Motion Performance Survivor Story: Dave Ankenbauer’s 1972 Phase-III 454 ZL-X Corvette

Vietnam Vet and Paraplegic, Dave Ankenbauer got one of the BADDEST Baldwin Motion street 454 Phase III Corvettes ever built!

By K. Scott Teeters.
Photos by Dave Belk and the Family of Dave Ankenbauer

Dateline: 6-22-17 (This story was first published in the March 2012 issue of Vette Vues Magazine) – Dave Belk is a car guy with a taste for supercars – Baldwin Motion supercars that is. Belk is the owner of QC Networks, manufacturer of school gymnasium supplies, in Wheatland, Iowa. Car guys love to troll the internet, looking for interesting cars for sale. That’s how Dave found his latest supercar, a one-owner, Baldwin-Motion 1972 Phase-III 454 Corvette that had been in a garage since 1985 – nearly 26 years! What Belk didn’t realize was that he had just entered into the world of a most unusual and unique young man that is no longer with us.
Our young patriot’s name was Dave Ankenbauer, from Covington, Kentucky. In 1969, at the young age of 18, Ankenbauer enlisted into the United States Marine Corps and after basic training, it was off to South East Asia, Vietnam in-country. Dave Ankenbauer was a decorated foot soldier and a good sharpshooter. About a year into his service, Dave was shot in the back during a fire fight and left paralyzed. Needless to say, Dave also received a Purple heart. Dave Ankenbauer’s sister, Darla Sharp Ankenbauer described her brother this way. “He was extremely fearless, outgoing, and a huge risk taker. Right after he was paralyzed, Dave took a trip to Thailand, by himself. He was worry free and a very giving person. He was a true free spirit – a man’s man.”

Ankenbauer was also a big-time car guy, a Chevy muscle car guy. Ankenbauer also owned a 1970 SS-454 Chevelle with a stripe delete and a 1970 Z-28 Camaro. But it was his Phase-III Corvette that rocked the most. Obviously, Dave must have been reading CARS Magazine, as editor Marty Schorr made sure that the juicy red meat that Joel Rosen and the Motion Performance team cooked up, had plenty of media sizzle. Almost every issue of CARS from early in ‘68 through the late ‘70s dished up the tasty offerings from the Baldwin-Motion Performance Group and Motion Performance. It was all very exciting reading.
So by the time Ankenbauer was receiving his military pension and Social Security, he knew EXACTLY what he wanted. Early in 1971 he first contacted Joel Rosen about getting his dream car – a Baldwin-Motion Phase-III 454 Corvette. Time Frame Check! This was back in the day when most people hand wrote letters and waited for replies. Ankenbauer wrote back and forth with Rosen five times from April to December ‘71 when he finally ordered the car.
Keep in mind that Ankenbauer is described by his sister as “fearless.” Obviously, one would definitely have to be fearless to be paralyzed and buy such a car. Dave’s Phase-III Corvette was as maxed out as could be in 1972. His Ontario Orange ‘72 Corvette was powered by a balanced and blueprinted 454 ZL-X big-block Chevy engine with aluminum heads, 4.88:1 gears, with a Hone-O-Drive overdrive unit. Ankenbauer put down $2,000, then $4,000 when the special engine build was dropped into the car, and finally $5,076.00 upon delivery. The grand total? $11,076.00. That was a lot of cash back in ‘72, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator indicates that $11,000 in 1972 would equal $59,534 in 2011. That’s about the price of a moderately optioned base model ‘11 Corvette!
Current owner Dave Belk describes the car’s performance as “dangerously quick.” The engine that Rosen built for Ankenbauer’s Corvette was only slightly less potent than the engines he was building for Motion Performance’s A/Modified Production 1970 Camaro race car. Rosen used a slightly milder cam to compensate for the modified 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic 400 automatic transmission, and a single, big Holley 4-barrel carb, instead of the race car’s duel quads on a hi-rise manifold.
You are probably wondering how a paralyzed young man drove a beast such as this? Simple. Hand controls! Now that’s hard to fathom – a paralyzed young man behind the wheel of a 600-plus horsepower Corvette with header side pipes and 4.88:1 gears. When Ankenbauer took delivery of the car, he and a friend trailered the car back home to Kentucky. This may well be the only Baldwin-Motion car to ever be fitted with hand controls. Ankenbauer bought a kit and had a local shop do the installation. From there, it was time to BURN SOME RUBBER. Obviously, this is a setup than only a fearless person would love.Enjoying a “Loaded For Bear” Corvette

Ankenbauer did not have a long life and it seems that aside from his trip to Thailand, and to Baldwin, New York to pick up his Corvette, he pretty much stuck to the rural roads of Covington, Kentucky. He especially enjoyed taking his Corvette out to the rural parts of his home town for some target shooting – from the driver’s seat. He had a gun holster screwed on to the back of the passenger seat!
Dave obviously enjoyed his Motion supercar, used it as it was intended, didn’t abuse it, and lovingly maintained the car. The only two things about the car that are not as it was when he bought the car is a new lacquer paint job (factory color, of course) that was sprayed on in ‘75 and the holster behind the passenger seat! Ankenbauer loved that car! By the early ‘80s Dave began to have serious health issues and died in 1984, at the age of 36.

