Joe Oldham Recreates His Baldwin-Motion SS427 Camaro
When you’re a car nut like Joe Oldham, a bad automotive experience can be traumatic, almost shattering. His ’68 Pontiac GTO was such an experience.
At the time, Joe was a writer for Hi-Performance Cars in New York City. As an automotive journalist, he had access to every new car every year.
He was a car expert—knew it all. So when he sold his hard-running ’62 Corvette and bought a ’68 400/360HO four-speed GTO, he expected to have a strong-running muscle car that would serve well as a street/track racer and a nice daily driver.
The car never ran right, was delivered with the wrong suspension, and was, in general, a huge disappointment. Needless to say, Joe’s racing activity on the streets of Queens, New York was put on hold.
He needed an automotive fix, something so hot on the street and strip that it would blow everything else into the weeds. So he ordered a new ’69 Baldwin-Motion SS-427 Chevy Camaro.
Baldwin-Motion? Think Yenko, Nickey, Berger and Dana but for the New York City area. Motion Performance built them; Baldwin Chevrolet in Baldwin, New York sold them.
The car started life as an L78 396/375 Super Sport with a Turbo 400 three-speed automatic and 4.10 gears. Then Motion Performance took over, converting it to Joe’s specifications. The 396 was pulled and a brand-new 427/425 L72 engine was dropped in. A fiberglass hood with open Stinger scoop was added, the suspension was beefed up to give the car a high stance, a shift kit was added for harder bang-shifts, and huge wheels and tires added a tough look.
The car, a triple-black beauty, turned out so cool that Joel Rosen, owner of Motion Performance, asked if he could use it in the company’s 1969 advertising. As such, Joe’s car appeared in three Motion ads: Outrageous, The Moment of Truth and the famous “Wanted” poster ad, and even on the cover of Motion’s 1969 product catalog. Joe and Marty Schorr, editor of Hi-Performance Cars, took lots of photos, and the car appeared in several magazine stories.
Six months later, the car was stolen out of Joe’s garage, never to be seen again. It was gone, but it never really went away.
Over time, due to all of the exposure in magazines and the rise in popularity of muscle cars in general, Joe’s Baldwin-Motion Camaro became a famous car in the muscle car world (Google “Joe Oldham’s Camaro”). In the meantime, the muscle car world saw the rise of clones (tribute cars, replicas, call them what you will) and Joe’s sons, Scott and Steve, began encouraging dad to build a replica of his original car.
Which is exactly what they’ve done, right down to the hose clamps and the license plate. After five years of talking about it, Joe and his boys have created an exact replica of the car, just as it appeared in that “Wanted” magazine ad in the winter of 1968.
Like most projects, this one began with the search for the right donor car. It had to be a ’69 big-block four-speed 12-bolt car. If it was an SS and black, so much the better. Numbers-matching originality didn’t matter since everything was going to be changed anyway.
After years of searching, Scott finally found this car on the Internet in Glendale, Arizona. A black-on-black SS clone with good paint, a clean standard interior, a tired 454, a newly rebuilt Muncie M-21 and a 3.73 geared 12-bolt. It was perfect.
Joe, now retired in the Palm Springs, California area, drove the car straight to Walker Auto Works in Bermuda Dunes, California to make sure it was safe and reliable to drive for a few months as parts were gathered. Randy Walker replaced a few hoses, installed a new 10.5-inch Centerforce clutch assembly and welded up a broken tang on the four-speed.
Once the parts were accumulated, the Camaro went to Starlite Rod and Kustom in Torrance, California, the shop that would do most of the work, including the engine swap and paint. Owners Jack Fields and Edgar Hernandez specialize in very detailed ’60s customs, which, in essence, was what Joe wanted—an exact duplicate of his original ’69 Camaro. Joe’s extensive portfolio of photographs of the original car would prove invaluable during the build.
Six grueling months later the car was done and in the Baldwin-Motion Madness display at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (MCACN) in Chicago. The MCACN show doesn’t usually allow replicas to be displayed, but made an exception since it was Joe recreating his own car. There, among a dozen surviving Motion-built Corvettes, Camaros and Chevelles, each worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, it fit right in. In fact, Joel “Mr. Motion” Rosen, the man who built the original car 45 years ago, and Schorr, were so impressed with the build they each signed the Camaro’s visor.
“That was a thrill,” says Joe. “Of course, I wish I still had the real car; it was the coolest car I ever owned, but this is the next best thing. Every time I drive it, heck, every time look at it, I’m 26 again.”
Most of us never get that chance to go back. Joe Oldham is one of the lucky ones.