More than three decades ago, 33 years to be exact, eight-year-old Glen Spielberg was with his classmates from PS 272 in Brooklyn, New York, on a trip to the library when he saw something that would have a profound affect on his life. He spotted a one-year-old '67 Corvette adorned with "KO-MOTION" on its front fenders and "Astoria Chas" on its doors being pushed out of a garage to let another car out. He recognized it immediately from stories and photos he had seen in CARS and SPEED & SUPERCAR magazines.
It was local drag racer Charlie Snyder's L88 Corvette, built and tuned by Joel Rosen at Motion Performance. Eight-year-old Glen was already a big fan of Rosen's ground-pounding Motion-Baldwin Phase lll Supercars, especially the 427 Camaros and Corvettes, and was mesmerized by this gold-leaf-lettered race car. As far as he was concerned, the trip to the library was over!
"I tried, with no success, to convince my mother, teacher, and anyone who would listen that I could learn more staying with the Corvette than I could at the library," reminisces an older and wiser Spielberg. "I knew it wouldn't work, but I had to try."
"From the minute I first spotted KO-MOTION I knew that this was the car I wanted to own. Its image was solidly embedded in my brain that day," added Spielberg.
Young Glen knew a lot about the Corvette. What he didn't know that day in Brooklyn was that its owner, "Astoria Chas" Snyder, was going through Jump School courtesy of Uncle Sam. He wouldn't find out until reading my editorial in the January 1969 issue of CARS Magazine that Charlie had been killed. Shortly after arriving in Vietnam with the First Cavalry, this 19-year-old's life was snuffed out by a direct hit from a mortar round.
KO-MOTION left Chevrolet's St. Louis plant with a 427/435 for power and was modified and later fitted with an L88 engine at Motion Performance in Baldwin, New York. In 1967 its fresh factory paint was decorated with low-buck lettering on its front fenders and an assortment of popular speed equipment decals. Charlie Snyder was a typical "Weekend Warrior," driving his Corvette on the street during the week and drag racing it on the weekend.
Shortly after Chevrolet announced the L88 option, Motion's Rosen ordered two replacement L88 engines (actually assembled short-blocks and two sets of First Design closed-chamber aluminum heads). Rosen needed the big-blocks for two projects: Motion's NHRA national-record-setting A/MP Camaro and Charlie Snyder's KO-MOTION Corvette. The order went through Baldwin Chevrolet. Once the blueprinted and balanced L88 engine and the Corvette's suspension were sorted out, KO-MOTION received professional gold leaf lettering along with sponsorship signage from Motion, CARS Magazine, Baldwin Chevrolet, and the Motion Supercar Club.
"After checking the new L88's plugs, jetting, and timing, I made the first run down New York National Speedway in KO-MOTION. I dumped the clutch and everything hooked up. I cruised back to the pits with an impressive 124 mph/11.50 second time slip. Charlie was thrilled. We knew we had a winner," recalls Rosen who now markets custom military models (www.motionmodels.com).
It took Glen Spielberg more than 30 years to turn his childhood fantasy into an adult reality. In October 2000 he acquired what longtime Motion collector and historian Tim Penton, a police officer in Hammond, LA, considers, The Holy Grail of Motion cars. "It's one of the most desirable Motion-built cars and one of the top two on my personal hit list." Glen Spielberg enlisted the help of a network of friends and a professional locator in his quest for KO-MOTION. Ironically, by the time Glen Spielberg found the "Astoria Chas" Motion L88 Sting Ray, he was already the proud owner of two restored and documented genuine L88 Corvettes. His '67 coupe is one of 20 built; the '68 Stingray's one of 80. He also owns a show-stopping '70 LS6 Chevelle. Glen's business, Advanced Auto Body in Bellmore, New York, is just a quick 15-20 minute ride from Motion Performance where KO-MOTION was originally built!
Glen's hired gun found KO-MOTION in 1992. Charlie Snyder's Corvette convertible had been stored under wraps by Charlie's sister after its last 10-second track trip in 1969. It was trailered from the strip to storage. And that's exactly how Glen found it more than 30 years later, complete with a 10.74-second time slip under the front seat and "10.74" in shoe polish on the plexiglass back window. Its original, never renewed, 1967 New York State registration was still in the locked glove compartment!
Once Glen zeroed in on the location of the big-block racer, he opened up a dialog with Charlie's sister and brother-in-law, Sharon and John Holdorf. By that time word had leaked out that KO-MOTION was alive, well, and sequestered in a garage in Astoria, New York, the Holdorfs were inundated by phone calls. Most inquiries were from dealers and speculators who wanted to "flip" KO-MOTION to one of the many hard-core Motion collectors who tried unsuccessfully to track it down themselves. Sharon and John were not interested in selling.
Over time, Glen Spielberg convinced them of his passion for preserving KO-MOTION and its history as well as his sincerity about neither flipping it nor restoring and reselling it. The Holdorfs decided to offer Glen first right of refusal when and if they decided to sell. Glen continued calling Sharon and John a few times a year, year after year, just to keep in touch. They became friends.
