"It's like déjà vu," said Joel Rosen when he was reunited with the Classic White '71 Baldwin-Motion Phase III GT 454 Corvette he built and personally delivered to Dr. Harry E. Rollings back on June 3, 1971.
"It looks and sounds exactly like it did when Dr. Rollings picked it up almost 40 years ago. It ended up being the highest-optioned, the most expensive ($16,283), and the last of the dozen GT Corvettes we built between 1969 and 1971. Thanks to John Waleck, it has been restored to original Baldwin Chevrolet and Motion Performance invoices and build sheet specs. Gary 'The Local Brush' Kupfer, who applied the black Phase III trim in 1971, striped it again. It doesn't get any better than this," added "Mr. Motion."
It was Joel Rosen's dream in late-1968 to build a brand-new, fast, and functional all-American GT sports car. He envisioned a very special car that would showcase the desirable qualities of European GT cars with American muscle and the traffic-stopping appeal and serviceability of a Corvette. The sensuously styled Phase III GT, with its fastback rear window, stowage space for luggage or golf clubs, road-tuned performance suspension, and as much as 500-600 dyno-tuned horsepower, turned this fantasy into reality.
Rosen's signature Stingray even excited Corvette godfather and Motion Supercar Club member Zora Arkus-Duntov when he first saw a GT at its launch at the 1969 International Auto Show in New York City. He gave it his blessings and said, "I really like your Corvette, Joel. Unfortunately, we cannot do what you do."
Adam Tuckman, who was 3 years old when Dr. Rollings took delivery of the last GT built, was seduced by the Motion mystique very early in life.
"When I was a kid, someone bought me a Revell model of a blue Phase III Corvette, like the real one in Kevin Suydam's collection, and I was hooked," says Tuckman. "I thought that Motion built the most radical and truly special muscle cars of that era. And I still do. Later, when I was in high school, I thought I had located a real Motion car and called Joel Rosen. It wasn't. That day I made myself a promise not to give up until I found one."
Last year Tuckman's dream finally came true when he found a Phase III GT that had been in the original owner's family since new. It is the most original, most documented GT built, and arguably one of the most significant specialty Corvettes in the field. In April 2010, Tuckman also acquired an incredible Motion memorabilia collection, which included rarities such as Duntov's "permanent" Motion Supercar Club membership card and the CARS magazine 1967 Baldwin-Motion Camaro A/MP race car Christmas card.
I have always believed that the enthusiast automotive hobby is as much about people as it is about the cars they drive. And this Phase III GT Corvette, which spent almost four decades in the same family, certainly shares the limelight with its original owner: the late Dr. Harry E. Rollings. A prominent cardiologist and Air National Guard flight surgeon specializing in heart-valve transplants, Rollings was a true renaissance man. He piloted his own WWII B-25 and Catalina PBY Flying Boat, road-raced Jaguars on the SCCA circuit, and made house calls in a 500hp Phase III GT!
When Rollings and his wife, Irma Lee, planned their trip to New York City in May 1970, buying a Corvette was not on their itinerary. Their eldest daughter, Cynthia, was graduating from Columbia University, and they couldn't be prouder. All they wanted to do was celebrate the occasion by attending the ceremony and spending a week with their daughter in the Big Apple.
Well, that's not exactly how it turned out for the couple from Savannah, Georgia. While at the New York Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan, Harry Rollings picked up a copy of CARS magazine and saw a Baldwin-Motion advertisement for the Phase III GT. A certified car crazy, Rollings wanted to know more about this uniquely styled Corvette with almost unlimited performance possibilities.
The next day, while his wife went shopping and sightseeing, Rollings hopped on a Long Island Rail Road train and visited Joel Rosen at Motion Performance in suburban Baldwin. After taking a demo ride in a customer's big-block Phase III GT, Rollings became a Corvette believer.
On May 29, 1970, Rollings placed an order (with a $5,000 deposit) for a black-trimmed Classic White Phase III GT powered by an aluminum-headed, 500hp 454 and fitted with just about every performance and custom option available. Because Chevrolet had startup problems with '70 Corvette (and Camaro) production, the model year spanned just four months. As a result, Rollings' order ended up being processed by Chevrolet as a '71 model.
At the time, a standard equipment, big-block Phase III GT listed at $10,500 and could be upgraded with a button-tufted leather interior ($600), Candy-Pearl paint ($500), a 454ci L88 engine ($1,000), plus a host of luxury and performance options. Popular add-ons included a Formula 1 leather steering wheel ($75), an NHRA-approved clutch-flywheel package ($250), and headers ($200). While a modified 350-inch small-block GT was offered, none was ever built.
