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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 168 Motion Can-Am Spyder Corvette
"The Last of the Motion Corvettes"
By the late ‘60s, big-block Chevys were always contenders against anything from Ford and Mopar. Within the story line of muscle car history, the Baldwin-Motion Supercars are legends. For John Q. Public, a regular muscle car was often times more than enough. Then there were those who wanted more.
In the mid-’60s, Long Island speed shop owner Joel Rosen had a reputation for building tough street and strip cars. Unlike Carroll Shelby’s deal with Ford to build quasi-SCCA Mustangs, Rosen struck with local dealer Baldwin Chevrolet to offer supercar versions of new Chevy muscle cars that were custom built to order and guaranteed to run 11.5 in the quarter-mile with a qualified driver.
From ‘67 through ‘73, Rosen and his team cranked out hundreds of unique Chevy supercars. But his most exotic cars were some of the Corvettes. In their day, Corvettes offered more GT (grand touring) potential than any other American car. While the Phase III SS-427 Corvette could easily smoke any factory 427 Vette, Rosen’s GT Corvettes took things to the next level with unique, custom body work to go along with already stout engine, drive train, and suspension.
The Phase III GT was offered from ‘69 to ‘71. In ‘72 the Baldwin-Motion Maco Shark was released, followed by the Manta Ray Corvette and one-off Moray Eel Corvette. All of Joel's special Corvettes were very expensive for their day, so very few were produced. By the mid-70s when the Moray Eel arrived, the “Shark” thing had pretty much run its course. However, there was a new suit of cloths being used on the already menacing SCCA road racing Corvettes. In what was Zora Duntov’s last racer kit option for his beloved Corvette racers, the wide-body kit was co-developed with Corvette racer John Greenwood. During a time of diminishing performance for street Corvettes, Greenwood’s cars gave fans something to cheer about. When John’s new wide-body IMSA Corvette racer debuted in ‘74, people were blown sideways. The terms “Batmobile” and “funny car” immediately came to mind. Most Corvette fans agreed, it was the most exotic-looking racing Corvette ever!
It didn’t take Rosen long to decide to build a street version of the wide-body Greenwood racer. Named the Can-Am Spyder, Joel’s latest GT Corvette would take advantage of the wide-body’s ability to properly cover the widest wheel/tire combo available for street cars of the day. The engine, drive train, and suspension was standard Motion Performance gear, plus a Hone Overdrive that allowed the engine to loaf along at highway cruising speed for better gas mileage. Rosen’s first Phase III GT featured a fastback rear window to open up the back storage area. The Can-Am Spyder took it to the next level with a full rear hatchback, something that Chevrolet wouldn’t do until ‘82 on the Collector Edition. All of the body parts, except for the front windshield and roof panels were fabricated by Motion performance.
The plan was to offer the Spyder in the same manor as Rosen’s previous GT Corvettes - any way the customer wants. Since Joel was precluded by the DOT from making any Motion-modified “new” vehicles, the customer supplied his own Corvette for conversion. Custom features, custom interiors, special badges and graphics, show car-like wheels, and chrome side-exhausts made the Can-Am Spyder something beyond a “regular” Corvette. In a Ferrari-like way, this Corvette had a direct link to racing Corvettes, yet was designed for long trips with room for overnight necessities.
As well-intended as this was, the timing couldn’t have been worse. The nation was in the grip of a deep recession and rising gas prices. Corvettes already cost almost twice as much as a regular Chevy and Rosen’s latest GT machine cost almost twice as much as a regular Corvette. Consequently, only four Can-Am Spyders were built and sold. Baldwin-Motion collector Dan McMichaels owns the red with white stripes prototype and the remaining yellow with red striping cars can not be accounted for.
In an unexpected way, Corvette planners have adopted Rosen’s performance model. Today’s Z06 is not unlike Joel’s Phase III Corvettes. While the ZR1 surpasses the Z06 and does have unique, dedicated body work, it doesn’t take its appearance to a unique extreme the way Rosen’s GT Corvettes did. The C6 may be with us for a few more years. Plenty of time for a Phase III GT version. - KST
Illustrated Corvette Series No. 156 - Motion/Maco Shark Corvettes
"Joel Rosen's Sharks"
Even as the new ‘63 Corvettes were hitting the showrooms, GM Chief of Styling Bill Mitchell was dreaming up the next model. With the help of stylist Larry Shinoda and a small team of designers, the radical Mako Shark II was developed and shown to GM management in spring of 1965. The non-running full-size mock-up made jaws drop. Before the car was shipped to the New York International Auto Show, the order was given: “Build a running version!” By October the running version of the new design was complete and headed out to the show-car circuit, where it received rave reviews. It was obvious: The Mako Shark II had to be the next production Corvette.
