Joel Rosen, aka Mr. Motion, of Delray Beach, Florida, passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family on October 9, 2023. He had been battling bladder cancer for more than a year. He was just two weeks shy of his 84th birthday and had been admitted to Hospice Care on September 30th.
By Martin Schorr
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1939, Joel graduated from James Madison High School at age 16 and attended Brooklyn College, majoring in Engineering. Frustrated by the lack of hands-on experience, he left after two years and joined the Air Force. It was at the Reciprocating Engine Mechanics School at Shepherd Air Force Base in Texas where Rosen honed his skills as an engine tuner, diagnostician, and builder. He also led the General’s Drill Team while at Shepherd AFB.
Driven by a competitive spirit and an endless passion for fast cars and racing, in 1963, Rosen opened a small speed shop – Motion Performance – in Brooklyn specializing in performance modifications and race car preparation. It was one of the only shops of its kind in the New York City area to have a Clayton chassis dynamometer and offer high-tech tuning.
Approximately three years later, he and his wife, Judith, relocated Motion Performance to a considerably larger facility on Sunrise Highway in Baldwin, Long Island, where it was operational into the 1990s. Shortly after opening Motion, Rosen purchased the first fuel-injected ’63 Corvette split-window coupe sold in the New York City Metro area! Nicknamed the Skunk because of its Daytona Blue paint with a bold, single white racing stripe, it was prepped for competition and raced by both Joel and Judith, as well as driven daily.
Rosen was one of the early (drag racing) adopters of Chevrolet’s big-block L88 road racing engine, fitting it into the first Baldwin-Motion 427 Camaro racecar, sponsored by Hi-PERFORMANCE CARS. The second application was the iconic KO-MOTION 1967 Corvette. The L88 engine was available on any Baldwin-Motion Chevy. Baldwin-Motion offered the most performance and custom options of any specialty car builder, including Shelby-American!
When Baldwin-Motion started producing serious, high-performance Corvette Stingrays in 1968, Rosen was befriended by the Corvette’s Godfather, Zora Arkus-Duntov. He later introduced Joel to Chevrolet’s head performance guy, Vince Piggins, a close personal friend of road racer Don Yenko who was also building 427 Camaros.
While best known for his signature Baldwin-Motion and Motion branded Chevrolet Supercars and AHRA-NHRA National Record holding A and B/Modified Production Gen-I and Gen-II Camaros, L88 Corvette, and small and big-block Shelby Cobra race cars, Joel Rosen’s passions also included a love of animals and marine life. He was an accomplished diver and underwater photographer, and during the 1980s was the largest breeder of rare boas and pythons in the U.S. He was an expert on breeding ultra-rare snakes, including the Australian black-headed Python, and often consulted for zoos both here and abroad.
Fascinated by 18th and 19th-century life in Japan, his years of studying Japanese culture led to him and Judith amassing the largest collection of rare vintage Ningyo dolls outside of Japan. Many of their dolls have been showcased in museums and shows in the U.S., and featured in prestigious books. Joel Rosen was considered an expert in the field.
Many years had passed since Motion and Baldwin-Motion’s glory days, but in 2005 Joel Rosen partnered with Joel Ehrenpreis and Larry Jaworske to bring the brands back to life. I was brought in to handle public relations and advertising. Rosen was the guiding force behind MOTION, LLC’s 540 Camaro SuperCoupe and the new generation, limited-edition 1969 Baldwin-Motion SS-427 and Phase III big-block Camaros.
The new 540 SuperCoupe, launched at the 2005 SEMA Show where it won GM’s Best Design Award, represents a quantum leap beyond anything previously badged Baldwin-Motion. An article in the April 2006 issue of Musclecar Enthusiast referred to the SuperCoupe as “America’s Greatest Supercar.”
The SuperCoupe, purchased at the 2006 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction by mega-collector Ron Pratte for $486,000 (including buyer’s premium) further validated the revival of the Motion and Baldwin-Motion brands. It paved the way for the second stage of the iconic brands: A limited build of 1969 SS-427 and Phase III Baldwin-Motion Camaros announced in March 2006. Total production of new Baldwin-Motion Chevys was capped at just 12 vehicles.
When the Gen-V Camaro was introduced, Joel Rosen partnered with Howard Tanner at Redline Motorsports and Dan Carlton at DeNooyer Chevrolet to produce a new series of 2011 SS and Phase III Camaros with 427 and 454 engines rated at 525 to 800 horsepower. Just a few were built, with Rosen taking delivery of the first, a Phase III 427-SC powered by a serious 800 horsepower, supercharged 454 big-block.
In 2021, Joel Rosen decided to retire, selling his Phase III 427-SC Camaro to Chevrolet performance enthusiast, Kasey Alford. Alford also purchased all of Rosen’s archived Motion and Baldwin-Motion paperwork and is now the source for documenting high-performance cars built at Motion Performance. He is now the new Mr. Motion and can be contacted at [email protected].
Joel Rosen was a loving husband, father, and grandfather and is survived by Judith, his spouse of 62 years, daughter Robin Sue Rosen, son Shawn Rosen, daughter-in-law, Robin Rosen, and grandchildren Zachary, Travis, and Bailey Rosen. His favorite pets – Ragnar (dog) and Archie (Kinkajou) also survive him.