We started building Phase III GTs to order in 1969, with production ending in 1971," Joel Rosen told us. "The GT was just too expensive for the audience that we had cultivated for big-block Camaros, Chevelles, Novas, and our $3,000 SS-427 Street Racer Special Biscaynes. The most expensive GT built, the air-conditioned '70 Daytona Yellow GT that Thomas Squire ordered on February 2nd, 1970, went out the door for over $13,000 including delivery to Los Angeles, Calfornia. It's one of only three GTs accounted for today." Squire's Phase III GT, powered by a blueprinted 535hp Phase III 454, had been clocked at 0-to-60 mph in 4.4 seconds with a top speed of over 150 mph prior to delivery. The engine was backed up by a modified Turbo 400 automatic fitted with a Hone Overdrive which allowed high-speed cruising with the 4.88 rear gears. It spent most of its life in the Warner Brothers studio fleet and was found by Rosen in the early 1990s finished in black paint that looked as though it were applied with a brush! It was restored for Rosen by New Jersey Corvette specialists Randy Bianchi and John Walleck for its "coming out party" at the 1993 New York Auto Show. Fortunately, Rosen was able to supply the car's original paperwork including customer invoice and shop orders, insuring the restoration would be totally accurate. It remained in Rosen's personal collection until last year. "Although we only sold few GTs, we ended up doing an incredible business marketing individual GT body parts and conversion kits to shops that specialized in customizing Corvettes," said Rosen.
Aside from the obvious performance and styling that Corvette enthusiasts couldn't get from Chevrolet, the Baldwin-Motion GT Corvette offered an A/C option with its highest-horsepower solid-lifter engines. That's right, 500-plus-hp, open-chamber heads, solid lifter cam, and air conditioning! When a Baldwin-Motion Corvette customer ordered an ultra-high-performance powertrain and air conditioning, Rosen simply ordered the Corvette from Chevrolet with the highest-horsepower engine option that was available with air conditioning. With the in-car plumbing in place, it was possible to build a monster air-conditioned Corvette. To keep the revs down during high-speed cruising and extend air-conditioner compressor life, Rosen suggested also ordering a Hone Overdrive which worked with automatic as well as four-speed transmissions. It reduced the final drive ratio (numerically) by a full 30 percent (4.88/3.42:1).
During this period Rosen limited Motion's racing activities primarily to big-block Camaros running in A/Modified Production. By winning a lot and setting AHRA and NHRA records with a succession of big-inch Camaros (driven first by Bill Mitchell and later by Dennis Ferrara), Rosen insured a big-following for the Baldwin-Motion Camaros that formed the basis for his specialty car business. He sponsored some high-profile small- and big-block Camaros campaigned by name-brand drag racers to keep Motion in front of the fans. In addition to KO-MOTION Rosen was also a sponsor of the NHRA record-setting drag racing Corvettes campaigned by Floridian Bo Laws.
Not long after successfully debuting the Phase III GT Corvette Rosen got involved in building and marketing replicas of Chevrolet's Mako Shark Corvette showcar, the concept car that was the forerunner of the production '68 Stingray. He showed a prototype in 1970, complete with louvered and tapered backlight, tilt frontend and a multihued blue shark paint job. Badged as the Baldwin-Motion "Maco Shark" (to avoid a conflict with GM), Rosen did a brisk business building replicas and marketing body conversion kits.
The 1970s ushered in both good and bad times for Rosen and his burgeoning Baldwin-Motion empire. While demand for his products was still strong and growing, the handwriting was on the wall. Large cubic-inch gas guzzlers were becoming politically incorrect and were attracting unwanted attention from the EPA and DOT. Also, the Clean Air Act of 1970 was looming large and casting a pall over the speed shop and high-performance parts business from coast to coast. The extensive press coverage of Baldwin-Motion big-block cars plus the "in your face" advertising, did not go unnoticed in Washington. Still, Rosen continued to build ultra-high-performance small- and big-block engined Chevrolet products.
Rosen's Baldwin-Motion Corvette portfolio included Phase III GTs (1969 1/2-1971), Maco Sharks (1970-1974), Manta Rays (1974-1976) and finally the custom fat-fendered, "Can-Am" Spyder (1978-1979). The Manta Ray was a very sleek Corvette that showcased some of the best features of both the Shark and the GT. The first Spyder debuted at the New York Rod and Custom Show as a show car, evolving later into a dual purpose road car.
During these years Rosen also hedged his bet, expanding into more socially-acceptable small-displacement projects. He started Motion Minicar, building dune buggys and street and strip VWs with Minicar partner Bill Mitchell who later became a legend in his own right in the hardcore Chevrolet racing parts field. Prior to Minicar, Mitchell had worked for Rosen as a mechanic, shop manager, and driver of the record-setting Baldwin-Motion A/MP Camaro. Minicar also had several NHRA record holders, including Mitchell's unstoppable ThunderBug gasser which owned the H/Gas record. Rosen further diversified into boats, building and marketing signature bored and stroked big-inch, big-block Chevy Tunnel Port motors.
Not long after Chevrolet introduced the subcompact Vega, Rosen wasted no time stuffing V-8s into brand new as well as customer cars. It was during the V-8 Vega period that Rosen knew it wouldn't be long before the government tried to put his lights out for good. The Arab oil embargo also had a chilling effect on the business and if there was one car that brought the government's wrath down on Motion, it was the 454ci big-block Baldwin-Motion Vega that Car Craft did a feature on in January 1974. The title, "King Kong Is Living On Long Island." Rosen had built some 427 and 454 Vegas and these subcompact screamers pushed the envelope well beyond the Feds' limits! First came the "suits" sniffing around, followed by a summons from the Justice Department, "U.S. Government Against Motion Performance." Citing the Clean Air Act of 1970, Uncle Sam threatened fines as high as $10,000 per anti-smog device removed. In some situations that would translate into fines up to $40,000 to $50,000 per car sold!
Not having access to really high-powered counsel and the financial means to survive a long, drawn-out trial, Rosen and his lawyer negotiated a settlement with the Justice Department, agreeing to pay a $500 fine and to "cease and desist" building brand-new Baldwin-Motion high-performance cars. The agreement effectively forced the shut down of his core business. "Thinking that Baldwin-Motion was bigger than it really was because of all the editorial coverage we received, the EPA and DOT targeted us to make an example. They wanted to shut down the biggest specialty car builder, thus putting the fear of 'big brother' into everyone else," said Rosen.
The last official new Baldwin-Motion Corvette was a 1974 big-block Phase III Corvette powered by a blueprinted 427 L88 engine. It now resides in Dan McMichael's collection in Indianapolis, Indiana, along with the first Baldwin-Motion Maco Shark and the '70 Daytona Yellow Phase III GT that Rosen had in his collection. Musclecar collector Kevin Suydam in Washington state also owns a Phase III GT as well as the Phase III SS-427 Corvette that had earlier been in Otis Chandler's collection for many years.
But that wasn't the end of the Motion story. Rosen survived the Federal onslaught and the Arab oil embargo and continued at the same location on Sunrise Highway selling speed equipment and building high-performance Corvettes and Camaros (customer-supplied "donor" vehicles) for enthusiasts both here and abroad. Cars built for domestic use came with a disclaimer, "This vehicle does not comply with DOT and EPA regulations and is for off-road use only" signed by both Rosen and its owner. Several Baldwin-Motion cars also ended up being exported out of the country. Exporting cars was no big deal for Rosen who first started shipping Baldwin-Motion Supercars out of the country in 1967. Records show that from 1967 through the late-1970s, Baldwin-Motion cars made their way to: Mexico, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, England, Iceland, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Also, Motion Minicar's Bill Mitchell built a high-performance dune buggy for Haiti's "Baby Doc" Duvalier. It was for his birthday and was gift-wrapped (seriously), trailered into New York City, and delivered by Mitchell and Rosen to Duvalier's birthday party at the Gramercy Park Hotel!
While Joel Rosen has been out of the specialty car building business for years he still markets some Motion-branded parts and pieces and maintains contact with Baldwin-Motion Supercar owners, collectors and fans. He also documents Baldwin-Motion cars for prospective buyers. In recent years he has applied the Motion marketing magic to custom military scale models and has again created a Motion mystique (www.motionmodels.com). His wife Judith, who worked side by side with him during the building and running of Motion Performance, continues to work with him at Motion Models. "When I saw a Corvette for the first time more than four decades ago," said Rosen, "it was love at first sight. That love affair is still very much alive. I still miss the freewheeling Baldwin-Motion days and, if the right opportunity came along, I'd jump back into building Corvette Supercars cars in a New York minute."
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 through 1974. 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.