Pontiac GTO Judge Convertible

There’s a special place in the American muscle car pantheon for convertibles of the late 1960s and early 1970s powered by exotic, king-of-the-hill big block engines. These years comprised an era when low production, high profile, beautiful, sleek, striped muscle cars met ultimate big block V-8s such as the Ram Air IV 400 in this 1970 GTO Judge convertible. Others in this league include million-dollar convertibles like the LS6 Chevelle SS 454 and the ’Cuda with the 426 Hemi.

The Judge was a short-lived sub-species of the GTO, first appearing on the American scene in 1969. “The Judge,” as in “Here Come Da Judge,” was pretty much a spoof. Pontiac Motor Division wanted to attract the youth who predominately sought high performance vehicles. Chances are they watched the hot TV show Laugh-In and would go along with “The Judge” as being a cool name. Pontiac almost went with “ET,” short for Elapsed Time, as in drag strip times, but thought this name was too serious.

Originally, Pontiac planned to build The Judge in one color, Carousel Red. They would sell this special GTO as an “economy” muscle car, to tap a market uncovered by the 1968 Plymouth Road Runner. The idea was to put the dollars into pure performance items rather than power-robbing accessories such as air conditioning, stereo radios, power windows, and other extras contributing nothing to make the car go faster.

Muscle car sales were tailing off at the end of the 1960s. The verdict was that young buyers could not afford expensive muscle cars, but they nevertheless wanted to own them. They just needed a cheaper price. Road Runner sales took off for the 1968 model year, and the rest of Detroit imitated Plymouth’s success with new economy muscle cars of their own.

Pontiac’s sales plan to increase profits was to sell options on the GTO. There’s no question the once bare-bones muscle GTO, originally debuting as an option on the cheap Tempest Le Mans in the spring of 1964, was gaining weight. The Judge was now an option on the 1969 GTO. It added a little over $300 to the base price, while including a fairly hot 366-horsepower Ram Air III engine as standard equipment.

Appearance-wise, The Judge was a real head-turner, starting with the unique side stripes, the blackout front grille, The Judge decals on the rear deck lid and front fenders, front spoiler (on most cars), a rear wing spoiler atop the deck lid, and The Judge emblem on the glove box door. There was no mistaking this car from a regular GTO.

At the start of the year, the optional engine was the Ram Air IV, featuring a ram air system with driver-operated flaps and chrome valve covers. Rating 370 horsepower, or just four more than the base RA-III engine, the RA-IV, with the same 400-cubic inch displacement, doesn’t seem like an enormous difference at first, but enthusiasts know the difference is substantial. They still sing the praises of the Ram Air IV’s round port heads, forged crank and pistons, four-bolt main caps, and high lift cam and aluminum intake.

The Ram Air IV actually topped the performance of the 455 HO mill. Pontiac introduced the 455-cubic inch V-8 to the GTO line-up for 1970. Although not nearly as high performance as the Ram Air IV, the 455 had bragging rights on size. Finally, in the last quarter of the model year, Pontiac put the 455 on the Judge option list.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in November of 2010 at the Robson Estate, Gainesville, Georgia.

370 bhp, 400 cu. in. V-8, four-speed close ratio manual gearbox with Hurst T-handle shifter, independent front suspension with A-arms and coil springs, 10-bolt rear axle, and Rally II wheels. Wheelbase: 112"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel

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