As a young car guy in junior high school growing up in the greater Philadelphia area, Hi-Performance Cars was my favorite car magazine. Hot Rod and Car Craft were cool, but Cars featured realistic performance cars. By the spring of 1968, the new Corvette had been all over the car magazines and looked like the performance car from another planet.
Martyn L. Schorr was Cars editor and had a staff of writers that were diverse and colorful. Each issue was a monthly visit with car pals. One day my local pharmacy had the latest issue of Cars that blew my mind. The cover shot was the 1968 Baldwin-Motion SS-427 Phase III Corvette. Atop the big-block hood dome was a '67 Stinger hoodscoop and a hood-mounted tach. The wheelwells were flared out because the 15x8 Cragar mags were shod with the biggest tires of the day. Finishing off the package were 1965-'67 Corvette side pipes.
I learned that the SS-427 Phase III Corvette was one of the line of Baldwin-Motion "Fantastic Five" custom-built supercars. Baldwin-Motion was a collaboration between Baldwin Chevrolet and Motion Performance, located a few blocks apart in Long Island, New York. Before the Baldwin-Motion experience, Baldwin Chevrolet was a "mom and pop" Chevy dealership that mostly sold grocery-getter Chevys. Motion Performance was a repair/performance shop and had recently relocated from Brooklyn. As Joel Rosen explained, "People were beginning to shoot back, instead of talk back!" Rosen was a road racer and a drag racer with a serious advantage; his shop had a Clayton chassis dynamometer that enabled him to test and measure setups for his race cars and customer cars.
The specialty car business was nothing new. During the same time, there were Shelby Mustangs in Venice, California; Dana Chevrolet Camaros in South Gate, California; and Nickey Chevrolet Camaros in Chicago. The history of specialty cars is almost as old as the automotive era. Harley Earl, the creator of the Corvette, grew up in his father's custom coachbuilding business in Hollywood during the early 1900s. Earl designed and built custom cars for Hollywood stars and moguls. Earl Motorworks would purchase a high-performance chassis and drivetrain (typically a Cadillac or Pierce-Arrow) and custom-build the body and interior.
Baldwin-Motion cars were not unlike the Earl Motorworks cars. While the Shelby, Dana and Nickey cars were a set package with minor differences, a Baldwin-Motion SS-427 Phase III Supercar customer first went to Baldwin Chevrolet and ordered their SS 396 Camaro, Nova, Chevelle, Impala/Biscayne or 427 Corvette. The customer could choose the body color, interior and trim, and have access to the entire menu of Chevrolet factory options. Since they were ordering the performance SS model, the car came with all of the necessary heavy-duty suspension and brake parts.
Upon delivery to Baldwin Chevrolet, the car was sent to Motion Performance for conversion into a SS-427 Phase III Supercar. Every Baldwin-Motion car was unique, but similar. At the beginning of the ordering process, Joel "Mr. Motion" consulted with the customer about what they wanted from their car. Thanks to Rosen's racing and shop experience, he knew which combinations worked best for street and street/strip machines. Baldwin-Motion supercars weren't just about speed parts, Rosen created a unique signature look for the cars. Typically, the cars wore a Corvette stinger hood, 1965-'67 Corvette side pipes, mag or slotted wheels shod with the fattest tires of the day and SS-427 badging. The Baldwin-Motion cars looked seriously mean; not pretty like the West Coast cars. And Joel Rosen offered a guarantee that his Phase III Camaros would run 11.50 at 120 mph in the quarter.
It all came together by design. Rosen and the brand's co-founder Marty Schorr are on record explaining that they had no idea the Motion cars would be so popular and valuable. At first, Rosen thought it would be a great way to keep his shop busy. Schorr thought it would help sell more magazines at the newsstand. This story is not complete without an overview of Marty Schorr and Joel Rosen, as the enterprise could not have happened without their unique talents. Rosen spun the wrenches and Schorr spun the spin.
Schorr grew up in New York City (Bronx) in the 1950s, when hot rod clubs were popular with young car guys. Marty knew that his talents weren't on the mechanics side, but in photography and writing. He quickly became his car club's (Draggin Wheels) photographer and started writing stories for several car magazines. In 1960, prior to a stint in the Army, Marty landed a job as editor of Custom Rodder and Cars, Speed & Style magazines. He returned to Magnum-Royal Publications in late-1963 and in 1965 he took over as editor of Cars and became editorial director of the publishing company.