John Holdorf, who had retired from the New York Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority (MTA) where he was a computer specialist, suffered a fatal heart attack in July, 2000. Sharon kept in contact with Glen and a couple of months later made the decision to finally part with her late brother's car. In October Glen Spielberg drove to Charlie's old neighborhood in Astoria and, for the first time in more than 30 years, the Marlboro Maroon Sting Ray convertible was exposed to daylight. "I felt as t hough I had just won the lottery," said Spielberg!
"I wanted KO-MOTION because it was built by Joel Rosen in the shop where he produced Baldwin-Motion Supercars and it was featured in some of my favorite magazines. It also held an AHRA A/Corvette World Record (11.04/129 mph) that was set in the owner's name after he was killed in combat in Vietnam. There's much history here," said Glen. The engine in the Corvette when the AHRA record was set was a blueprinted L88 with a Crankshaft Co. lower end, Super/Stock Thermo Rev crank, reworked L88 rods, 12.5 ForgedTrue .030-inch over pistons with Dykes rings, deep pan and a special oil pump. It also featured ported, machined and gasket-matched 107.9cc heads, Motion .610-inch lift, 310/320 degree duration Phase III "C" cam and valve train, a factory alloy intake manifold with hogged-out center divider, and a stagger-jetted 850-cfm Holley double-pumper. Hooker headers were plumbed into a factory outside exhaust system (lighter than undercar system). The Corvette was originally equipped with conventional exhausts.
Other details include Motion Super/Spark ignition with Phase III CD, 40-degrees total advance (Sunoco 260 gas), Champion N-64Y plugs gapped at .028-inch, Schiefer clutch, flywheel, Ford-type pressure plate, Lakewood scattershield, Hurst/M-22 four-speed, heat-treated 4.88 Posi, heat-treated axles, Super-Bite suspension, extensive chassis welding, 29-inch slicks (9.7 inches wide) set at 7-to-10 psi, Stahl 7.10x15-inch front tires pumped to 50 psi. Its chassis was replaced in 1968.
After Charlie's funeral Sharon and John Holdorf, and friend Al Barberio, decided to continue campaigning KO-MOTION in search of one of Charlie's dreams: a National Record. John Mahler, the Parts Manager at Baldwin Chevrolet who placed the original order for the L88 engines for Motion and was intimately involved with the Corvette, volunteered his services. Joining them were Joel Rosen and Bill Foster, both experienced drag racers. They were successful.
What eluded Charlie Snyder during his short drag racing experience honored him after he passed away. Thanks to his friends and family who campaigned KO-MOTION after he lost his life, he got the A/Corvette World Record. It went into the AHRA record books, "In Memory Of Astoria Chas!"
After the AHRA record was set, KO-MOTION's L88 engine received Crane-prepped Second Design open-chamber aluminum heads, Phase III .625-inch lift cam with needle-bearing roller rockers and a Holley three-barrel carb on an alloy high-rise manifold. A variety of heads, cams, valve trains, manifolds, and carburetors were experimented with during the 1968 and 1969 seasons. For its last runs the big-block was fitted with an 850 Holley, L88 air cleaner, fresh air hood, and stock-style rockers. It was with this combination that John Mahler got KO-MOTION into the 10s. After running 10.47 at a local strip one Sunday, Mahler and crew trailered the Corvette to Charlie's sister's house in Astoria, New York. They unloaded it, pushed it in the garage and covered it up. That's exactly where Glen Spielberg found it more than 30 years later!
Spielberg hauled the Corvette back to his shop, cleaned it up, and got it running. The original paint and lettering showed very little wear and were left untouched. With a little attention the L88 fired up, sounding as if it was ready to go back to the track. Seeing it under the lights in his shop, Glen had flashbacks to that day when he first saw KO-MOTION more than 30 years ago! KO-MOTION'scoming out party was at Chip Miller's Corvettes At Carlisle last August, where the big-block racer was seen in public for the first time since 1969. It was the centerpiece of a select group of Corvettes that Chip Miller personally assembled for his annual "Chip's Choice."
Astoria Chas' life was cut short at age 19, shortly after arriving in Vietnam. His family and friends were devastated by the news; some never recovered from the shock. Everyone who knew Charlie Snyder felt the pain and loss. Thanks to Glen Spielberg's pit-bull persistence however, KO-MOTION has been recovered after disappearing more than three decades ago. Spielberg has brought both the car and the Astoria Chas legend to the public's attention.
Charlie would be proud.
Editor's Note: Marty Schorr, the founding editor of VETTE, was the editor of CARS Magazine, one of KO-MOTION's original sponsors from the early 1960s to 1973. He photographed KO-MOTION being built at Motion, went with it to the track, and spent much time with Charlie and his crew. He is still saddened when he recalls driving to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, "The Wall," in Washington, DC, and seeing Charlie Snyder's name, along with the names of more than 58,000 other men and women who lost their lives in the war in Southeast Asia.