Joel Rosen at Baldwin Auto...
Joel Rosen at Baldwin Auto in 1968. Left-to-right; Dave Bean, VP of Baldwin Chevy; Joel Rosen; and Ed Simonin, President of Baldwin Chevy.
Editors Note:Marty Schorr, president of PMPR Inc., is the founding editor of VETTE and was an integral part of the Baldwin-Motion specialty car program from 1967-74. He created all the advertising, produced the catalogs and promotional materials, and worked with Rosen developing product concepts and building the brand. He's currently working on a book about Motion's golden years. He can be reached at MLschorr@aol.com
Mention the name Joel Rosen and what usually comes to mind is Mr. Motion, the hands-on hot rodder from Brooklyn, New York, who produced ground-pounding, adrenaline-pumping Baldwin-Motion 427 and 454 Camaros that were supported by then-edgy advertising and promotional materials which captured the hearts of those who believed that there was no such thing as too much power for the street! Built at Motion Performance in Baldwin, New York, (delivered by Baldwin Chevrolet), Rosen's big-block Camaros represented the birth of the independent Chevrolet "tuner" car. Baldwin-Motion Camaros were essentially build-to-order super cars, limited only by a buyers imagination and financial resources.
Joel Rosen with a prototype...
Joel Rosen with a prototype of the Phase III GT built on a leftover '68 427/435 Corvette.
Unlike similar products from Rosen's popular and well-connected Chevrolet dealer competition, Baldwin-Motion 427 Camaros and Chevelles were never re-badged COPO cars. Truth be told, neither Rosen, myself, or the people at Baldwin Chevrolet knew about COPO cars in 1969, and didn't find out about their existence until years later! Mr. Motion "made his bones" the old-fashioned way, by winning on Sunday and selling on Monday. "You can question hype, but you can't argue with time slips," reminisces Rosen. "It wasn't rocket science. We raced what we built. It worked for Ford during its 'Total Performance' years, and it worked for us. We went one step beyond however, guaranteeing in writing that an up-level, totally streetable Phase III 427 Camaro would turn 120 mph in 11.50 seconds or quicker, driven by a Motion-approved driver on an NHRA or AHRA-sanctioned dragstrip. If the car wouldn't deliver, the customer could get his money back. That never happened though."
It would be approximately two years from this point before Rosen changed his shop's name from Neclan Service Station (a then small repair shop) to Motion Performance and redirected his energies from tuning and repairing grocery-getters to making hot cars go quicker and faster. "The name Motion came from a high-performance electronic ignition called 'Motion EI' that I had installed on many Corvettes, including my own, a '58 fuelie. I figured anything would sound better than Neclan Service Station!" With the addition of a Clayton chassis dynamometer, the new specialty of the house became fuel-injected Corvettes and Chevy-engined street machines. Almost overnight business soared thanks to Rosen's knowledge of Vettes and the appeal of a chassis dyno that made it possible to power-tune cars under a controlled load.
It was during this transition that Rosen married. He and his wife, Judith, took off after their wedding in the '58 and headed to Ellenville, New York, for their honeymoon. Ellenville just happened to be the location of a popular high-speed sports car hill climb where Rosen decided to exercise his passion for racing. "Rollbars weren't required, and we decided to go for it. At around 100 mph I flipped the '58 and rolled three times, destroying the car. Somebody must have been watching over me, all I got were bruises and lacerations. We took the bus back to New York. Some honeymoon," said Rosen. Judith concurs!
Joel Rosen launched the Phase...
Joel Rosen launched the Phase III GT Corvette program at the 1969 New York International Auto Show.
In 1962 Joel replaced the wrecked Vette with a new '62 fuelie which he prepped for competition. Rosen raced the '62, finishing the season in the top standings for local club events. Later, when the all-new '63 Sting Ray was announced, Rosen sold the '62 and put his money down on a 360hp fuelie. As they say, timing is everything. Rosen lucked out, taking delivery of the first fuel-injected split-window coupe. Nicknamed "The Skunk" because of its Daytona Blue paint with an added-on white racing stripe, it too was prepped for competition, raced by both Joel and Judith, and driven daily.
Rosen both drag raced and soloed the Sting Ray, finishing the 1963 SSSC & BDS (South Shore Sports Car & Beer Drinking Society!) gymkhana season with "Overall Champion" honors. It was also a local drag racing champion. Running the long-gone Roosevelt (Long Island) eighth-mile dragstrip, Rosen unseated the reigning champ in 1963, blowing off his much-modified 409/425 Chevy. The street-driven, Motion-tuned, Atlas Bucron-shod fuelie Corvette became the car to beat at Roosevelt in 1963.
In 1966 Rosen relocated to Long Island, opening Motion Performance on Sunrise Highway in Baldwin. Shortly after the move, Chevrolet started hyping the introduction of what was to be Chevy's Mustang fighter, the Camaro. The rest is history.
Typical Motion Corvette big-...
Typical Motion Corvette big- and small-block engine compartments
Rosen's first nationally-recognized Motion Corvette involvement was the legendary Astoria Chas KO-MOTION Sting Ray. This is the L88-powered '67 convertible that was built for Charlie Snyder from Astoria, New York. After Charlie lost his life in Vietnam, the car was campaigned in his memory to a National Record and then stored for three decades. The car, its history, and the man who unearthed it was the subject of the January 2002 VETTE cover story, "The Awakening."
By 1968, one year into building 427 Camaros, Joel Rosen had spread his tuner magic to all the Chevrolet nameplates, except Corvair. The Baldwin-Motion Phase III GT Corvette (prototyped in 1969), of which approximately 10 were built between mid-1969 and 1971, remains one of the rarest and valuable of the Baldwin-Motion-badged cars.
