Better Off Dead: A Camaro Story…

Contributed by Russ Muller Photography

Owner Don Musica, Winter Springs

Published in Eckler’s Chevy Classics Magazine


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There’s only a handful of movie cars that are instantly recognizable to most people; Burt Reynold’s black Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am, John Milner’s ’32 Deuce Coupe from American Graffiti, Steve McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang. But there’s a famous Camaro out there too, albeit not quite as instantly recognized. If you haven’t seen Better Off Dead…, you may want to after checking out this tribute 1967 RS/SS Camaro.

In 1985, John Cusack starred in a low-budget film about a high school teenager who gets dumped by his girlfriend. After several humorous failed attempts at ending his life, he meets another girl who helps him rebuild his ’67 Camaro and he ultimately lives happily ever after. The black RS/SS left an impression on 17-year-old Don Musica  of Meadville, PA, who saw his dream car take shape in that movie.

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Fast forward to 1997. Better Off Dead… was long-forgotten by most people, but not Don, now living in Winter Springs, FL.  He found a 1967 RS/ SS Camaro for sale, his dream car from the movie. As you can see from the “before” picture, it was in need of a restoration.  The car had been repainted Corvette Yellow, but it was a code-correct A-A (black paint, black interior) and remarkably rust-free California car, so it was the ideal candidate for a restoration.

646A0192-Edit (Copy)Don put his mechanical skills to work and restored the car in under a year.  He added a few minor variations from the movie car along the way, to make it his dream Camaro.  The black paint that was put on the car had violet pearl added to it, which makes the color pop in the sunlight and gives the car a hint of purple.  He also added a 400+ horsepower, 10:1 355 cubic inch small block with a big cam, and the Turbo 350 automatic transmission has a 3500-rpm stall speed converter.  The only other visual differences from the movie car are the SS350 grille emblem, a cowl induction hood, and the rear spoiler.

Fast forward to 2006. DJ Don (he started a mobile DJ service in 1999) and his Camaro were regulars at Old Town in Kissimmee for their Saturday night classic car cruise. The car was selected for Old Town’s Cruiser of the Month in October, and featured in the October, 2006 issue of Mike Kelly’s Cruise News.  Don still has the VIP jacket that’s given to each Cruiser of the Month. In addition to Old Town, Don’s Camaro was a regular at many of the cruise-ins that he hosted (and continues to) as Cruisin’ Orlando where the car was always an attention-grabber.

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Fast forward to 2016. Don and I were talking about his Better Off Dead… Camaro one day, and Don mentioned that he had never had a photo shoot done with the car. Needless to say, I was more than happy to resolve that problem for him. One unexpected perk that I got was the chance to cruise in this beast as we scouted locations to shoot it. That 355 effortlessly pushes you back in the seat as the car launches, leaving memories of its Radial T.A.’s behind on the blacktop. Although it’s an older restoration, the car still turned heads and got thumbs-up everywhere we went.  In fact, a couple who were having their engagement photos done nearby walked over and asked to take a few photos with the car. Yes, it still looks that good.

646A0118 (Copy)Don has a very special and unique piece of memorabilia that goes with his Camaro. He found an original, never-worn, cast-member jacket from Better Off Dead… on e-Bay.  It features the logo of Pig Burger, the fictional fast-food restaurant John Cusack worked at in the movie.  How many of those could have been made, and how Don_Camaro (38) (Copy)many are still around?  My guess is a handful, but even that may be too high.  Don was also able to find a reproduction California license plate that matches the plate that was on the movie car.

It will never be as famous as the Bandit Trans Am, or as recognizable as Eleanor from Gone in Sixty Seconds, but the Better Off dead… Camaro was a dream car to at least one 17-year-old back in the day.  Don made his dream car a reality, and has been driving and enjoying it and turning people into Better Off Dead… fans for nearly 20 years. John Cusack should thank him for that, and I thank him for the opportunity to shoot this stunning ’67 RS/SS. Hopefully this car will make you want to see the movie too. Don has restored several classic Chevys since this Camaro, including a ’65 Corvette, a ’69 Camaro convertible, and a ’67 Camaro convertible.  In fact, this Camaro is not the only classic Chevy he currently owns.  Don also has a ’64 Chevelle convertible, but that’s another story…

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Author: Tara

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