Photos by Dave Alderman and GM.
Nineteen sixty-nine was a banner year for factory muscle cars. Each of the Big Three, as well as AMC, had their own version of a go-fast car. The result, however, was an increasingly crowded muscle car arena. And after originating the market in 1964, the GTO was now beginning to lose market share. It became clear that a shot in the arm was needed to attract new buyers.
A decision was made by Pontiac’s General Manager John DeLorean to develop a car that would compete with the popular Plymouth Road Runner. The Road Runner’s success was based on its low price, no frills, go-fast approach. Originally, Pontiac’s response was to be called the “ET” for the term elapsed time, and was to be a one-year-only car using the same approach Plymouth used marketing the Road Runner. Pontiac’s hope was to jump start sales of the GTO.
After several meetings with other Pontiac brass, John DeLorean, and advertising manager Jim Wangers, the corporate direction for the new car changed, along with the car’s name. In place of the proposed low-priced ET, the Judge emerged to become a $332 option to the base GTO. During that time, Laugh-In was an extremely popular TV show and the line, “Here Comes Da Judge” was shouted by comedian Flip Wilson on a weekly basis. The connotation to the infamous phrase became Pontiac’s marketing ploy to increase GTO sales. The Judge became the car that would, in fact, make and break the rules at the same time.
Pontiac designed the Judge to be an “in your face” car–particularly when ordered in Carousel Red. It screamed “look at me” from every angle. On the hood, Ram Air decals graced the sides of functional hood scoops. A Judge decal was placed on the front fenders, and a sculptured, multi-colored side stripe ran from the front fenders to the C-pillar. Style steel wheels were standard sans the typical outer trim ring. In the rear, a 60-inch-wide spoiler graced the trunk with a Judge decal on the far right side.
The interior of the car was standard GTO with the exception of a special Judge glove box emblem and a “T” handle on standard-transmission cars. The emblem told passengers that this was no regular GTO, it was the Judge! The glove box emblem was cancelled after a production run of about a month because the designers didn’t like the look of it; however, when DeLorean found out it had been cancelled, he used his clout to get it put back onto the glove box. His reasoning was that it was the only real identifying aspect to the interior.
While the base GTO was powered by a 350-horsepower, 400 cubic-inch engine, ordering a Judge would get you the 366-horsepower Ram Air III engine. The only powertrain option was the Ram Air IV engine conservatively rated at 370 horsepower. The base Ram Air III engine featured high-flow, D-port heads with free flowing exhaust manifolds and a factory ram air system operated by a lever under the dash. The optional Ram Air IV engine featured round-port heads, 1.65-ratio rocker arms, a more radical cam, and an aluminum intake manifold. Ordering a Ram Air IV necessitated getting either 3.91 or 4.33 axle gears. It was understood that both engines were much underrated in horsepower to keep the front office and insurance companies happy. Surprisingly, the base transmission was a lowly three-speed manual. The four-speed manual and Turbo-Hydramatic were optional.
In the end, the 1969 Judge had sales of only 6,833–6,725 hardtops and 108 convertibles. While the 1970-71 Judge sales dropped drastically, today Judges are highly sought after in the collector car world, and prices continue to rise. Looking back, the Judge is a testament to the wild ride of factory muscle car competition in the late 1960s.
Fuel For Thought
Royal Pontiac in Royal Oak, Michigan built the first GTO Judge for Pontiac from a green GTO
100 dealers participated in Pontiac-sponsored Judge drag cars–all were Carousel Red
“Pigmeat” Markham copyrighted “Here Come Da Judge,” but Pontiac wouldn’t pay him $250,000 to use it in ads
Mark Lindsey of Paul Revere and the Raiders made a Judge record that dealers gave away
Hide-away headlamps were optional
Engine – The Pontiac V-8 proved to be a dependable high performance engine. The Judge’s standard Ram Air III engine was comfortable on the street, yet provided exhilarating performance for its time. The optional Ram Air IV was a bit much for daily driving due to its long-duration cam and big port heads.
Handling – The Judge looked like it could do it all, however typical with muscle cars of the 1960s, its weight distribution was 58/42 front to rear, making it less than stellar in hard corners. Adding to that, the lack of a rear anti-roll bar destined the Judge to be a straight-line performer only.
Number built – 6,725 hardtops
Construction – Body-on-frame
Engine – 400 cubic-inch V-8
Power/Torque – 400 cubic-inch V-8 Ram Air III, 366 horsepower, 445 lb-ft torque, 400 cubic-inch V-8 Ram Air IV, 370 horsepower, 445 lb-ft torque
Transmissions – Three-speed manual, four-speed manual, three-speed automatic
Suspension front – Independent, short long arm, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Suspension rear – Live axle with upper and lower control arms, coil springs
Steering – Recirculating ball, 22:1 ratio
Brakes – 11.12-inch vented disc front, 9.5-inch drum rear
Length/width/height – 201.5/75.8/52.3 inches
Wheelbase – 112 inches
Weight – 3,735 lbs.
0-60mph/quarter mile – 6.2 seconds, 14.45 seconds at 97.8 mph (Car Life, March 1969)
Top speed – 124 mph (Car Life, March 1969)
MPG – 7.8 mpg average (Car Life, March 1969)
Price – MSRP - $3,488; Today – $27,700 - $128,000
1969 Hurst Olds 442
Number built – 914
0-60/quarter mile – 5.9 seconds, 14.1 seconds at 101 mph
Top speed – 125 mph est.
Price – MSRP - $4,180; Today – $17,325 - $56,850
1969 Mustang Boss 429
Number built – 858
0-60/quarter mile – 6.8 seconds, 14.0 seconds at 103 mph
Top speed – 130 mph est.
Price – MSRP - $4,798; Today – $115,800 - $368,800
Excellent appreciation in the collector car market
Can be seen three blocks away with popular Carousel Red paint
Hard to find a real Judge
Expensive to purchase
Not as fast as an L78 Chevy or Cobra Jet
The GTO Judge is not a car that you see on a typical Friday night at the local hamburger joint. Most cars are shown infrequently and kept under lock and key the rest of the time. Judge convertibles are rarely driven.
What to pay
1969 Pontiac GTO Judge
MSRP – $3,488
Low – $27,700
Average – $49,200
High – $128,000
Insurance cost is $430/year for a $49,200 1969 GTO Judge. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
Front grille (per side) $220.45
Front door glass $229.95
Weatherstrip kit $226.95
Seat upholstery kit $291.95
Based on information from Original Parts Group Inc.,
Pontiac GTO [Illustrated] by Steve Statham
Pontiac GTO Restoration Guide, 1964-1972 by Paul Zazarine
Glory Days: When Horsepower and Passion Ruled Detroit by Jim Wangers
GTO Red Book: 1964 to 1974 by Peter Sessler
Pontiac’s Greatest Decade 1959-1969 by Paul Zazarine
The purpose of the Judge was to spur sales of the GTO. While it was hoped that it would help, 1969 sales dropped to about 72,00 total units from the previous year’s 87,000 units. By 1970, sales dropped again to just over 40,000 units. The beginning of the end was near, but looking back the 1969 Judge was a unique car for its time and today reflects the best of the muscle car years.