Motion Performance: Tales of a Muscle Car Builder
The Golden Age of the Muscle Car was much like the Wild West. It was a time before serious legislation and government involvement. It was a simpler time when two guys or gals with two hot cars would line up anywhere, anytime, and have it out like a couple of gunslingers, and as long as no one got hurt, no one cared.
It's a time long gone, but not forgotten — a time that was virtually owned by the American Muscle Car. Among those legendary beasts, few have the mystique of the Baldwin-Motion cars. If you had one, chances were you wouldn't be beaten because they were street cars with performance that literally matched the racecars of the day.
What made Baldwin-Motion cars truly extraordinary is that, unlike the regular factory offerings which gave a person the basic needed equipment to go fast — the engine, drivetrain, and sometimes suspension — but lacked the necessary traction, free-flowing induction, exhaust, and subsequent tuning needed to turn in fast times, Baldwin-Motion cars came with all the go-fast goodies already installed. Even ZL-1 Camaros and Shelby Mustangs couldn't match Baldwin-Motion cars for performance off the showroom floor, and to add to the appeal, Baldwin-Motion cars were still brand new factory cars with warranties and GMAC financing.
While any Baldwin-Motion offering was a fully tuned, ready-to-drive performance car, it was the Phase III cars that set the mark. They literally belched out 500+ horsepower, would tootle your butt to work, and destroy competition on the weekends. Buying a Phase III car meant 11-second time slips — guaranteed. It was part of the warranty that a Baldwin-Motion Phase III car — with an approved driver on an approved track — would run 11.50s at 120 miles per hour.
As great as we remember our stock plain-Jane Camaros, Mustangs, and Barracudas being, they didn't provide the true awe of the Muscle Car legend. Truth be-told, while they don't drive with the same response and ferocity, a lot of four and six-cylinder commuter cars today, can beat those cars in a timed race. It was cars like those from Baldwin-Motion, and the level of performance that could be gained from a little tweaking, that were what the Golden Age of the Muscle Car was really all about. Thanks to the author Martyn Schorr and Baldwin Chevrolet, no one screamed performance quite like Joel Rosen and his Motion Performance-built Supercars.
This book is the story behind the legend of the Baldwin-Motion cars that was created by the man and his passion. The following is a look at what's inside.
The Foreword paints a vivid picture of the era Motion Performance existed in, written by well-known automotive journalist Joe Oldham, who lived the '60s Muscle Car experience and is the author's long-time friend.
In the Introduction, the author gives his perspective on the Muscle Car Era and Motion Performance, instilling a keen sense of his involvement with Joel Rosen, Motion Performance, and the culture that erupted around performance cars during the late '60s and early '70s, lending a down-to-earth feel to the tales told throughout the rest of the book.
Chapter 1: Muscle in America
Chapter 1 takes a look back over the history of performance cars in America with a focus on independent car builders like Motion. I've done a lot of studying of the history of the automobile and I'm quite familiar with the course the automobile has traversed throughout time around the world, however, I was unaware of the past of the niche manufacturer. Not merely hot rodders or customizers, these small businesses manufactured — sometimes for the larger car companies — vehicle models based on or entirely of their own design, small runs of cars bent on raising the performance bar. As this chapter points out, there's been a long history of people looking for greater performance stretching back to the dawn of the automobile and that's where shops like Motion Performance have made their name — by giving the performance enthusiast the means to exercise their need for speed.
Chapter 2: Joel Rosen and the Motion Mystique Part 1: The Early Years, 1957-1966
This chapter goes into Joel Rosen's early automotive life. It takes a unique look at the events and cars leading up to the creation of Motion Performance — and, incidentally, exemplifies two of my most important automotive mantras: knowledge is horsepower and a car's not finished until it's tuned. Rosen's tuning was the reputation that Motion Performance was built on.
Chapter 3: A Tale of Two Cobras
I've been aware of Motion Performance and its Camaros since I started getting into cars at 16, and I've been a huge fan of Cobras since that time, too, but I wasn't aware the two crossed paths until I read this book. Because of my fascination with Cobras and racing, I found this chapter very interesting. Besides my own personal interest, it was actually an interesting chapter. I had no idea they stroked small block Fords back in the '60s. Now I am more learned. Oh, and these were the cars that put Motion Performance on the map. I always thought it was the Chevys. Go figure.
