When Ron Musing's '71 Corvette appeared in the Sept. '83 issue of Vette, it was already a machine to be reckoned with. Dubbed "Captain America," a nickname given to Musing when he took up bodybuilding, the shark had a full complement of the body mods so popular in the late '70s. There was a molded-on rear lip spoiler (from, of all things, a '69 Z28 Camaro); along with a front air dam, side vents, and tail-lamp assemblies from Ecklers; fixed headlights with Greenwood covers; and turbine-style wheels tucked under the ZL1 fender flares that bulged out from all four corners of the car. The whole package was finished in '73 Trans Am red, with a broad black stripe running, Baldwin/Motion Performance-style, down the bulge of the L88 hood and across the tail of the car. Unlike many other custom Corvettes of the era, though, the beast lurking under the bulged hood added the muscle that justified the bodywork.
Back in 1977, before the Captain America transformation got underway, Musing's friend Red Johnson sought out an LS7 454 to install in what was, at the time, his car. Although you'll find it as a footnote in a few Corvette books, the LS7 is a shadowy figure in early shark history. Supposedly intended as a Cobra-killer for Chevy's wink-nod backdoor racing program, the engine is rumored to have been built in a limited production run of 200 units, of which half are said to have wound up in boats. In stock trim, the LS7 was officially rated (read: underrated) at 460 hp. "Officially," none of these engines ever made it to retail customers, either--a fact that would have come as a surprise to Johnson, who ordered his through his local Chevy dealer, Gerrard Chevrolet in New Orleans. After helping him install the brand-new, '70-model-year engine, Musing noticed that his friend never drove the car. Once a week, Johnson would crank it up, let it idle, and pull it back into the garage. In the due course of time, a deal was struck, and Musing purchased the car for--sit down, folks--$6,000.
Musing, however, intended to drive it. Backed up to a Muncie M22 Rock Crusher four-speed, the LS7 was every bit the raging bull it was purported to be, and after a little attention from its new owner (Musing also happens to be a mechanical engineer), the big-block was laying down more than 550 hp. It was not, however, easily streetable. Prone to vapor lock and plug fouling, and thirsty for 100-plus-octane fuel, Captain America was great fun to drive but far from an ideal traveling companion. With only one service station in the Huntsville, Alabama, area selling 106-octane gas, and a range of about 200 miles, cruises in the car were limited to a predefined distance out of town, after which it was time to turn around--or call a tow truck.
Even before building Captain America, Ron Musing was no stranger to either Corvettes (he owned a string of fuel-injected Sting Rays), or to automobiles in general. He has built two custom cars, including a 327-powered GT40 replica and a Ferrari Koenig Boxer kit car that actually beat out real Ferraris to win the '94 World of Wheels. So after 25 years of driving Captain America, he began an extensive rebuild to freshen up the aging paint and make the car more driveable. Comparing the results to the original car reminds me of what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about the very rich: like the rest, only more so.
The original Greenwood headlight covers, with their white eyebrows, stayed in place, as did all the rest of the bodywork. In place of the original Trans Am red that covered most of the car, Darrin Wood of Wood's Body Shop laid down several layers of Peterbilt Red, smoothing it in all the right places. The black-and-white stripes went on top of that--all laid out by hand, with no templates--and just for kicks, the broad center stripe was split into two, making the job that much more difficult. Once the paint was done, Gary McKelvy carefully airbrushed the Captain America figure on the ducktailed rear of the car, and Wood quickly clearcoated over it. In keeping with the theme, Musing had the removable back glass etched with Captain America's shields and then tinted, with the tint being painstakingly cut so it didn't obscure them.