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If ever there was a uniquely American art form, it would be the muscle car. Made up mostly of engine with some rubber and chrome thrown in for good measure, the cars helped define this country as we emerged from the austere years of World War II. Songs were written about them and movies were made, helping a new generation fall in love with where we could go with our roads and what we could place upon them.

But few people were more moved than Rick Treworgy, owner of the internationally renowned Muscle Car City in Punta Gorda, the largest General Motors-specific muscle car museum in the country—celebrated for its collection, its car shows and its automotive flea markets. The now 70-year-old businessman bought his first car when he was just 14 years old. “I was too young to drive, but you couldn’t keep me from buying and working on them,” says Treworgy. “My dad was an International truck dealer when I was growing up, so he had a big shop that was sort of at my disposal, provided I left it the way I found it.”

At the time he was already working for his dad and was saving money and, eventually, saving cars. “It was something I enjoyed doing and something I learned as I went,” he says. “It was just a fun thing. And then I found myself going from owning one to owning two or three at a time.”

It didn’t take him long to figure out he was making more money with the cars than he was in his job. But his family was clear in telling him that his job was his bread and butter and cars were a dessert, so his cars remained a hobby—never a main source of living. “There are times they cost me money and times they make me money,” adds Treworgy, who is a partner in both Florida Premier Contractors and Smugglers Restaurants & Bars (Harpoon Harry’s, Captain’s Table, Laishley Crab House, etc.). Yet by the time he was 20 the seeds of a museum had been planted. “I don’t know that I ever started thinking ‘Well, I’m just going to have a museum,’ but it kept going that way until it happened.”

His other businesses provided the resources he needed to fuel his car hobby. But by the time he got up to approximately 135 cars, he realized his mechanics were spending more time showing people around the collection than actually working on the cars. “At that point I realized it made more sense to just charge people to come in here,” he says. “At the time I was in the construction/landfill business and we sold that to a Canadian concern, and that allowed me to buy the Walmart here in town [to house Muscle Car City]. And that’s when it really became a business versus a museum. I can’t say that we’ve made money every year, but we’ve tried to.”

THOROUGHLY VETTE-ED: Muscle Car City boasts an array of vintage Corvettes and other General Motors vehicles

Recently Treworgy moved the now more than 200 automobiles from the massive Walmart space to a slightly more reasonable former Sweetbay grocery store shopping center. He has consciously chosen to not make it a not-for-profit, recognizing that the museum regularly spins off “well over $100,000 in taxes to the community and I like the idea of giving back to the community,” says Treworgy. “I feel like I owe the community something.”

But his real affinity remains with the cars. With everything from big-block Chevelles, to gorgeous Camaros, Pontiac GTOs and Oldsmobile 442s, the space is a veritable candy store for anyone who appreciates what happens when American manufacturing meets the dream of the open road. 

“I always buy the most high-performance four-speed cars that I can get my hands on,” says Treworgy. “I have an affection for ’67 427 Corvettes—I’ve got 20 of them [I was going for every color]—but only have two on the floor because I have a number of Corvettes, my earliest is a 1954 and the newest is brand new and I have a lot of multiples in different years. … A person who knows what they’re looking at can’t get through here in a day. Someone who doesn’t can get through here in an hour. But they both walk away and enjoyed themselves.”

On a good day in season they’ve had as many as 900 people come through the doors. In the summer, they’ve seen as few as 50. But you can bet that the smiles are just as big, regardless of the day. The museum also houses the very popular StingRays Bar & Grill, which serves everything from lunch to dinner, giving guests yet another reason to appreciate, and feast upon, some American originals.

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