Chapter 4: Joel Rosen and the Motion Mystique Part 2: The Supercar Years
I wouldn't have wanted to be a speed merchant during the end of the first Muscle Car Era. I'm sure the government made it no fun, and from the sounds of Chapter 4, Motion Performance was singled out for the "no fun" treatment. Of course, during the those years from '67 to '74 it also sounded like it was one hell of a ride coming out with the performance Chevys that would make Joel Rosen, Motion Performance, and Baldwin-Motion cars famous to this day. This chapter is all about his 500 horsepower Corvettes, Camaros, and even Vegas. Yep, big block powered Vegas. I like the way Rosen thinks.
Chapter 5: Baldwin-Motion: Legendary Performance, Cult Status
Chapter 5 takes a look at the cars themselves, and the storied history that was built up with and around them. It covers everything done at Motion from the fall of '66-'05, including the new Baldwin-Motion cars — extremely limited edition high-powered Camaros. It's funny to think that Joel Rosen had resistance over getting one car — a Camaro — to work his magic on, but the sales staff at Baldwin Chevrolet actually had a cow about losing one of the hot new Camaros to sell. Luckily for everyone, the deal happened and the rest is Muscle Car history.
Chapter 6: Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday, Round 1
Ford's slogan said it all and Joel Rosen had been taking advantage of the idea since before Ford turned it into a marketing phrase. Nowhere was that more apparent than with his first Camaro racecar. It was that car that built the mystique behind the legend and began the success of the Baldwin-Motion program. Chapter 6 looks back at the amazing transformation of the Camaro from merely a popular Mustang-fighter to a fire breathing legend on the drag strip.
Chapter 7: 1967: The Chevelle with Three Lives
One of one — talk about rare. Outside of customs and prototypes, that's not an easy thing to find — this is a production car, after all. Even Carroll Shelby's uber-special twin-supercharged Cobras and Chevrolet's ZL-1 Corvettes came in twos. However, of the '67 Baldwin-Motion SS-427 Chevelles, there's only one. Not one left, but only one made. That it survived is almost a miracle in and of itself. Now I want a project '67 Chevelle with a 427.
Chapter 8: 1967: Motion Supercar Club
Join the Motion Supercar Club and get free dyno tuning. That's beyond awesome. Now, when I first heard about the Motion Supercar Club, I figured it was an exclusive club for owners of Motion cars. The kind of thing that happens when something gets popular enough — like Baldwin-Motion cars — to support its own culture. Not true, I discovered after reading this chapter. It was for anyone who wanted to pay the $5 membership fee. How awesome is that. Too bad it went bye-bye in 1971.
Chapter 9: 1967: In Memoriam
The story of the Ko-Motion Corvette is one of war, star-crossed love, and lost dreams. On August 27th, 1968, Charlie Snyder — known as Astoria Chas to his friends and fellow racers — was killed only a few months after arriving in Vietnam. He left behind a fiancé, family, friends, and a dream of attaining a national record in his beloved '67 Corvette Roadster. The story and legend of Ko-Motion didn't end with its first owner, however — it had only just begun — and is the most interesting in the entire book.
Chapter 10: 1967: Baldwin-Motion Iso Grifo, Hot and Rare
The Iso Grifo is a car I was never aware of, that Motion Performance made only one was something I was equally unaware of. It's a pretty car. It's Italian and it came from the factory with a small block Chevy. Apparently even automakers in Europe were aware of the advantages American V8 engines had — especially at that time. The one of one Baldwin-Motion Iso Grifo started life powered by a 340 horsepower 327, but ended up being powered by a modified LT-1 engine supplied by none other than Zora Arkus-Duntov. If you've never seen one, imagine a first generation Firebird, but with rounder, more flowing lines, and a Corvette suspension — that's kinda close.
Chapter 11: 1967: Indian Uprising on Sunrise Highway
Before this book, I knew about the Royal Bobcat GTOs, they're legendary. What I didn't know is that Motion had modded one as well. Not just a GTO, but a Royal Bobcat GTO — and got 20 more horses out of it at the rear wheels, too. Another thing I didn't know was that Motion used that car to create its own mod kit — called a Topcat Kit — similar to the Royal Pontiac Bobcat Kit. Another thing I never knew is that this Topcat Kit was available for virtually all makes and models of Muscle Cars — Ford, GM, and Mopar. I like kits, there's a good reason for that: A properly engineered kit takes out the guess work. For those of you who haven't tried your own custom combination before, let me share with you a little gem of knowledge: if you don't have the engineering and financial resources to engineer a car like the factory, the chances of you putting a combination together that will run as well as the factory combo does is negligible.
Chapter 12: 1968: Muscle for the Masses
As amazing as the Baldwin-Motion program was in 1967, in 1968 it went up to the next notch with the Phase III option netting the buyer a 500-horse 427 and the option for a custom L-88 427 putting out nearly 600 horses. If you wanted fast, there wasn't a better place to go than Motion for a production car. In fact, it was a Baldwin-Motion '68 Camaro fitted with the custom L-88 427 that won the World Championship Series at Englishtown in the A/Modified Production class. It even beat out '69 COPO ZL-1 Camaros to do it.