Joel Rosen was a New York City (Brooklyn) kid who learned mechanics in the Air Force, working on WW II radial piston engines. After Rosen's military service was complete he bought a very small auto service/gas station in Brooklyn. The shop measured 20x200-feet and had a payphone, a dyno, and very big German Shepherd guard dog; an absolute necessity in that neighborhood.
Schorr and Rosen got off to a not-so-good start. Joel wrote a pointed "letter to the editor" at Cars taking issue with an article. Marty visited Joel's shop and the two guys exchanged some New York "attitude" and that was that. A short time later they met again, only this time they hit it off, and have been friends ever since. The relationship was beneficial for both men. Cars magazine road tested muscle cars from manufacturers, so Schorr would send the cars to Rosen's shop for a good, sharp tune-up for the road test by one of Cars crack test drivers. Having access to Rosen's shop also made it possible for the magazine to indulge in a few project cars. Schorr would also give some ink to Rosen's various racing projects. It was a great deal all around.
Phase II: Meet the Baldwin-Motion Fantastic Five
When Chevrolet released the Camaro in the fall of 1966, there were two performance versions: the 302 Z/28 and the SS 396/375. Chevy needed to catch up and it was an impressive start. The SS 396/375 big-block option was nearly identical to the 1965 396/425 L78 Corvette engine, but not the magical "427."
Rosen picked up on this right away, but first, Joel wanted to campaign a 427 Camaro in A/Modified Production class that allowed for more modifications than Super/Stock. So when Rosen and his business partner Jack Geiselman and John Mahler (Baldwin Chevrolet's Parts Manager) got together in a meeting, their objective was to secure a sponsorship deal with Baldwin Chevrolet. Also present was Marty Schorr, who petitioned for a 427 Camaro race car that Cars could sponsor.
After a lot of back-and-forth talks, and some convincing by Mahler to Baldwin Chevrolet's owner Ed Simonin that a successful race car would draw in customers, Rosen got a bare-bones, inline-six, Granada Gold 1967 Camaro. Once the car arrived at Motion Performance, out came the six and in went a modified 427 L88, plus everything else needed for an A/Modified Production race car. Quickly, the Baldwin Chevrolet and Cars magazine-sponsored Motion Performance Camaro was winning races and setting records.
While all this was going on, Rosen got the notion of Baldwin Chevrolet offering "private label" 427 Camaros. Years later, Joel confessed that he didn't have a grand plan; he just wanted to keep his shop busy. So the team consisted of Rosen performing the builds, Baldwin Chevrolet supplying the SS 396 Camaros, John Mahler making sure the L88 engines and other important factory parts were available, and Schorr would handle the marketing, branding and advertising. Factory fresh, Motion-prepared supercars with full GM warranties could be financed through GMAC. What a deal.
The very first Baldwin-Motion SS-427 Supercar started life as a Deepwater Blue Metallic SS 350 with a white nose stripe. When Mr. Motion was done, the first SS-427 Phase III Camaro had American mag wheels shod with Goodyear Polyglas Bluestreak tires and was powered by an L78 427/425 Corvette engine with a big Holley carb on a high-rise aluminum intake and stock cast-iron headers. Steel tube headers were not yet available for the new Camaro. While the car didn't look like the Baldwin-Motion SS-427 Camaros we all loved and many feared, it was a start. Quickly, Rosen started adding the signature design elements: SS-427 badges, Super-Bite traction bars, and a fiberglass hood with the 1967 Corvette Stinger scoop.
Schorr's first print ad went straight for the jugular; "The quickest and fastest supercar! SS-427 Camaro. Dyno-tuned and ready to wail $3,650". The rest of the ad was a Chevy lovers "Christmas list" of performance goodies. Between the Chevrolet factory options and Motion Performance options, customers could easily spend over $5,000 - a lot of money in 1967! With the basic plan, Rosen, Schorr and Baldwin Chevrolet decided for 1968 to offer SS-427 packages on Camaros, Chevelles, Novas, Impalas/Biscaynes and Corvettes and call the line "The Fantastic Five." Kind of has a super hero flavor, doesn't it?
