We got Musto. That feels good to type. Yes, the Roadkill and Motor Trend family now includes muscle-car guru Mike Musto with his killer new show The House of Muscle. You might remember Mike from his YouTube show Big Muscle, his radio show RPM, his time on Bullrun, or…well, Mike has been around. Most importantly, of course, he road-tripped his “Project Angrier” ‘69 Dodge Daytona to this summer’s Roadkill Nights event, where he raced Freiburger in the Dirt-Track Challenger during Episode 56 of Roadkill.
We caught up with Mike to chat about The House of Muscle and how a kid from New York became the king of muscle car stories.
Roadkill: Where were you born, Mike?
Mike Musto: Manhattan! Grew up in Brooklyn and later Long Island.
RK: New York isn’t exactly known for car stuff these days..
MM: Maybe not Manhattan, but there were hot rods everywhere in Brooklyn. Street racing was big. There was a ’70 GTX in my town, dark blue, 15x10s in the back, skinnies in the front. I remember hearing it from like four blocks away. This was around 1980 maybe? I was probably eight. You used to hear the racing and my dad used to say, “Oh, listen to those a**holes outside.”
RK: So he wasn’t really a car guy?
MM: Not a car guy per-say, he always had nice cars, but he never had muscle cars. He was like, “I grew up with those things, I want something normal.” My grandfather always had cool cars. I remember a triple green Oldsmobile Cutlass that he parked in Marine Park, Brooklyn where he lived. I remember he would have to get it up this thin driveway and then caddy corner it into his garage. It was just a base model Cutlass, but a V8, and it sounded great. Again, it’s those sounds that really get you. Then, my other grandfather, he had a Monte Carlo–402, console car. He owned beer distributors and beverage centers in the Bronx so in the morning, if I stayed at their house, we’d get in this Monte Carlo, he’d put in the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever and we’d go into the Bronx. It’s just a good memory, so when I saw a Monte Carlo recently I had to have it. My aunt Christine, she had a Monte too, it was white, red interior, swivel seats, and a big Rolling Stones sticker on the bumper. I thought that was the baddest thing I’d ever seen. She bought me my first AC/DC tape.
RK: What about your friends, what did the kids drive when you got a little older?
MM: Most of the cars then were crappy cars. The muscle cars were old and rotted out. Junk. My high school parking lot was filled with Fox-body Mustangs and second-gen Camaros, Novas, it sounds cool but they were mostly junk. You didn’t want that kind of car, you had it because you were poor. I mean, there were kids with really nice cars, but the majority of them were just hand-me-downs, and nobody thought of them as hot rods.
RK: So as you finished high school, did you have any plans or ideas for a career working with cars?
MM: No. I went to college. I probably should have gone into the military. I was one of those kids who really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I got a business degree, I took a bunch of art classes, and when I got out of school I got a fluke job doing graphic design, and they said, “Can you design a web page?” This was was when the internet was just starting, so I said, “Sure, I’ll get a book,” and I taught myself HTML and a little Java and ended up working in web design for 12 years at Citibank in Manhattan and taking graduate classes but the whole time I was thinking, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be stuck behind a desk in this corporate scene.”
RK: Were you doing car stuff during this time?
MM: No! I had a Dodge Dakota and like, six motorcycles. I was big into bikes, but as I got hurt on motorcycles–which is what happens on motorcycles, I started thinking more about cars, and then September 11th happened and I was there. After that day I was like, “Ok, we’re going to change stuff.” It literally was that day that I decided to change everything, because I saw that I still had some time to make good choices and do what I wanted to do. So I did. I went out and spent way too much money and bought my ’68 Dodge Charger, and that’s the greatest thing I ever did.
RK: Ok, existential crisis leads to muscle car purchase, we get that. How did that lead to where you are now?
MM: In 2006, I got a call from my buddy Rob Einaudi, who was editor-in-chief of Car Domain at the time. He had a ’67 Satellite, and he tells me that a producer called him looking for people with cool cars to audition for a show called Bullrun. I’d followed these kinds of rallies, but entry fees were like $100,000, and I had like, $8.00, so I figured I’d throw my name in the hat for this reality show. I applied with my friend Jim, and the next thing I knew they called us up and said we were now contestants on this show. I didn’t have a clue what that meant other than that I was going to get to race my car across the country.
