When muscle became super
Tony Oksien looks back at one of the greatest supercar collaborations of the muscle car era, and finds they’re still knocking ’em out. Meet Baldwin Motion
Over 40 years ago no one used the term ‘supercar’ in America; everything was about ‘muscle’, ‘performance’ and ‘horsepower’. These types of cars were relatively cheap in the States and offered thrills with few frills, anyone could go ‘quick’ even on a budget.
Sure there were exotic imports from Europe, although these tended to be very expensive, temperamental and never looked happy on a drag strip (not much change there then!). These cars were known as ‘touring’ rides, more at home on the smaller, winding roads of Euro-Land, and were never going to compete on the ‘street’ with the big block bruisers.
Yet Supercars did exist, they were Chevrolet powered and bodied, but were given supercar status by a company known as Baldwin Motion.
Baldwin Motion was actually a partnership between Long Island, New York’s Baldwin Chevrolet and Joel Rosen’s Motion Performance speed shop. In 1966 Rosen approached the management of Baldwin Chevrolet with the
idea of the dealership selling muscle cars customized by Motion for performance-minded buyers. Joel Motion’s shop had specialised in tuning 289 and 427 Shelby Mustangs, setting track records, and he’d made a name for himself with the Ford crowd.
The shop had started as a small operation at a Sunoco service station in Brooklyn where Joel cut his teeth on tuning late Fifties cars. A switch to Chevy allowed for a greater scope of vehicles to work with and certainly the Baldwin dealership would benefit as the clamour for quicker muscle cars gained momentum.
By 1967 the modifications had been finalised and were called ‘Phase III’. They were available on the ‘Fantastic Five’: Corvette, Camaro, Chevelle, Biscayne and Nova.
Unsurprisingly, the most popular model was the new 1967 Camaro. The performance upgrades included a 427cu in motor and eventually a 454, which resulted in Camaros with outputs ranging from 450 to 600 horses. Each car was built to the customer’s individual specifications and was ultimately supplied by Baldwin Chevrolet.
The daddy of the bunch was indeed the Camaro, which came with a money-back guarantee. Joel Rosen was so confident in his abilities that he promised every one of his Supercars would turn at least 11.50 secs at 121mph on a sanctioned drag strip or it could be returned for a full refund. Surprise, surprise not one car was ever returned!
Very soon a mail-order business sprung up and a huge export department grew as word spread of these supercars. By 1971 the company had started modifying the Chevrolet Vega; this would not only be its greatest challenge, but would also bring the heyday of Baldwin Motion to an end.
The little econ-box Vega with its 2.3 litre, 140cu in in-line four banger made of a die-cast aluminium cylinder block and cast-iron cylinder head with a single overhead camshaft might have made for great gas mileage, but for sporty types the car was a no-go. That was until the 454 Baldwin Motion Super Vega came along.
How bonkers was this? A car that barely weighed 2200lb, a length of 14 feet and a wheelbase of just 97 inches and they stuffed the potent LS7 454 V8 into what can only be described as a pram!
A nice hot small block in a Vega would make one fast Vega, of course, but Motion went that step further, dropping in a hot big block. It was crazy but the guys just had to push the boundaries, creating a nine second super street car straight out of the box. A nine second quarter is pretty damned quick by today’s standards, so it must have been mind blowing in 1971. As Joel Rosen so aptly put it back in the day: “The 454 Super Vega is always on the jagged edge of fun and frenzy.”
There is no doubt that the biggest and most bad ass Chevys were the built Baldwin Motion bow ties. Notoriously documented in the New York street-racing scene by several regional magazines, the cars were rigorously ‘tested’ by the shop crews on the Tarmac and at the strip Car Craft Magazine ran a story on a 1973 454 Motion Super Vega with the headline King Kong lives on Long Island. That article is said to be one of the reasons the Federal Government went after Motion Performance and stopped it from selling street cars in 1974.
So the party was over as the Feds also outlawed the customised car business which only left the B/M export enterprise to carry on.
Motion Performance still sells performance parts today at the same location on Sunrise Highway, Long Island, New York, and today authenticated Baldwin Motion cars are among the most desirable muscle cars on this planet.
The good old days might be over, but the legendary Baldwin Motion big-block Camaros are back. The Baldwin Motion legacy is being relaunched again with Joel Rosen teaming up with a New York-based Chevrolet dealership and a company called Redline Motorsports which will result in another run of B/M badged Camaros – better built, more powerful 800bhp SS 427 engines, cleaner emissions... and this time totally legal!
To find out more about these Camaro Supercars go to www.officialbaldwinmotion.com
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