Phase III: Rosen's Obsession
Joel Rosen started his automotive career road racing and hill climbing a 1962 Corvette. Being young and "indestructible," Rosen totaled his first Corvette in a hill climb event. His family was so upset, they pressured him into a Corvair to try to calm him down. But when the 1963 Sting Ray hit the streets, Rosen ditched the Corvair and was back into a Corvette. The Corvette yielded moderate success in local events, but that all changed the first time Joel drag raced his Sting Ray. Corvettes had fantastic weight distribution for drag racing. Joel was using a new ignition device called a capacitive discharge unit built by the Motion Company. (When it was set up properly, it provided an edge by producing a much hotter spark.) Rosen got some white shoe polish and lettered MOTION on the front fender. When he started winning races, the buzz around the pits was, "Hey, did you see the Motion car?" The name stuck and it all started on Joel's Corvette.
Once the 1968 Fantastic Five Baldwin-Motion SS-427 Supercars were up and running, thanks to Schorr's brilliant in-your-face ads and cover stories in Cars they were getting tons of attention. From here, Motion Corvettes became Rosen's pet projects. From 1968 to 1974, Rosen produced six significantly unique Corvettes: SS-427 Phase III Corvettes, Phase III GT Corvettes, Motion Maco Corvettes, Motion Manta Ray Corvettes, the Motion Moray Eel, and Motion Can Am Spyders. Of the six Motion Corvettes, there were more SS-427 Phase III Corvettes than the other five. The other cars had extensive, expensive custom bodywork. What differentiates the six Motion Corvettes it their theme and bodywork.
Phase III SS-427 Corvette
This was the foundation Motion Corvette. Distinctive outer markings included a '67 Stinger hoodscoop atop the stock big-block hood dome, flared wheelwell openings to cover the ultra-wide tires shod on American mags or slotted aluminum wheels and 1965-'67 Corvette factory side exhausts. After 1968, most Phase III Corvette customers used the factory '69 side pipes and covers because they fit better than the C2 units. Phase III Corvettes also had a single, center-mounted traction bar and most of the engines had unique Motion-branded valve covers and a fly-eye air intake air filter. There was a host of other options that included a Chevy-branded (Pontiac) hood-mounted tach, various stripe packages, and later in 1969, Hooker header side pipes. The sum of the parts was indeed greater than the whole.
Phase III GT Corvette
Rosen and his wife liked Corvettes and big dogs; a tight fit in a C3 Corvette. Joel got to thinking it would be great to have a fastback rear window that would be easy to install. That way Mr. and Mrs. Motion could enjoy their Corvette and dog, too. What Joel created was a European-inspired GT Corvette. A classic Grand Turismo GT car typically has a strong chassis, great brakes, plenty of power, room for two, decent luggage space and quasi-racer details.
Rosen reasoned that the Corvette had the best chassis, suspension, brakes and engine combo of any American automobile. Therefore, Rosen's GT machine started where the Phase III ended. All of the mechanicals were essentially the same, with the later addition of a Hone Overdrive to improve highway cruising. Never happy with the new Corvette's pop-up headlights, Rosen designed new front fenders with the headlights tunneled into the fenders and covered with plexiglass; illegal, but very cool-looking. What made the biggest difference was the fastback rear window. While not totally restyled, the flat rear glass laid just below the leading edge of the C3 coupe's side roofline. Even Duntov liked the design and congratulated Rosen on getting done what he couldn't. Phase III GT Corvettes had a lot of custom bodywork and most sold for over $12,000; double the cost of a new Corvette.
Motion Maco Corvette
Not everyone was thrilled with the new Corvette. The August 1967 issue of Motor Trend featured artwork of the all-new '68 Corvette looking just like the Mako Shark-II. John Silva was a car customizer that decided to build a Mako Shark-II body kit for the new Corvette. According to the Scott Ross article, "1976 Maco Shark II - Repro Mako" at www.superchevy.com, Silva made 125 "Maco Sharks." To avoid legal issues with GM, Silva called his kits, "Maco Shark" instead of "Mako Shark."
