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1968 Chevrolet Corvette L88 Roadster - The Leviathan

This Motion-built L88 Roadster Brutalizes All Other Contenders

Kevin Shaw Nov 1, 2006
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Hewn from ancient lore and mythical Hebrew legend, the leviathan roamed the ocean's nethermost depths. Gargantuan in size, titan in power, the fabled nautical goliath devoured everything that meandered across its path. If the renowned big-block Stingrays of the '60s and '70s warranted the colloquial moniker "sharks," one of the most feared creatures in the sea, then this super-rare, one-of-one Motion Phase III roadster surely deserves the greater of the two titles.

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Equipped from the Baldwin, New York, shop in the fall of 1968 with the famed L88, aluminum headed 427, a close-ratio M21 four-speed manual transmission, and insanely tall 4.88 gears, the reborn drag racer stood as the pinnacle of aftermarket-modified, factory Bow Tie power. In the midst of Yenko Chevelles, Novas, Camaros, and Hurst-built 442 W-30 Oldsmobiles, the few street machines to roll out from under the garage doors of Joel Rosen's Motion Performance in those years were quick to claim the due street "cred" that a race-car-made-for-the-road could demand.

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As the aftermarket has matured into one of the nation's continually growing industries, comparing high-power numbers is a subjective matter. Humble Monte Carlos that once came with lowly Quadrajet-equipped 350s now can coerce over 600 hp from a modified 454 for less than the cost to paint the same vehicle. Power is easily available and readily affordable, but things were not so over 38 years ago. With the General that year offering the potent L71 427 powerplant that eagerly unleashed all its 435 ponies onto the city streets (and that number being a modest admittance to the engine's true 500hp production), many die-hard enthusiasts looked for other means to eke out further muscle for that needed edge over the Blue Oval and Hemi-loving demographic. But the power to put the legendary 426 Hemi and the 429 Boss-equipped competition back on the trailer would come at a hefty price.

Joel Rosen, the proprietor of Motion Performance, also held a stake in the Long Island dealership, Baldwin Chevrolet, in those years. Keenly aware of the need for more and more power out of street-legal machines, Joel began to offer modified performance machines through his speed shop via the dealership floor.

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Part of the performance upgrades for the aluminum-topped 427 was this capacitive discharge ignition labeled for specific Phase III usage.

What this profitable marriage begat was a series of signature vehicles that threw subtly to the dogs-these newly modified Baldwin/Motion vehicles were distinguished with a faux wood steering wheel, custom gauges, mirrors, a polished gas cap, and a Stinger-style bulge hood. The ascetics might have hinted to the hybrid's potential, but it was the absurd quantity of earth-shaking, stump-pulling muscle that galvanized the car's legendary status in modern street racer lore. The big-inch monster was generously warmed over from the factory specs, receiving a more aggressive profile and ignition upgrades. Lightweight with big tires and way too much power was an unbeatable combination, and the Baldwin/Motion cars had it in spades. The few Corvettes to have undergone this transmogrification received slightly more attention than those A- and F-Bodies. Necessary fender flares were integrated into the fiberglass panels, allowing for wider rubber that would wrap around the signature polished AP slot mags with special Motion center caps. A pair of customized Motion Performance gills graced the sides below the L/88 Motion badges. The track-ready, flip-top gas cap looked more suited for a spin on the Le Mans course than down Woodward Avenue. The Phase III label across the rear valance was the last thing the rivalry saw of the fleeing roadster. What distinguishes this particular '68 Phase III Corvette from any others (Joel Rosen confirms that only two Corvette roadsters were modified by Motion Performance for that year) is that it wasn't completed until two years ago.

