2014 SLP Panther Camaro: Just Like a Baldwin-Motion
March 27, 2014
High-power tuner Camaros like our long-term SLP Panther are nothing new. In fact, the concept has been around as long as the Camaro itself, which Chevy introduced to the market back in 1967.
Back then there were a handful of now famous and infamous performance oriented Chevy dealers that turned into Camaro tuners, including Yenko Chevrolet in Pennsylvania, Dana Chevrolet in Los Angeles, Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago, Berger Chevrolet in Detroit and Baldwin-Motion out on Long Island just outside New York City.
Basically, these folks realized that Chevy's 427 big-block, which was only offered in the Corvette and Impala, fit in the Camaro. And they immediately began selling turn-key swaps complete with financing and a warranty.
Basically, you would order up a Camaro, usually with the 396 big-block engine, so the car would already come equipped with the correct engine mounts, suspension, high-performance transmission and rear end. When the car arrived at the dealer, it would get the engine swap, which was uncomplicated since the 396 and the 427 engines were dimensionally the same. Today it would be like swapping an LS3 for an LS7.
Although the majority of the Yenko cars were built to the same spec, the other dealers would install whatever you wanted. From additional engine modifications to other parts such as traction bars, stiffer rear end gears, additional gauges, aftermarket wheels and tires and maybe a hood scoop or side pipes. Anything was possible, you just had to pay for it.
When your car was built you picked it up.
These are rare cars. Not many of these tuner Camaros were built back in the day because they were expensive and for most buyers they were just too extreme for street use. Also, many of the cars that were built just didn't survive the ravages of track and street racing. Those that did live through the abuse, however, are highly prized collector cars today costing between $200,000 and $500,000.
In August of 1968 my father, Joe Oldham, walked into Motion Performance on Sunrise Hwy. in Baldwin, NY and ordered a brand new 1969 Baldwin-Motion SS427 Camaro from his friend Joel Rosen. Rosen owned Motion and had already gained fame for these types of builds.
Two years earlier Rosen had partnered with Baldwin Chevrolet down the street and the Baldwin-Motion brand was gaining international fame for building some of the quickest street cars in the world. In fact, Rosen ran a guarantee on his meanest machines he called Phase III. He guaranteed the cars would run an 11.50-sec. quarter-mile or he would refund your money.
My father ordered a triple black Camaro SS with the (L78) 375-hp 396 cubic-inch engine, a Turbo 400 automatic transmission, a 4.10 rear end gear, power windows, the standard interior, Sun gauges, the now famous Stinger hood scoop, about a dozen SS427 badges and a raised "street racer" stance, which was all the rage at the time. Of course, the 396 would be swapped for an (L72) 425-hp 427 cubic-inch engine.
By the middle of November 1968 the car was built. Since it was the first 1969 Camaro Motion had put together, Rosen and his marketing man Martyn L. Schorr photographed the car and used the images in some magazine ads. They also displayed the car in the Motion booth at an upcoming auto show in the New York Coliseum over Thanksgiving weekend.
My father finally took delivery after the auto show, and the images of the car soon appeared in Motion's now famous Wanted (pictured), Outrageous and Moment of Truth ads, as well as on the cover of the Motion Performance catalog. (More recently the car appeared in two books: Muscle Car Confidential: Confessions of a Muscle Car Test Driver by Joe Oldham and Motion Performance: Tales of a Muscle Car Builder by Martyn L. Schorr.
That winter my father enjoyed his new street machine using it as a commuter as well as a street racer. It was fast. Not as fast as the more extreme Phase III cars Rosen built, but this was my father's daily transportation in New York City (which is why he ordered the automatic transmission), and it was a fairly mild build compared to other Motion built cars. Still it would run the quarter-mile in 12.5 seconds which was serious even in 1969.
But the love affair was brief. Six months after he bought it my father's beloved Camaro was gone. Stolen. And never recovered. It essentially vanished from his life overnight.
Forty-five years later, my father and I have built an exact replica of that Camaro, which my dad will tell you was the coolest car he ever owned.
Because my father worked for car magazines back then he had documented his car with many photos, which now guided us through an accurate recreation of the old car. And we replaced nearly everything. For months I slept with the National Parts Depot, Classic Industries and Summit Racing catalogs under my pillow. We also installed brake parts from The Right Stuff Detailing, which are exact visual replacements for the stuff GM used back in the day, and bias ply tires from Coker Tire just as the car would have had in 1969.
That said, we did take a few liberties. In place of a real L72 427 is now a ZZ427 crate engine from the Chevy Performance catalog. We dressed it with old-school restoration and aftermarket parts but that's a new big-block from GM hiding under there, aluminum heads and all. GM rates the engine at 480 hp and 490 lb-ft torque. It's an animal.
We also made the car a 4-speed manual this time around. After all, commuting in NYC will not be a part of this car's daily routine, so we decided a 4-speed would be more fun. Aside from that, it is as it was. We even bought real old Sun gauges off of eBay along with dozens of other period correct parts, including the Fly Eye air cleaner, which was a signature part of the Motion cars.
After a clutch replacement at Walker Automotive in Bermuda Dunes, California it was Jack Fields and the boys at Starlite Rod and Kustom in Torrance, CA that put it all together including the paint and an exact recreation of the SuperBite Traction Bars, which Jack welded up from bar stock. A real set turned out to be unobtainium. We even used the factory correct chambered exhaust with no mufflers, just as my dad ordered in 1969. And man, is it loud.
This past November, about a year after we began the project, we revealed the car in the Motion Madness display at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in Chicago. And the coolest part was when Joel Rosen himself signed the car's visor, nearly 45 years to the day since he built the original.
My father is retired now, but he still writes the occasional column for Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine. And two weeks ago our friend Jeff Koch photographed the car for an upcoming issue. During the shoot I couldn't resist taking a few snaps of the car with our long-term SLP Panther. Two black big power tuner Camaros side by side. They're the same in so many ways, but they also couldn't be more different.
And yes, we had a go. The SLP is quicker.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 6,768 miles