Building a stunning concept car is one thing, but making it into a production car is a whole other story. Obviously, lots of compromises had to be made to the overall shape and proportions. Challenges pushed the release back a year to 1968. Even though the styling was much more tame, the production version was still gorgeous when it arrived in the fall of ’67. With coupe and roadster versions, lots of options, and seven engines to choose from in dealer showrooms, interest in the two-year-old show car quickly vanished—but not for everyone. Enter, John Silva.
Simply stated, Silva wanted the new Corvette to be the Mako Shark II show car. By the time he got around to designing a body kit for the production Corvette, Joel Rosen had already made a name for himself with his Baldwin-Motion Phase III Supercars. Since Rosen’s Corvettes had a considerable amount of custom fiberglass work, Silva worked out a deal with Mr. Motion. Silva produced three cars for Rosen and authorized the tuner to make molds from his parts. Rosen made quite a splash with his Phase III GT Corvette and began offering the new body kit in 1972 as an addition to his line of supercars.
Motion Performance began offering its “Maco Shark” kits to the do-it-yourself crowd, as well as turn-key Maco Sharks packed with as much horsepower as the owner and his wallet could handle. As with all of the Baldwin-Motion cars, each was built to order, and every car was different. Motion built Macos from 1972 to 1978 and continued selling kits well into the ’80s.
But creative car guys such as Rosen always have another project on the back burner. In 1973 he retired the Phase III GT and created his Manta Ray Corvette. The new design offered the best of the Phase III GT and the Maco Shark Corvette. Built on a ’73 Corvette with the new soft front-bumper cover, the Manta Ray had its own unique look. From the doors forward, it was a Phase III GT with ‘73 side vents. The roof section was pure Maco Shark, rear-window slats and all, and a very tall rear spoiler was added. Motion Corvettes were always pricey, with many costing well over double the price of a new Corvette. Manta Rays were only offered in 1973, and only three were produced.
Rosen’s last venture into shark Corvettes was called the Moray Eel Corvette. Built on a ‘72 Corvette, it was part Maco Shark, part Manta Ray. The Maco Shark flip front end had provisions for the Mako Shark–inspired hood grilles or vent configurations. This detail was glassed over for a smooth look, and the headlights were placed in the front grille. Something went wrong with the original paint, and what was supposed to be pearl yellow turned out lime green. The paint was corrected when the car was restored in 2006. Only one Moray Eel was produced.
The Silva/Motion Performance Maco Sharks follow a long tradition of specialty coach builders that continues today. The formula is simple: start off with a great performance car and make it your own. And it all started because John Silva wanted a Mako Shark II.
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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 135 - '69 - '71 Phase III GT
"60s Style GT Corvette"
The term “GT” is arguably one of the most misused automotive designations. The term dates back to the ‘30s in Europe and is an abbreviation for the words “grand touring,” or as they say in Italy, “grand turismo.” In the classic sense, a GT car was a road going , lightweight, semi-luxurious coupe, built on a high performance chassis. If your plan was to take a big trip, you needed a performance car with enough power, a strong chassis to deal with the rough roads, and creature comforts to make the journey more pleasant. Car makers such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Austin-Martin and others, all offered GT cars for their affluent customers.
In the ‘60s, American car makers started to apply the GT term to their new pony and intermediate-size cars. But some enthusiasts wanted more from their cars. Some sought out the help of specialty shops that would super tune or build a package car for a price. The original Shelby Mustangs were the most noticeable of the turn-key super cars. But at a small shop in Baldwin, New York on Long Island, Motion Performance speedshop owner, Joel Rosen was making his own brand of performance cars called the Baldwin-Motion SS and Phase III Supercars.
Rosen was a successful drag racer and turner with a proven reputation for building dependable, high-horsepower big-block Chevy engines. He partnered with local Baldwin Chevrolet to build brand new, under warranty, enhanced versions of Chevy muscle cars. A few others were making similar cars, but Rosen’s cars were much more extreme. And Baldwin-Motion was the only brand building Corvette Supercars.
Phase III Supercars were reasonably priced for a turn-key car that was guaranteed to run 11.5 in the quarter-mile, or quicker with a Motion-approved driver at a NHRA or AHRA drag strip. In Joel’s limited spare time, he was dreaming of his own GT car, a machine that would put a hurt’n on Europe’s best. Within the Chevrolet lineup, there was one obvious place to start - the L71 427/435 big-block Corvette.
