The biggest and baddest Chevrolet supercar creator was Long Island's Baldwin Chevrolet, working in combination with Joel Rosen's Motion Performance speed shop located nearby. Notoriously documented in the New York street-racing scene by several regionally-based magazines, the Baldwin/Motion cars were rigorously "tested" by the shop crews on the street and strip. By the time the car shown here was built, Motion Performance was building them by itself as an aftermarket speed company, though a rumored letter from the federal government regarding smog controls would end that process soon afterward. Regardless, authenticated Motion cars are among the most coveted musclecars today.
It is fitting that the background behind the '73 Camaro shown here features a Ferris wheel and a go-cart track. While many would argue there was nothing funny about anything Baldwin/Motion ever turned out, the truth is that these cars were built for fun-especially if that fun included cleaning somebody's clock for $100 or more on a Saturday night. Cars built by either Motion Performance, or sold though the former Baldwin/Motion combination, were always on the "jagged edge" between fun and frenzy; this one is no exception. The Motion supercar ads once claimed its vehicles let you "take an attitude"-there is no question that this package could let you back that boasting up.
Nonetheless, by 1973, when this car finally came down the production line at the Norwood, Ohio, factory, muscle was on its way out. Indeed, some artwork ads that Motion ran in this era showed a Motion 454 Camaro among gravestones marked "426 Hemi" and "429 Mustang." Sure, you could still get a 455 Trans Am, a 400 Dodge Charger, and even the 401 Javelin, but it was the way Motion prepped any car they offered for sale that made all the difference.
For example, how about fuel economy? One option that Motion offered was the Hone overdrive unit, which converted that nasty 4.88 gear in the back to a streetable 3.42. Now, a 454 engine was not going to get mileage like a Vega regardless, but every little bit counted. And, with your cash up front, owner Joel Rosen and his crew gave you what you bargained for-in Phase III trim with the ZL/X 454" engine, Rosen guaranteed the car could crank off a time of 11.00 or better upon delivery!
Engine packages were advertised in the magazines regularly, and included the Z/30 350-inch small-block (three variations: 400-, 425-, and the 475-horse race monster, which boasted a $2,995 pricetag), the Phase III 427-inch Rat (a 450-, a 550-, and a 600-horse edition that was also $2,995 over the counter), and the 454 LS-package (475-, 575-, and the big 625-horse example, with a $3,495 sticker and a recommendation for either Modified Production or Pro Stock racing). In addition to the engine mods, complete cars included suspension upgrades, as well.
Our car got the Phase III 454 engine rated at 575 hp, the TurboHydro 400 transmission (but no Hone-O-Drive), and a 4.10 ring in the back, aided by Motion's infamous Phase III ignition parts and Superbite suspension pieces. This particular car also included the Motion-designed Phase III paint scheme, American mag wheels, and a rollbar for safety in case the fun got out of hand.
The purchaser was a Virginia-based truck driver/tow truck operator named Butch Ongaro. While making a delivery one day on Long Island in mid-1973, he passed Motion Performance's business on Sunrise Boulevard and this car was out on the lot for sale, brand new. Having just sold his '68 Camaro drag car, he stopped in for a look, talked with Rosen and Motion mechanic/car builder Dominick LoPinto about its potential, and dropped $300 cash down with a promise to bring the rest later that week. He and a friend (who was a police officer) came back with the other $7,700 and the car came down to Virginia. Butch recalled that Joel and company, who were already getting some heat from the authorities, were pretty uptight about his cohort, and made certain it was understood the car was built for race use.
That wasn't a problem, since it was almost immediately pressed into drag strip duty for the next 10 years, taking home some victories for its busy owner. As a result of the racing, some things were changed over the years. But, with a son approaching driving age in 1983, Butch decided to send the car on to greener pastures.
Well, as you might imagine, his son, Chris, was none too happy to have missed his chance at driving the car, and he managed to track it down again several years later and buy it himself! He and Butch restored it in the early 1990s as a mild custom, and then Butch bought it back from Chris. It took a lot of car show awards, and Butch resold it a few years ago, this time to a Florida man in trade for some cash and a Corvette. Iowa collector Dave Belk bought the car from that owner in 2004 based on a tip he got from car locator Tim Lopata. It had shown up on the cover of Old Car Trader, with no mention of its Motion heritage, but Lopata remembered it from a chance encounter years earlier.
"Tim had seen the car when Butch owned in the 1990s," says Belk. "Though he and Butch had lost touch, he knew exactly what it was after calling the seller and getting the story. He called me right away and said if I wanted a Second-Gen Motion Camaro, this was it, and to get my money there as quick as I could!"
It was still in show car shape, though it had been slightly modified over the years, both for racing and when Butch and Chris restored it. It still sports Motion's shop-installed rollbar, but the 454 Phase III 475-horse mill featured a rebuild done in the 1990s by a couple of Butch's NASCAR buddies, and also had a custom tweed interior. The car was also repainted Rallye Green, and the Superbite suspension had been replaced by a conventional layout.
"I did need a new hood; the L88 Motion version had been cut during its racing days," says Dave. "We repainted it to the original colors; Butch had hated the Motion Phase III paint scheme so much he had gotten it repainted only seven days after buying it. Also, the suspension set-up under this car right now is so nice I decided to forego looking for all of the Motion gear for that. After Jimi Day at Imagine Motorsports redid the interior, I found a set of the right American 200 rims, and the car was basically ready to be shown...and driven!"
The paperwork is completely in order on this car, more so than many of its speedshop-built contemporaries. The Belks have a letter from Butch and Nancy Ongaro with the original story on the car; a letter from "Mr. Motion" Joel Rosen authenticating it (plus there are two places on the car itself that now bear Rosen's signature), and a letter from mechanic Dom LoPinto regarding his work to put the car together originally.
Though it has some changes, it is a close to a Motion time capsule from 1973 as you are likely to see, and one of only a handful that has survived the last 30-plus years. In the world of musclecars, that is indeed freaky...or maybe we should say it is just "pretty freakin' cool."
Supercar Fact Box
Vehicle: '73 454 Camaro
Owners: Dave and Leanne Belk, Davenport, IA
Dealer: Motion Performance
Original OEM Package: 350 LT-1
Driveline Mods: 475-horse Phase III 454, manual-shift Turbo-Hydro 400, 4.10 gearing
Suspensions mods: Superbite traction aids (now removed), American wheels
Body Mods: Four-point rollbar, Phase III striping package, L88 hood, spoiler package