Chapter 13: Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday, Round 2
Drag racing is fun and in 1968 — like 1967 — it sold Baldwin-Motion cars because a Motion car was winning. It was a fierce battle between Motion shop foreman Bill Mitchell and the legendary Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins. The goal was to set another national record and the two ended up swapping it throughout the season. However, unlike the other Motion cars which were outfitted with as much as a 600-horse 427, this one was modded with a 466 putting out an undisclosed amount of power...but it was enough to run the first A/MP class run in the 10s.
Chapter 14: 1968: The Corvette Connection
This chapter is about one of my favorite cars ever built — the 1968 Chevrolet Corvette. Lots of people have said it got fat, that the Corvette became less of a sports car in 1968. I disagree. Yeah, it got heavier but it got something else, too: bigger wheel wells for wider tires. And in my opinion, it got better looking. While a 427 Cobra idealized, for me, what a car should drive like, the 1968-1972 Corvette epitomized what it should look like. Joel Rosen and Motion Performance put those two together and made the Corvette a real fire-breather. As far as I'm concerned a Phase III 500 horsepower monster pretty much made the ideal performance car at the time. It could be driven to work on Monday, and would destroy competition at the track on Sunday.
Chapter 15: 1968: The Good Olds Days
Put this entire chapter under the "I did not know before I read this book" heading. There were Motion Oldsmobiles. Granted, early on in the book, I read that Joel Rosen's first car was an Olds, but I'd never even heard that Motion Performance built Oldsmobiles like the Baldwin-Motion Chevrolets before this. For you Oldsmobile fans who were unaware of this lore — like me — there were some Motion prepped 350, 400, and 455s out there. The dealer program lasted all of a year, but Motion continued to prep Olds' on its own after the dealer program fell through.
Chapter 16: 1969: The Number One Team
1969 was the pinnacle year for Baldwin-Motion cars. If you wanted to go so fast pro race teams wish they could catch you, and drive your car home after blowing their doors off, all you had to do was drop a few thousand dollars off at the Baldwin dealership and a Phase III car was yours. Whether you wanted a Camaro, Nova, Chevelle, Corvette, or even a luxury boat Impala, all you had to do was ask and one would be delivered to you with a 500-horse 427 big block capable of running with — or down — anyone. And if that wasn't enough, you could always ask for more. More displacement, more power, and more speed — up to and including a 600-horse 482 big block powered Corvette capable of hitting the 10s, topping out at 160, and tootling around town as your daily driver. If you were a Muscle Car person, 1969 was your year.
Chapter 17: 1969: Have Muscle Will Travel
...Unless, of course, you want to take your muscle across the border to Mexico. Apparently, in the 1960's and '70's, it was very difficult to get import permits to send American cars into Mexico. At least that's what was written in Chapter 17. This chapter is about the first Baldwin-Motion car I was ever aware of — a green and white 1969 Phase III Camaro — which, I read about in a magazine as a teenager. Originally purchased by Roberto Schneider, a Mexican citizen, he also bought a '69 Chevelle at the same time (the Chevelle was for his fiancé). He found a unique solution to the import problem: the cars never left the country. Instead, the Schneider's garaged the cars in El Paso, Texas and visited them. I guess if you love your cars enough, you go visit them when they can't come see you.
Chapter 18: 1969: Phase III GT, Grand Touring American Style
Ok, so there's a shortcoming to one of my favorite cars, the early C3 Corvettes. It's called luggage space. Sure, if you've got more than one other person to putter around with, it also lacks extra seating, but, you've just bought a Corvette. It came with nothing less than a 300 horsepower 327. For some reason, I don't think ferrying passengers is high on your list of priorities. And if you bought it Baldwin-Motion style, I'd really have to question your interest in people moving — well, other than yourself. However, Joel Rosen, bless his heart, believed in having a multifaceted vehicle. One that could be raced on the weekends and driven across the country if you so chose, thus he designed his Phase III GT. You know, it's the one with those unique integral headlights and split-slit taillights. It could be had with everything from a 350-horse 350 to a 500-horse 427 capable of 12.3s with closed exhaust and street tires — your average people mover.
