Pontiac Ramps Up The GTO With “The Judge” 1969
By the tail end of the sixties, with such contemporary legends as the Pontiac Tempest, Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, and the Pontiac 2+2, the Detroit auto manufacturer had firmly solidified its role as a muscle car staple :: of course with the market dominated by the GTO. In 1969, Pontiac’s premier high-performance roadster had just come off a big year, having introduced the second generation build to staunch critical acclaim :: namely, the GTO was called Motor Trend’s car of the year; however with stiff competition coming from GM, Chevrolet, and Plymouth, Pontiac had made the decision to offer another GTO muscle trim that they christened “The Judge”.
A snarky reference to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In sketch “Here Comes da Judge”, the GTO Judge was conceived at first as an economy muscle car, specifically a GTO trim that would give it a light enough price tag to compete against the relatively inexpensive 1969 Plymouth Road Runner–but during development the Judge concept was re-imagined as the epitome of street racing power, and it received a total makeover for the transformation to high-performance.
At the heart of the GTO Judge was the 366 hp Ram Air III–Pontiac’s upgrade for the 400 HO engine models and trim option for regular GTOs–though the monstrously powerful 370 hp Ram Air IV was also available as an upgrade. Both the Ram Air models were certainly more powerful than their ratings, which were most likely massaged by GM to lower estimates to accommodate their internal anti-racing pledge of no more than 1 hp per 10 lbs; in reality, it was well known that the Ram Air IV could almost effortlessly make 500 bhp, and became a highly sought drag-racing machine.
Any hopes of the Judge being economy motivated were thoroughly expelled on the sticker price; the Judge was available as a $332 trim that could modify either the GTO hardtop or convertible–but those looking to purchase a Ram Air IV would need an additional $390 on top of that. While Pontiac’s Judge was seen to have “lost” in ‘69, having been outsold by the Chevy Chevelle SS396 and the less expensive Plymouth Road Runner, the Judge came in a solid third-place in sales, totaling over 70,000 units sold–and of course, having been since remembered as one of the most popular muscle cars in history, many would say the Judge has an enviable legacy.