Upon Ankenbauer’s passing, the car was left to his parents. I can well imagine that his folks didn’t know what to do with the car (I’m certain they weren’t interested in driving it!), so they put the car in storage in their garage. And unlike the way we store cars today, the Phase-III Corvette was simply “parked” – for a long time. When Ankenbauer’s parents passed on, the car was left to Dave’s cousin, Miranda. After many years, Miranda decided it was time to sell the car.
Enter Dave Belk.

I believe we’ll have to chalk this one up to Fate. Dave Belk was supposed to buy this car. Even though Dave found the car just 30 minutes after Miranda posted ane ad, it seems the three heavy hitter, Baldwin-Motion players had passed on this car. Miranda had contacted Joel Rosen to get the car documented and indicated that she wanted to sell the car.

Yes, that’s Joel “Mr. Motion” signing the Ankenbauer 454 Phase III Corvette that he built!

Both Joel Rosen and Marty Schorr were interested in buying the car, but passed because Miranda’s description of the car sounded like it was very rough. Rosen and Schorr suggested Miranda contact Motion collector Adam Tuckman, who also passed, but suggested that Miranda try selling the car on the internet. When Belk took the car to the 2011 NCACN Show in Chicago, Rosen, Schorr, and Tuckman were astonished  to seen what they’d passed on!

When Belk discovered the car on the net, he called and made a sight, unseen offer. Miranda told Belk that she’d get back to him on his offer. Three minutes later, she called back to accept the offer. A few days later, Dave took his trailer from Iowa to Kentucky to pick up his new, old supercar. Belk relates, “ I couldn’t believe its condition for sitting since 1985. There was no moisture damage whatsoever and everything was there. Nothing was missing. I hooked my winch to the front suspension and before long the car was on my trailer and out of its tomb of 26 years.”
Letting go of her cousin’s Corvette was not easy for Miranda. Before their teary farewell, Belk assured Miranda, Dave’s sister Darla, and Dave’s best friend Ronnie Scalf, that the car would not be restored and would get whatever it needed. Upon arrival back home in Iowa, Belk took the car directly to Schoenthaler Restorations in Donohue, Iowa. Mechanic, Kevin Marple gave the car whatever it needed, which was surprisingly little. The car’s wheel cylinders and master cylinder were rebuilt. The points and distributor were checked, and new rotor, cap, and wires installed. The gas tank was cleaned and checked. All fluids were replaced and a new battery was installed.
While the mechanical maintenance was being performed, Belk sent the Ansen slotted aluminum wheels to California Plating to be polished. New tires, same size as originally fitted to Ankenbauer’s Phase III, were mounted on the polished wheels. And the paint got a light buffing. Finally the day arrived when it was time to fire up Belk’s 600-plus horsepower, 454 ZL-X-powered Phase-III 1972 Corvette. The balanced and blueprinted engine that Joel Rosen built back in 1972 started right up! After sitting in a very tight garage since 1985, the Motion Corvette immediately came to life. The happy event was video recorded and is on YouTube and titled, “BM Vette.”

Survivor Cars Are Special Cars

While barn finds are really cool, survivor cars are especially sweet. If you follow the Baldwin Motion experience you will find some amazing stories of once awesome cars that were seriously abused. A few changed hands by people that really didn’t know what they had, before anyone knew it, the car was nothing more than an “old Chevy” or an “old Vette.” And then other Motion cars are lovingly enjoyed, used as they were intended, well maintained, and are still around. Cars such as Dr. Rollings white ‘71 Phase-III Corvette, and now Dave Belk’s former Dave Ankenbauer’ 1972 Phase-III Corvette. Belk recently bought a 55-gallon drum of 110 octane fuel to feed his Motion monster Vette. Hopefully for him, this will be the first of many 55-gallon drums.

I commented to Dave Belk that it’s interesting how his 454 Motion Corvette, by the numbers, has about as much power as a C6 ZR1. Dave described the difference this way, “The way I describe new vs. old Horsepower is: “Contained HP” (New cars) and “Unleashed HP.” Its not something you describe, its something you feel. To think, you could buy a new car in 72 with over 600-hp advertised! I told Joel Rosen it definitely feels like more than 600-hp, and he replied ” it does.”

So we salute you, Dave Ankenbauer, for your service to our nation and what you have given to the Corvette and Motion Performance community. – Scott

In 2013 I interviewed Vette Magazine Founder, Marty Schorr and Joel “Mr. Motion” on my Far Out Radio program. You can listen to the interview below!