Chapter 19: 1970: New and Improved Camaro is Worth the Wait
A lot of people I talk to don't much like the Gen II Camaro, but I think the early ones are awesome. And, like it or not, they do have much improved suspensions and chassis over the Gen Is. I know that they aren't as cool as the originals and they are more portly, but still not beyond the ability of a 454 to motivate — especially with 500 horsepower. In fact, like the '68s and '69s, that's what Joel Rosen did, just with a bigger 500 horsepower engine. Chevrolet had just unveiled its 454 engine — and it became the standard motivator for base-model Baldwin-Motion cars that year — which meant all the power of the 427 with more torque to get them going.
Chapter 20: 1970: Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday, Round 3
Although the Camaro got bigger in 1970, for Motion Performance, it only got faster. With the previous generation Camaro, Bill Mitchell had been able to take the A/MP record with a blistering 10.98 run, but the Gen II bad boy that replaced it would absolutely decimate that number with a 9.54 @ 145.16 miles per hour, in 1974.
Chapter 21: 1970: Bill Mitchell Shrinks the Supercar
While it wasn't until 2001 that Fast and the Furious came out spawning an awareness of import and small engine performance to the entire planet, Motion was already there in 1970 when Bill Mitchell left Motion Performance, and along with Joel Rosen and the author, Martyn Schorr, launched Motion Minicar. While these new cars have fancy turbochargers, fuel injection, and variable valve timing to make them get up and go, Motion did it with a normally aspirated bug engine...in 1970. How fast? You could get your bug with an 85 horsepower 1.4-liter all the way up to a 150 horsepower 2.2-liter. Not a lot by Muscle Car standards — especially Motion Muscle Car standards — but in a lightweight bug chassis, that was some considerable go power. However, that wasn't the most impressive feat by Bill Mitchell and Motion Minicar. Try this one: a 245 horsepower N/A 2.2-liter running 11s. Or even better, the record destroying Porsche 911 built in 1973, powered by that same bug engine (ever heard of the Porsche engine swap for a bug — well think reverse) running 10.2s. It was all over by 1975, but even the import tuners today would have a tough time catching that little monster.
Chapter 22: 1971: It's Business as Usual in Baldwin
While the Golden Age of the Muscle Car was winding down for the automobile industry at large, Joel Rosen kept the flame burning, continuing to offer his SS-454 and Phase III cars, and introducing a new concept: the Maco Shark Corvette. Sound familiar? It was based on the 1965 GM show car the Mako Shark, but with a slight spelling change. 1971 also saw the final Phase III GT Corvette built — the most expensive of the 12 — and I think the most attractive, with its special one-off taillights.
Chapter 23: 1972-1975: The Handwriting is on the Wall
"All good things must come to an end," so states an English proverb and so was it true with Baldwin-Motion cars. In 1974, in part due to an article about a Motion 454 Vega, the government came-a-calling. Now, this wasn't actually a Baldwin-Motion vehicle, but a Motion side project, however, that didn't matter. They were upset about "illegal" modifications, and using the "Clean Air Act" of 1970, went about curtailing Motion's ability to modify new vehicles for high performance use. Essentially, all new vehicles modified by Motion had to have a disclaimer that said they were for off-road use only. However, that, combined with the fact that Baldwin Chevrolet was sold in September of 1973, and became Williams Chevrolet, ended the Baldwin-Motion Era. Rosen managed to survive the government crack down and Motion continued at the same location for more than a decade.
Chapter 24: 1976-1987: The End of an Era
While the government limitations placed on Motion Performance did hamper building new high performance cars for the street, it didn't stop Joel Rosen from continuing to build cars for export and off-road use. A few cars were produced, like the 1984 Phase III Camaro with a turbo or supercharged 350 putting out 400+ horsepower — of which three were made. While Rosen created a few cars like the '84 Camaro, the business shied away from promoting performance cars and focused on aftermarket body kits allowing people to create their own cars with Motion flare.
Chapter 25: 2005: Motion Redux
Rosen and Motion, like the Muscle Car, got real quiet for a while. Now, however, both are back. Motion is again churning out wicked-fast rides with three new Camaros — its signature car — the SuperCoupe and SuperSpeedster, which are '69 Camaros that have been completely updated with modern technology and 450-700+ horse big blocks, and the all new Phase IV Motion 5 based on the new Gen 5 platform. While the SuperCoupe and SuperSpeedster are limited to a production run of 12, the Phase IV Motion 5 Camaro is available from select Chevrolet dealers. Like the Muscle Car phenomenon itself, Motion wasn't gone forever, just quiet until it could rear its awesomely fierce head once again.
Reading this book is an entertaining look back through time full of unique anecdotes about one of the most interesting stories to come from the Muscle Car Era — that of Joel Rosen and Motion Performance.
I highly recommend Motion Performance: Tales of a Muscle Car Builder to any car enthusiast. It provides incredible insight into an era and an industry that touched many, but were known by only a few.
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