RK: You guys did alright on that.
MM: We did pretty well, came in Fourth, made it to the 11th episode I think? But it snowballed from there. It was the car. “Mr Angry” developed this fan base and I didn’t even know how to deal with it, but Rob asked me if I wanted to write for Car Domain, so I did that, and then started doing videos, and it seemed so easy. I was in love with the subject matter, and it never bothered me to have a camera in front of my face, so how do you not do that?
RK: Tell us about what we’re going to get on The House of Muscle.
The House Of Muscle is all about the relationship between the enthusiast and their vehicles. We all know that for many of us, our cars transcend that of “just” transportation. They can be family members, therapists, our hobbies and our friends. The House Of Muscle explores these relationships, takes the machines out for a full-blown test drive, and in the end, tries to encourage everyone to simply get out and drive. I want to tell the stories of the people who own the cars. It’s about the guy who is on his back pulling a transmission out, the 16-year-old kid who does their first oil change. I had never seen anybody talk to those people.
RK: You raced Roadkill at the Roadkill Nights event on Woodward this year, but that was more than just a race for you. Can you talk about that car, the road trip, and how Roadkill Nights was for you?
MM: Sure. Our road trip across the country consisted of three different parts.
We had heard that Dodge was releasing a new 2017 Charger Daytona at the Woodward Dream Cruise and since I have a 1969 Charger Daytona clone, we figured “What the hell?” Let’s motor across the country in the car that started it all. And while at first that seemed like a good idea, taking on a road trip of that magnitude in a 47-year-old car was a bigger endeavor than we originally thought.
The Dream Cruise has been a bucket-list trip, so having the opportunity to do it in my own car was something I couldn’t pass up. Our Daytona is a great car when it’s 60 degrees outside, there’s no rain and the humidity is low. Driving across the desert in 100+ heat was brutal though. These cars were designed to take in air at speeds of over 140 mph, not 80 mph on the interstate. It was hot, loud, and nasty inside the car and while we were crushed physically, the car made it.
Roadkill Nights was an amazing experience. David and Mike have truly created an automotive phenomenon with Roadkill. Their adventures are the things that gearhead dreams are made of and while their cars may be somewhat lacking in certain areas, the pitfalls and trials they go through each time are hilariously fun to watch. Now I knew Roadkill nights was a big event, but I didn’t know it was a BIG event, like 30,000-people big.
Then when I found out we were going to race I was not only blown away by the opportunity, but nervous as hell. On the one hand I didn’t want to lose—I hate losing. On the other, I was terrified about scratching the helmet I borrowed from David. Not only did we win, but running against those guys and in front of the Roadkill Fans was something I’ll never forget. You don’t get many defining opportunities in life, but for me, that was one of them. It was a real privilege.
RK: Gotta ask, what was your first car?
MM: A 1981 Mercury Capri in Royal Blue. It had a base 4-cylinder, only 2 of the 4 headlights worked, it had an AM radio with one speaker in the center of the cracked dash, and a wicked exhaust leak. I totaled it not long after I got it. Damn shame.
RK: Favorite car?
MM: 1968 Dodge Charger.
RK: Favorite Roadkill car?
MM: Probably the General Mayhem, but with the 440 in it, not the Hellcat engine.
RK: Dream car?
MM: 1972 Lamborghini Miura SV
RK: How can people submit a car for The House of Muscle?
MM: We’re going to do a variety of cars, from extremely expensive to a car that cost $17.00. I gotta tell you a story from when I was a kid that stuck with me. I was walking with my dad and we passed this old guy washing a car in his driveway. The car was a real s**tbox, y’know? Rust holes, peeling vinyl top, so I say to my dad, “Ugh, why is he bothering?” and my dad whacks me right in the back of the head, *THWAAP* and he says, “You don’t have a right to decide what’s important to people.” So that really stayed with me, because we’ve all been in a place where what we have may not be perfect, but it’s the best we can do at the time, and it’s important to us. That’s what I want to share with people. Oh! How they can tell me about it. Thehouseofmuscle.com, MDMusto on Facebook or Mike_Musto on Instagram. If you tell me what it is and why you love it, I’ll get back to you. Also, photos.
RK: Even if it’s a s**tbox?
MM: (laughing) Yeah.
Watch The House of Muscle on Motor Trend on Demand.