But neither the shields nor the charging figure on the rear is what gives the car its punch. For that, take a look at the lettering on the sides of the L88 hood, which reads "ZZ502." To make the car less temperamental, Musing pulled the LS7 and replaced it with a GM Performance Parts ZZ502 crate engine. With a larger displacement and lower compression, the big 8.0L runs on premium and pumps out plenty of power without the added maintenance and short leash of the higher-strung 12.5:1 454. Topped with an 850-cfm Holley four-barrel and breathing through Hooker sidepipe headers with custom-made inserts, it lays down better than 500 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque, which gets from the front of the car to the back through a Richmond five-speed and a set of brand-new wheels.
Made by Vintage Wheel Works, the Torque-Thrust-like 17s were custom-made to Musing's specifications. "What are these for?" he was asked incredulously when he told them the measurements. "They'll never fit." And they wouldn't, on any ordinary '71 Corvette, but with the ZL1 flares still in place, the 9.5-inch front wheels and the 11-inch rears tuck neatly under the fenders, giving the car a low, aggressive look. Combined with the heads-up Greenwood headlights and the sidepipes, the look mirrors the Corvette racers of the day--a look that's very popular now among the C3 restomod crowd.
And it's not all looks, either. With 275s up front and 315s in the back, Captain America is plenty grounded for both cornering and straight-line performance. In fact, everything on the car screams performance. Even with all the emblems removed, there's no mistaking Captain America for anything other than what it is--one very fast Corvette. After seeing a Japanese car or two on the road, I asked Musing if people ever challenge him to race at stoplights. "Not so much," he replied.
And when he lets the big 502 stretch its legs a little, you can tell why. The gas pedal goes down, the engine's hammering idle turns into a scream, and the car pulls so hard it's almost as though the world itself had started rotating at a much faster speed--you're simply along for the ride. Don't believe what they say about small- versus big-blocks--a 350 may rev up quicker, but this car pulls like the proverbial freight train.
What surprised me most about Captain America, when Musing was kind enough to let me drive it, was the car's driveability--depending, of course, on how you define "driveable." I used a gentle touch on the throttle, and even in light afternoon traffic, it was well-mannered. So in the sense of being able to move the car from Point A to Point B without lots of smoke and noise, it was eminently driveable. I never stalled it, nor did I spin the tires. But I also didn't dare jump on the throttle: I learned early on that it doesn't pay to make any sudden moves with a big-block, and Captain America is no exception.
On the other hand, Musing, having owned the car for 30-plus years, handled it beautifully, much as an experienced musician plays his instrument. Nonetheless, this is a car that demands your undivided attention and your enduring respect. If you're going to drive something with more than 500 hp and gobs of torque, you can never afford to forget exactly how much power that is.
"It's a handful, isn't it?" he asked me as I slid out of the driver seat.
Ultimately, Captain America's combination of graceful, curving lines with the brutal, snarling power under the hood, is what makes the Corvette a uniquely American car. The '69 counter-culture film Easy Rider, whose main character was named "Captain America," used an ad line that said, "A man went looking for America, and couldn't find it anywhere." With all due respect to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper...I think we found it.
Special thanks to the staff of the Aviation Challenge at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama.