In the '60s, most American car magazines were West Coast publications. CARS was one notable exception. And when the muscle-car scene heated up late in that decade, CARS Editor Marty Schorr was right in the thick of things, thanks in part to his special relationship with New York-based supercar builder Baldwin-Motion.
One day in 1976 I saw an issue of VETTE Quarterly. Marty Schorr was the editor, so I knew the magazine was going to be fun. I was right. The mag was so cool, in fact, that I wrote Schorr a letter with some article ideas and samples of my art. A week later, I was on board.
VETTE Quarterly went bimonthly in 1978, was retitled VETTE, and went monthly in 1980. Schorr eventually left the magazine to concentrate on his automotive PR agency, PMPR Inc. In 2007 I reconnected with him while researching KO-MOTION, the famous Astoria-Chas L88 '67 Corvette drag car. Last December, I talked with Schorr about his career and his Corvettes.
Vette Magazine: It sounds like a clich, but how did you get started?
Marty Schorr: I grew up in the Bronx, New York, in the mid-'50s and joined a hot-rod club in Yonkers, the "Draggin' Wheels." Members had serious hot rods, including a blown Cadillac fuel dragster and fuel coupe. There weren't many tracks in the area, so we used to race on the Bronx River Parkway and the unfinished Cross Bronx Expressway late at night. A lot of the guys got nailed by the cops with radar. Back then, if you ran away, the cops could shoot at you! It wasn't uncommon to see friends' cars with bullet holes. I could write pretty well and soon became the club's publicity director. I had a little Brownie 620 camera and got my first article published in around 1956 in Custom Rodder magazine. I got paid $25 and said, I like this! I kept practicing my skills, eventually landing a job as an editor for $100 a week. It was a dream come true.
VM: What kind of formal education did you have?
MS: I attended CCNY [City College, New York] at night for about five years, taking English, writing, advertising, and public-relations courses. I never got a degree because my freelance career took off.
VM: What kinds of cars were you driving back then?
MS: I had my parents' '51 Pontiac, a rare '40 Mercury convertible sedan, and a '33 Chevy Cabriolet. My hot ride was a cycle-fendered MG-TC with a bored-and-stroked flathead Ford V-8 60 and a four-speed. It was converted to left-hand drive, had skinny 19-inch wire wheels, no side windows or top, and I drove it all year. It handled terribly and had awful brakes, but it was incredibly quick and easily blew off Jags.
VM: Back in those days, military service wasn't always optional. What did you do for Uncle Sam?
MS: I was in the Army twice. I enlisted for six months of active duty, plus three or four years of reserve. After boot camp, I was stationed at Fort Eustis, Virginia, and got into the photography lab. It was experience that I applied to my freelance photojournalism work. A year or two into my six-month stint, I got called back because of the 1961 Berlin crisis. I didn't do anything interesting, but while stationed in Virginia, my wife and I were neighbors with astronaut Alan Shepard. I worked my Army job during the week and shot car features on weekends.
VM: When did your association with CARS begin?
MS: In 1961 I was editor of Custom Rodder and Car, Speed & Style and assistant editor of CARS. The car-magazine business was very different then. California was the epicenter of the car hobby, and Petersen Publishing owned the newsstands. CARS was one of the "secondary" magazines. Because of poor newsstand exposure, we didn't have the sales or budget for project cars like Hot Rod, Car Craft, and Popular Hot Rodding.
By 1963 I became the editor and decided that if we couldn't make money from advertising, we would concentrate on "telling it like it is" and give our readers honest evaluations of performance cars. No puff to satisfy advertisers. We played up "in your face" street performance. Readership went up, and I became the editorial director and then VP of the automotive group.
VM: Those covers really grabbed my attention, especially the Baldwin-Motion Chevys. How did your relationship with Joel Rosen begin?
MS: In 1964 or 1965 I ran a story on a '63 Vette with Hillborn injectors, which was being worked on at Pacers Automotive. Then I got a call from Joel and he was really PO'd because he had built the car, not the guys from Pacers. I went to his shop, Motion Performance, which was in a dicey section of Brooklyn. It was a little place with a dyno, a pay phone, and a big guard dog. We gave each other some New York attitude, and that was that. The next time we saw each other, we hit it off and have been best of friends ever since.