Rollings worked very closely with Rosen on the powertrain specifications, as he wanted a car that would deliver maximum performance as well as daily driving and cruising convenience. The result was a blueprinted, high-compression (12.5:1) LS6 454 fitted with a Phase III street cam and valvetrain, open-chamber aluminum L88/ZL1 heads, headers with smog fittings, and an 850-cfm Holley double-pumper fed by dual electric fuel pumps. (In the day this beast could easily be nourished with Sunoco 260 and other brands of high-octane pump gas.) A beefed-up automatic transmission backed by a Hone overdrive and a 4.88 Posi rear completed the drivetrain.
With air conditioning, an automatic, and the Hone overdrive (which supplied a 3.42 final drive when engaged), Rollings knew his GT would truly be a supercar for all seasons. After the order was placed, he upgraded to diamond-tufted seats and door panels he had seen in a Maco Shark Corvette conversion at Motion. That added another $600 to the order. The total: $16,283. For $3,000-4,000 more, he could've bought a new Ferrari Daytona!
On June 3, 1971, Rollings paid the balance due-$11,283.00 including an In-Transit Permit-and drove the GT more than 700 miles from Baldwin to his home in Savannah.
Over the years he used his GT for daily driving, house calls, and even to tow his Jaguar race car. Interestingly, the Corvette's original Day 2 tow hitch was still with the car when Tuckman purchased it. Between June 1971 and 1989, when he gave the GT to his daughter and son-in-law, Ellen and Don Glasser, it accumulated approximately 31,000 miles and a color change to Hugger Orange.
"One day in 1974, Harry saw a Hugger Orange Corvette at our local Corvette-club meeting and fell in love with the color," says Richard Miller, the son of Dr. Rollings' best friend and owner at the time of a '63 split-window Vette.
"Next thing I knew, I was helping a local painter strip the car and get it ready for paint. He loved that Corvette, drove it hard, and even ran it at our local sports car track, Roebling Road Raceway."
It's interesting to note that during those years, Rollings bought and sold many exotics, but never sold the GT. He drove it right up to the time he "gifted" it to Ellen and Don, who were Special Agents with the FBI. Don retired in 2002, and his wife, four years later. Dr. Rollings passed away in June 2003.
"Dad was truly larger than life. He was a sportsman, racer, sailor, and pilot. And he was a caring doctor and a wonderful father to me, my four sisters, and brother," says Ellen Glasser. "He bought a Catalina PBY Flying Boat just to go fishing in the Gulf. That was after the B-25. [He also] owned four boats, including a 34-foot sport fisherman and a 41-foot Morgan sailboat. When we were growing up, we never knew what he would come home with next!"
Just how original and documented is Adam Tuckman's rare Phase III GT? The Corvette came with its original Baldwin Chevrolet invoice, insurance endorsement, and Motion Performance shop order build sheets and invoice. Also included were tuning and maintenance specs (including the proper jetting for the 850 Holley, timing and valve settings, fuel requirements, and recom-mended tire pressures) written by Dr. Rollings on New York Hilton Hotel notepaper!
"Once we disassembled Adam's GT we discovered that over almost 40 years, very few hands had touched it. We had Jerry Ambrosi, of Master Upholstery, in Newton, New Jersey, replicate the original button-tufted leather interior, which was too worn to restore. Many original factory markings were still visible, and the engine and drivetrain had not been changed," says restorer John Waleck, of Artisan Coach Works, in Hopatcong, New Jersey.
"We rebuilt the 12.5:1 454, installed a new, correct Holley four-barrel and water pump, and, after talking with Joel Rosen to determine original cam and valvetrain specs, installed roller components that work best with today's lubricants. The modified Turbo-400 automatic had never been touched and still had its Motion shift kit, special valve body, and governor intact. It was rebuilt to original Motion specs. We rebuilt the Hone overdrive as well," says Waleck.
Tuckman plans on showing his Phase III GT at some NCRS events and concours and putting it on the road.
"Joel Rosen and Motion built fast cars for driving, and my GT has never been a trailer queen," he says. "No reason to start now."
We couldn't agree more.
Martyn L. Schorr is the Founding Editor of VETTE, the author of MOTION Performance, Tales of a Muscle Car Builder, and was responsible for creating all Baldwin-Motion advertising, as well as "branding" the Phase III GT Corvette.