Rosen reasoned that the quickest way to get to a Motion Maco Shark was to work a deal with Silva to pull molds off a Silva Maco kit. The Maco Shark was most likely never intended to be an exact, precise replica of the running 1966 Mako Shark-II show car. The kit had all the key features of the original: the exaggerated fender humps, the nose surface details, the Sting Ray-like roof section, window slats and the full tilt-forward front end. Under the pretty fiberglass was an all-out Motion Performance beast, tricked out to the customer's specifications. The Maco Shark cars were a love-it-or-hate-it kind of Corvette. Motion Performance and Silva did the best builds.
Motion Manta Ray Corvette
Once Rosen got his body shop up and running, he was having too much fun, mixing and matching custom body parts for his Corvettes. The Motion Manta Ray was part Phase III GT and part Motion Maco with some factory designs thrown in. Built on a 1973 Corvette with the first of the soft bumper covers, the front end has the Phase III GT's tunneled-in headlights. Rather than a Phase III hood with the '67 Stinger scoop, the Manta Ray uses a factory-style L88 hood and the front end does not tilt forward. Hooker Header side pipes adorn the side rockers. At the back end, a Z28-style flipper spoiler is grafted on to the rear deck and the full Mako/Maco rear roof section, window slats and all, completes the overall look. The fuel filler was relocated to the driver's side of the rear deck and is finished with a quick-fill GT cap. The Motion Manta Ray Corvettes were only offered in 1973, and just three were produced.
Motion Moray Eel
The Motion Moray Eel was the last of Joel Rosen's shark-obsession Corvettes. Built on a 1972 Corvette, it was part Maco Shark and part Manta Ray. The Maco flip front end had provisions for the Mako Shark-style hood grilles. This detail was glassed over for a smooth look and the headlights were placed in the front grille. Something went wrong with the original paint and what was supposed to be pearl yellow turned out lime green. The paint was corrected when the car was restored in 2006. Only one Moray Eel was produced.
Motion Can Am Spyder
Rosen is on record stating that this was one of his favorite Corvettes and arguably the wildest-looking car he ever created. When John Greenwood debuted the Randy Wittine-designed widebody kit for IMSA racers, the look took the Corvette community by storm. Nicknamed The Batmobile, the shape is 1970s excess that still has a sinsister look over 40 years later.
Rosen's Can Am Corvette would take advantage of the widebody's ability to cover the widest wheel/tire combo available for street cars of the day. The engine, drivetrain and suspension were standard Motion Performance gear.
While the Phase III GT fastback rear window opened up the rear storage area, the Can Am Spyder was a full rear hatchback, something that Chevrolet wouldn't do until '82 on the Collector Edition. All of the body parts, except for the windshield and roof panels were fabricated by Motion Performance.
The plan was to offer the Spyder like any regular Motion Corvette, any way the customer wanted. Since Rosen was precluded by the Department of Transportation from making Motion-modified "new" vehicles, customers had to supply their own Corvette for conversion. Rosen also sourced used Corvettes for conversions. Custom features, interior work, special badges, graphics, show car-like wheels and chrome side exhausts made the Can Am Spyder something beyond a regular Motion Corvette. Like Ferraris, this Corvette had a direct link to racing Corvettes, yet was designed for long trips with room for overnight necessities.
As well intended as the Can Am Spyder was, the timing was not good, thanks to a deep recession and ever-rising gas prices. Corvettes already cost almost twice as much as a regular Chevy and Rosen's latest GT machine cost almost twice as much as a regular Corvette. Consequently, only four Can Am Spyders were built and sold. Baldwin-Motion collector Dan McMichaels owns the red Can Am Spyder with white stripes prototype and the hulk of a yellow with red striping Can Am Spyder. The other two are unaccounted for.
When I interviewed Marty Schorr and Joel Rosen in 2013, the guys told me that never in their wildest dreams did they think that all these years later people would still be talking about their little specialty car enterprise with a local mom-and-pop Chevy dealer. The Baldwin Chevrolet dealership is long gone, replaced by a Walgreens. The Motion Performance building is still at 598 Sunrise Highway, Baldwin, Long Island, New York. There's an auto repair shop and a Speed World Speed Shop now occupying the building. Parked out front are regular cars waiting to be fixed. The days of ground-pounding supercars and race cars are long gone. What was once a mecca for young performance hounds is now a totally forgettable storefront. What is not forgotten are the Baldwin-Motion Supercars. Vette