Around 1966 Joel moved to Baldwin, Long Island, and opened Motion on Sunrise Highway. It was great for the magazine because we now had access to a shop and a chassis dyno. When Chevy came out with the Camaro, Joel built a 427 Camaro race car, CARS and Baldwin Chevrolet sponsored it, and that was the start of Baldwin-Motion. I had first access to all the hot Chevys and was involved in their marketing.
VM: I remember seeing a photo in CARS of one of those 427 Camaros smoking the tires, with the back end hanging out on what looked like Sunrise Highway.
MS: Sunrise Highway was Motion's dragstrip. Back then, Rosen couldn't get a West Coast magazine to even come out to his shop, let alone cover his cars. Yenko and Nickey Chevrolet were selling COPO cars in 1969 and were getting all the attention, but no one in the New York area had ever seen those cars. The West Coast car magazines didn't touch Joel's cars until the Car Craft story on a Phase III Vega titled "King Kong is Alive and Well in Long Island, New York." And that was after Baldwin Chevrolet had closed its doors.
VM: Let's talk about the Baldwin-Motion experience.
MS: Baldwin Chevrolet was a local mom-and-pop Chevy dealership, and Joel was friends with John Mahler, the parts manager. It all started with a Baldwin Chevrolet- and CARS-sponsored 427 Camaro race car powered by an L88. Later, we put our heads together and pitched a program to Baldwin Chevrolet for a full line of supercars called "The Fantastic Five" that included the Camaro, Chevelle, Nova, Biscayne/Impala, and Corvette. I'm actually writing a book on Motion and Baldwin-Motion for Motorbooks, and it will be out in the fall of this year.
Joel started with 396/375 Camaros with heavy-duty suspensions, then dropped in 427s with hot-rod parts. Because everything was heavy duty, the cars were very durable. Mag wheels, custom stripes, and badges helped created an image. I did all the branding, catalogs, and advertising. Outside shops did the bodywork, and Joel Rosen dyno tuned every car, and every Phase III Chevy was guaranteed to run mid-11s in the quarter-mile. For a time, Motion was the country's biggest specialty carmaker, aside from Shelby. Yenko was the actual volume leader, as it rebadged COPO Camaros and Chevelles in 1969. We were the first to market a Corvette tuner car [in the form of the '68 Phase III], years before Callaway, Guldstrand, and the others. When we got into the V-8 Vegas, Baldwin Chevrolet really didn't want to be involved, as they would be difficult to warranty and finance. All of the Vega cars we built were called "Motion Super Vegas."
VM: At CARS you assembled a group of writers who made the magazine al lot of fun every month. How did that all come together?
MS: When it comes out right, you're a hero. Because Petersen owned the newsstands then, it looked like nothing was happening on the East Coast. The West Coast shops were presented like car palaces-at least, that's the way they looked in print. The East Coast guys, like Baldwin-Motion and Motion Performance, and their consistent NHRA-national-record-holding cars, hardly got any attention. But we had a lot to work with on the East. And some damn good writers.
Heading up our cast of characters was Joe Oldham, a young street racer who had come into my office to sell a Pontiac go-fast article. It turned out that Joe used to deliver flowers in my neighborhood and knew of my 389/348 Tri-Power Bonneville. Joe was my main testdriver, street performance writer, columnist, and a good friend. He bought a new Baldwin-Motion 427 Camaro in 1969 and terrorized local street-racing haunts. He later became editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics and retired a few years ago. Roger Huntington was an engineer who wrote tech features for us. Roger had been wheelchair-bound all his life, but he had great connections with automakers and wrote wonderful tech features. Fred Mackerodt started with CARS in 1964 and today runs a successful PR agency with GM accounts. Fred was the best editor I ever hired, and I don't think he ever graduated from high school. He used to write hilarious features under the pen name of "Dilbert Farb." Like Oldham, he's still a friend.
VM: How did your relationship with Corvettes begin?
