Image: Motion Performance: Tales of a Muscle Car Builder by Martyn L. Schorr
Chevrolet’s most notable people in history have come from all walks of life, but some are not nearly as well known by their names as they are by what they brought to Chevrolet. For Joel Rosen, owner and founder of the famed Motion Performance, that much is true, but it doesn’t lessen his influence on Chevrolet history. In fact, being known as Mr. Motion more so than Joel Rosen, makes him more of a super power of the musclecar era than just a simple influence.
Most know the story of Baldwin-Motion and the amazing performance cars the joint venture between Motion Performance and Baldwin Chevrolet produced back in the ’60s and ’70s. Without Joel Rosen – the man behind Motion Performance – a big chunk of Chevrolet history and a whole fleet of highly-collectible musclecars wouldn’t exist today. But Rosen didn’t always dabble in creating monstrous performance Chevys. In fact, he started out in the automotive industry, tuning and repairing cars better known as being grocery-getters than fast-paced sports cars.
In the late 1950s, what would become Motion Performance started out as a Sunco service station. Later named the Neclan Service Station under Rosen’s (then a junior partner) charge, the Brooklyn, New York, shop focused more on servicing average rides than performance machines. But in 1963, after having jumped in the performance-tuning world with “up and coming” performance cars, including his beloved Corvette, Rosen not only changed the name of the service station to Motion Performance, he also changed the direction his career was headed.
Joel Rosen (left) and Clem Hoppe pose with Hoppe’s car “King Cobra”.
The name Motion Performance was derived from the Motion El’, a high-performance ignition system Rosen had installed in his, and other performance Corvettes. Adding a chassis dyno to the shop only added fuel to the high-performance fire, and Rosen quickly became known for his performance tuning skills. Corvettes were certainly a love of Rosen’s, so much so, that he owned a couple by 1963, including a 1958 fuelie he rolled and destroyed while racing when on his honeymoon. What you might not realize, is that he first made a name for himself and Motion Performance in the NHRA and NASCAR series’ behind the wheel of Ford’s Cobra.
Joel Rosen with the new/old Baldwin Motion Supercoupe. Image: Hemmings
In the mid ’60s, Rosen campaigned two high-performance Cobras, one, 289ci a small-block-wielding car, and the other, a 427ci big-block-wielding car known as King Cobra, owned by Clem Hoppe. Both cars were record holders, and acted as proof of just what the tuner now known as “Mr. Motion” could really do.
In the book How to Snake a National Record, Hoppe explains that his Cobra wasn’t performing to the extent that he wanted back in the day, only running 14s in the 1/4-mile. After seeing Rosen run his small-block car, Hoppe turned his new Cobra over to him, and had the full Motion treatment applied.
The result was a full-fledged rocket on wheels – one that went on to put down 1/4-mile times in the low to mid 10-second range. The car set a new record of 131 mph with a 10.64-second run.
In 1966, still working both the Ford and Chevrolet angles (he still loved his Corvettes), Rosen moved his shop to Baldwin, New York. By 1967, Chevrolet had released the Camaro, and this prompted Rosen to partner with Baldwin Chevrolet to create one-of-a-kind, built-to-order Camaro super cars. From there, the Motion kept going forward, and expanded to include Novas, Chevelles, Corvettes, and even Biscayne “Street Racer Specials.”
Rosen’s name may never be as famous as that of his high-performance company, but without him, the musclecar era would not have been the same. Drop the name Motion Chevrolet or the combined namesake of Baldwin-Motion around any shop, car show, or race, and watch any true Chevy fan’s eyes light up. Maybe that’s why Rosen brought back the name in 2001 with new Camaro offerings. Or maybe, Rosen hadn’t quite finished what he had started back in the day. Either way, we’re not complaining.