Rosen’s Phase III GT began where the regular Phase III Corvette ended. Since every car was built to the customer’s specs, we’ll examine Joel’s prototype GT. First the engine was disassembled and blueprinted. A low-restriction air filter was used with a 1,050-cfm Holley three-barrel carb on an aluminum high-rise manifold. The engine had tube headers, a Motion Super/Spark CD ignition, and M/T finned valve covers. The exhaust was a factory side-pipe system with chambered pipes. Horsepower was rated at 500 on Rosen’s dyno. The suspension received special shocks, bushings, and springs, along with a single traction bar. The wheels were 15-inch slotted alloy on wide Goodyear Polyglass tires.
What rocked everyone at the GT’s ‘69 New York International Auto Show debut was it’s stunning, muscular good looks. The Monza red ‘68 donor car had a distinctive black stripe that wrapped around the back end of the car, up the rear deck, over the roof and ended on the ’67 427-style scoop. All four wheel opening were flared to cover the wide tires, the side vents were reversed, and remote controlled mirrors were used. Most noticeable was the fastback rear window that opened up the rear storage area and a Le Mans quick-fill gas cap replaced the stock gas cap door.
Zora Arkus-Duntov was at the show and spent time with Rosen talking about big-block engines and gave the GT his blessings. Rosen’s promotion literature quickly ran out, but he got two deposits to build cars. The starting price for the GT was $10,500, over double the cost of a stock ‘69 Vette. When Rosen started building GTs, two major body changes were incorporated. The stock pop-up headlights were replaced with single, fixed headlights that were faired into the front fenders. And at the back end, the classic four round Corvette taillights were replaced with two sets of three slotted taillights.
The Phase III GT Corvettes were only built from ’69 to ‘71. Rosen anticipated building 10-to-12 cars per year, but it turned out that he only made approximately 12 cars total and no two cars were alike. No doubt, the maga-buck price was a major factor back then. A 1970 Phase III GT turned out to be one of the most expensive, costing a mind-bending $13,000 in ’70. The car was Daytona Yellow and packed a 535-horsepower 454 engine with open-chamber heads, a modified automatic trans with a Hone overdrive, 4.88 gears, and air conditioning.
In the late ‘80s Rosen began looking for one of his old GT cars. He was able to locate the ‘70 Daytona Yellow GT , had the car fully restored and displayed it at the ’93 New York Auto Show. Joel later sold the car to a private collector in ‘01. Specialty Corvettes have come a long way since ’69 and many others have applied the same concept to their dream machines. Only five of the Phase III GT cars are known to still exist, making this one of the rarest of all the specialty Corvettes ever made. K. Scott Teeters
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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 39 - Baldwin Motion 1969 Phase III Corvette
"The Shelby Mustang of Corvettes"
From 1967 to 1969, the hottest street Corvette was the 427/435 L71. Not a bad ride for most folks. But Joel Rosen isn't "most folks."
Rosen owned Motion Performance in Brooklyn, New York in the late '50s and '60s, and was having considerable success as a local drag racer-tuner. In '67 Joel struck a deal with the owners of Baldwin Chevrolet, in Baldwin, New York, to make 427-engine versions of the new Camaro. When the '68 Corvette came out, Joel knew that he had to make a special red-hot version. The '69 Baldwin-Motion SS-427 Phase III Corvette was born.
The deal with Baldwin Chevrolet was that Motion would perform all of the conversion work and the car's warranty would still be maintained. To keep everything balanced, the car was beefed up, inside and out! You simply could not miss these cars. Even sitting still they looked nasty and serious. A '67 427-style hood scoop was grafted on top of the stock 427 hood along with a Pontiac hood-mounted tachometer. The wider tires were covered with wheelwell flares. Side pipes were either '65-'67 style, '69 style, or Hooker Header side pipes. An optional fastback window opened up the luggage space. Finished off with a unique stripe design, the car looked like a killer.
The 427 received an 850 Holly three-barrel on top of a high-rise manifold. Ignition used a modified Mallory setup with Ramcharger wires. Other goodies included a close-ratio Muncie four-speed, blow-proof clutch, heavy-duty suspension, and 60-series tires on Anson Sprint wheels. Every Phase III car was guaranteed to run 12.50 et @120 mph with a M/P approved driver at a NHRA or AHRA track.
Unfortunately, Rosen was a high-profile, big fish in a small pond. In 1974, after seven years of building super cars, the Feds threatened to shut down and fine Rosen $50,000 per car for violation of the Clean Air Act. Rosen's lawyer explained that he wasn't operating a huge assembly line. Luckily, Joel got off with just a $500 fine, but the party was over. That's what a little too much success, publicity, and horsepower can do to you.
Recently, Rosen was able to buy back the last Phase III Corvette he made, a 1974 model. K. Scott Teeters