MS: When I was growing up in the '50s, Corvettes were for rich kids and older guys. When I started working at CARS, if I wanted to drive a Vette, I could borrow one from Chevrolet PR, Motion, or Baldwin Chevrolet. So I had other cars-a show-winning hot-rod roadster, the CARS 390 Javelin project car, and a Corvette-powered Baldwin-Motion Iso Grifo sports car.
I always admired the Corvette's ability to sell magazines. Issues with Corvettes on the cover or major Corvette features always spiked sales. Then we started doing annuals or, as we called them, "one shots." Around 1975, two years after I left CARS, I proposed a Corvette-only maga-zine. We went back and forth with Chevrolet over the title and eventually settled on VETTE Quarterly. We got the first issues out and kept working the advertising until we were able to get the book bimonthly, and finally monthly in 1980. Those were tough times-muscle cars were dead, but the passion for Corvettes was alive and well.
VM: We have to ask you about Zora Arkus-Duntov. Do you have a good Zora story?
MS: He was quite a character. Everyone wanted to talk to Zora, and he was so enthusiastic about Corvettes that he would often go on about projects that were still under development. [As a result], he could hardly ever get away from his handlers. At the '69 New York International Auto Show, when Baldwin-Motion introduced its Phase III GT 427 Corvette, Zora escaped his handlers and came over to see the car-which he loved-and to talk to Joel and me. He would get very dramatic, with flowery prose, and loved to discuss Corvette handling dynamics and fuel-injected engines. Joel and Zora had a great rapport and would often meet for drinks when Zora was in town.
Here's a good Zora story: He had a mule car called the "silhouette racer." It was the car they used to develop the wide IMSA body parts that Greenwood made famous. The car was primer gray, had an L88 with open-header side pipes, and a full rollcage. One day, he took me out on Milford's high-speed oval test track. We were going full tilt, with the tail slightly out, while he had a cigarette in his mouth, explaining suspension geometry and big-block-engine power bands. He had incredible control of this animal car. He was always "out there," giving track security fits. He gave me that ride only a few months before he retired.
Back in 1969 he shipped me a new LT-1 small-block, which Joel Rosen installed in my Iso Grifo as part of the Baldwin-Motion conversion. I bought my Grifo new from Baldwin Chevrolet and had it delivered to Motion for prep. It's the only one built, and I still own it.Years later, after I bought my '67 427 roadster, Zora would connect me with the right people at the Corvette group when I needed parts.
VM: Since you left VETTE in 1981, what have you been up to?
MS: I grew my public-relations-and-marketing agency, PMPR Inc., and landed a one-year GM contract in 1982 to represent Buick that lasted almost 18 years. I wrote the Buick GSX book that was included with all 547 GNXs built in 1987. Then I did a lot of unusual projects that included the Mercedes-Benz Police Bicycle program and Bulgari-branded clocks and luxury products on Cadillac concept and production vehicles. I also did projects for Volvo Pandoz, Piero Rivolta, and Nicola Bulgari. In 2005 I helped launch the Baldwin-Motion brand and 540 Super Coupe that won the GM Best Design Award at the SEMA Show. That car was auctioned off at Barrett-Jackson for $486,000.
VM: With 50 years of experience, what are some of the high points?
MS: Being at Le Mans for two years straight to see the C5-R Corvettes win 1-2-3. Spectators from all over the world packed the grandstands and the amount of American flags was unbelievable. There were Corvette fans from all over the planet. I had the opportunity to tour Europe in Corvettes from 1978 to 1983 with the Swiss Corvette Club, which was a real thrill. Being involved with Baldwin-Motion was fantastic. I mentioned that I had a wonderful '67 big-block convertible. I loved that car, and like many Corvette owners, I regretted the day I sold it.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention what a thrill it was working with my daughter, artist Collier Schorr, on her show, "There I Was." It's a tribute to our friend "Astoria Chas" Snyder, who owned the legendary KO-MOTION L88 Corvette drag racer, and who was killed in Vietnam shortly after arriving there. The show opened to rave reviews in New York City in 2007 and is now showing at a prestigious gallery in Dijon, France.
VM: Well, Marty, is there anything else you'd like to add?
MS: I fell in love with the Corvette when I started VETTE more than 30 years ago, and I'm still in love. I bought an incredible C6 convertible in 2007, and I can't imagine not owning a Corvette.