Purchased as a L36 convertible in 1968 from a New Jersey Chevrolet dealership, this Corvette was driven to the Long Island facility shortly thereafter. Unlike the usual Baldwin-modified vehicles, which were considered direct delivery cars, this roadster was purchased elsewhere and modified after the purchase. The original 427 was traded for a factory-delivered crate L88 with the much-desired aluminum, rectangle-port "porcupine-style" heads. The engine would be modified, fitted with hard-squeezing 12:1 compression pistons, a special Phase III capacitive-discharge ignition, a big Holley 950-cfm three-barrel carburetor, and Motion valve covers. The factory ring-and-pinion were traded for massive 4.88 gears, and the factory Rally's were traded for the polished slot mags mounted to that already stout heavy-duty stock suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. The Corvette was prepped and painted in the nearly ink-black acrylic Fathom Blue with Polar White accents and striping, even recovering its removable hard top. Uncorked headers dumped the fumes out polished side pipes that gave away the Corvette's position from miles away. It must have been too much to handle for the original owner because the hard-hitting plant was extracted from the beast's belly and swapped with a small-block LT1 sometime over the 30 years since its rebirth as a Motion-built machine.

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In this condition, the Phase III was sold to Bow Tie enthusiast, restorer, and collector, Dave Belk from Davenport, Iowa. It was Dave and his wife, Leanne, who helped bring this car back together. As investigations turned up empty-handed, Dave and Leanne opted to vie for an identical L88 that would befit their Phase III. Their labors proved fruitful as Thomas Billigen offered them the sale of a Yenko-built L88 pulled years earlier from his '68 COPO-clone Camaro. Thomas purchased the crate engine from Yenko Chevrolet in 1970, lowering it into his '68 F-Body for the sole purpose of dominating the local 1320. Thomas must have gotten his fill, because a year later, the Camaro and its unrivaled powerplant were sold off. The L88 would be pulled from the Camaro, bagged, stored, uncovered, and rebuilt by late drag racing engine aficionado, D.A. Santucci of Glen Willard, Pennsylvania. The big-block was never commissioned for service and remained untouched for the following 25 years. The L88 would be dusted off again and dropped back into the same Camaro in 2001, where it would trade hands once again. Two years later, Thomas would be reunited with his long-lost '68 and the same monster powerplant. Since Thomas still had the original engine from the engine swap in 1970, he decided to sell the lightweight contender to the Belks. Dave Belk happily snatched up the L88 and sent it off to Dave Hoskins of D&R Engines in Marion, Iowa. There the engine would be put through the ranks, totally disassembled, blueprinted, and reassembled in the best likeness of the orginal mill that the craftsmen at Motion Performance built. Well, almost. Dave snuck in an aggressive Crane bumpstick, lifters, and taut valvesprings, along with high-flow Hooker headers, an Edelbrock Tarantula single-plane intake, and a Holley 780 double-pumper in lieu of the original three-barrel. Hoskins would dyno tune the L88 to an astounding 700 hp with nothing but its own will and determination-no nitrous, no power-adders, all motor. Along with the engine rebuild, the roadster was carefully restored, along with changing the rear gear to a more street accommodating 3.73 ratio.

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Before the Corvette would be debuted at the 2004 Forge Muscle Car Show in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, shortly after the restoration's completion, Dave had Joel Rosen himself certify the Phase III's authenticity. Joel verified that the roadster was built after the car's sale and not a purchased vehicle through Baldwin Chevrolet; making it only the latter half of a Baldwin/Motion Chevrolet. Since the unveiling of the super uncommon '68 roadster it has graced the pages of several other periodicals, showcasing its heritage for hundreds of thousands of readers and subscribers. Within the short banner year, Dave also had the Corvette professionally appraised. The fair market value ranked upwards to a clean quarter of a million dollars. Dana Mecum of Mecum Auctions then bought the car from Dave. Dana apparently only owned the car a short time.

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That is where the car's current owner, J.C. Cherry, comes in. The Dallas, Texas, resident paid an undisclosed sum to Mecum and took the Phase III home to join his other Vettes, which include a '57, a '68, a '90 ZR-1, a '99 Callaway, and an '01 Z06 race car. J.C. expressed his love for this car to Corvette Fever, stating the L88 is now happily driven nearly as much as it's shown at national and local events.

For being one of the single most enigmatic and beastly Corvettes to be produced, it's reaffirming to know that it's alive and well and still terrorizing the competition in the great state of Texas.



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