ray gets as many waves from children and friendly fans in his Shark as he does in one of the big engines! In many ways, 1974 was a pretty forgettable year, and the '74 Corvette sometimes gets overlooked. Nonetheless, there are several factors that make this model stand out. Besides being the first Vette to have molded urethane bumper-covers at both ends, it was also the final year without catalytic converters and with a true dual exhaust. And, because the convertible was discontinued after 1975 and wouldn't reappear until the '86 C4, Ray's '74 is one of the last 10,000 open-roof Corvettes that would be built for a very long decade.

Other than the typical maintenance items, this C3 is almost entirely original. It still proudly wears its factory sprayed bright yellow paint and the black leather interior certainly doesn't show its age. A wide-ratio four-speed was the standard transmission in '74 Vettes, but Ray's Shark sports the optional M-21 close-ratio four-speed upgrade behind an unmolested, original 195-horse 350. All in all, the Vette has seen about 42,000 miles over its long, laid-back lifetime, and gets around 2,000 miles of annual exercise these days. Of course, those miles are fully enjoyed only on sunny summer days when it would be a sin to have a roof over your head. Ray has a truck for icy Iowa winters and foul weather. While it isn't quite perfect, there's not a doubt in the world that it presents itself well. Beyond that, it's a lot of fun to drive, which is what this Vette is all about--Ray has gone as far as 400 miles in one trip with his ragtop. Ray's Shark has never been, nor ever will be, a showpiece, a relic, or a restoration. This River City roadster is simply a driver, and a very nice, original one at that!



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