What most people never realized at the time was that Mr. Motion, the man who turned a simple Camaro engine swap (adding 31 ci and 50 hp) in 1967 into the stuff that legends are made of, was actually a die-hard Corvette enthusiast. Because of the Camaro's low price and mass appeal, it got the nod over the Corvette when he started building Baldwin-Motion specialty cars. While he did offer modified SS-427 and Phase III SS-427 Baldwin-Motion Corvettes as part of the Fantastic Five (1968) and Sensational Six (1969) programs, it was not well into the 1969 model year that Rosen debuted the Phase III GT and established a real link to Corvette enthusiasts.
What started as a personal high-speed touring GT for Rosen, blossomed into a highly-desirable, very-low-production collectible. Unlike the tire-frying Baldwin-Motion big-block Camaros, Chevelles, Novas, etc., the Phase III GT had a truly unique custom appearance and functionality to match its powertrain and chassis upgrades.
Rosen launched his first Corvette marketing effort in conjunction with Chevrolet's introduction of the Mako Shark-influenced '68 Stingray. It was a slow start as he had partnered in 1967 with a local mom-and-pop Chevrolet dealer, Baldwin Chevrolet. It existed primarily by selling econo people-movers and trucks. Principals Dave Bean and Ed Simonin were not really connected at the local Chevrolet Zone level or in Detroit, and their allotment of high-performance models, especially Corvettes, left an awful lot to be desired. They didn't understand the appeal and lure of high-performance cars.
The one saving grace was Baldwin Chevrolet's parts manager, John Mahler, who worked closely with Rosen to lock in a Chevrolet factory high-performance-parts pipeline connection. Without Mahler's cooperation, the program would've never gotten off the ground. A hot rodder and drag racer, he was also the link for selling the stock engines that were pulled when putting factory-new 427/425 engines in 396/375 cars.
The first Baldwin-Motion Corvettes were part of the Fantastic Five model lineup for 1968. The SS-427 Corvette (coupe: $4,899.95; convertible: $5,099.95) was a Baldwin-Motion badged and dyno-tuned stock vehicle. In the scheme of things, they were heavy on hype and light on performance enhancements; however, Rosen did come up with a Mark III option package (mid-year) of minor engine and chassis modifications that upped the Corvette's performance and came with a written 160 mph top-speed guarantee. Sales of Baldwin-Motion '68 Corvettes were severely hampered by factory fit-and-finish problems (especially leaky T-tops and even battery-related fires).
In 1969 Rosen put a lot of energy into the Corvette program, resulting in a full line of Baldwin-Motion Corvettes. The Sensational Six lineup for 1969 included the dyno-prepped and re-badged SS-427 (coupe: $4,999.95; convertible: $5,199.95), Phase III SS-427 coupe or convertible (Automatic: $6,499.95; Four-Speed: $6,995.85) and eventually, the Phase III GT which could be had with either small- or big-block power. Baldwin-Motion Corvette engine options included aluminum-head L89 tri-power ($350), aluminum-head 12-to-1 L88 ($995.00), and an all-aluminum ZL-1 race engine ($3,000). Phase III GT prices started at $10,500-not exactly chump change in 1969! "I wanted to build the quickest, fastest, and best-handling American GT car for myself, so I started with the best America had to offer," said Joel Rosen. "Once I got into the project, I realized that there would be a market."
The prototype GT was built on a new leftover '68 427/435 coupe in 1969 and powered by a 500hp, blueprinted, Phase III engine fitted with headers, RPO N14 factory outside exhausts (a 1969-only option), Motion Super/Spark CD ignition, finned M/T alloy valve covers,and a 1,050-cfm Holley three-barrel on an alloy high-rise intake. Special shock absorbers, springs, and traction bars were installed to harness the horsepower and insure safe high-speed handling. It is the Phase III GT's styling, however, that truly set it off from both stock and customized period Corvettes. The small notchback window was removed, the inside cavity opened, and a large fastback-style backlight installed. The newly acquired stowage area was fitted with stereo speakers and finished with wall-to-wall carpeting. Like a true GT, there is room for real luggage.
A unique paint treatment (the prototypewas executed in Monza Red with black stripes and trim), polished Le Mans quick-fill gas cap, faired-in headlamps, functionally-scooped Phase III hood, Shark-style functional side vents, flared fender wells, streamlined remote right and left side mirrors, and super-wide slotted alloy wheels shod with Goodyear Polyglas GT tires are key styling cues of the GT. The prototype GT, as well as the first couple of '69 GTs built, did not have the faired-in front headlights or the custom taillights which became standard on the 1970 models.
Rosen knew that his GT would be finished in time to launch the program to both press and the public at the prestigious 1969 International Auto Show held in the long-since-gone Coliseum, then the top show venue in New York City. The project also got a real boost when the head-turning red GT landed on the cover of the August 1969 issue of CARS magazine.
I managed to cut a good deal for a booth that was surrounded by some of the top imported exotics (Ferrari, Iso, Lamborghini, and Lotus) and we went for it. Then I called Zora Arkus-Duntov, whom I had befriended the previous year, and told him I would have a surprise for him at the show. He came by the booth, and we talked about big-block Corvettes for what seemed like hours. He loved the GT (he also hated the Stingray's small notchback rear window) and encouraged me to build some customer cars. Over the years Zora became a great friend, helped a lot with my relationship with Chevrolet's performance czar, Vince Piggins, and was a big supporter of my quest to develop big-block super cars. I really miss him," said Rosen.
Next Month: The '70 Phase III GT big-block is unveiled, built, sold, and later found in the 1990s by Rosen at the Warner Brothers studio lot.