Here Come Da Judge: The 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge

Can you imagine a more exciting time to be a car designer than during the the height of the muscle car era? What must that have been like? The team would not only have to come up with a new eye-catching style every year, but would also have to increase the performance of the engine and the chassis to stay competitive with other makes. From the book America Muscle Cars is the story of one particular model that got it right in 1970, the Pontiac GTO Judge. You might be surprised to know that the unique moniker for the car actually came from a late-’60s TV show! Buyers snapped them up that year and today they are a still a cherished mean machine.

muscle cars, classic cars, vintage cars, Ford, GM, Chrysler, GTO, Mustang, Camaro, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Dodge, Barracuda, Charger, Corvette Stingray, american muscle cars, darwin holmstrom, motorbooks,This 1970 GTO Judge is as close to original as it is possible to get.

After Chrysler had eaten Pontiac’s muscle car lunch in 1968, Pontiac General Manager John DeLorean formed a committee to brainstorm ideas for the 1969 model year. One of the challenges the committee faced was developing Pontiac’s answer to the Road Runner, which had cut into GTO sales. Focusing on Plymouth’s initial marketing of the Road Runner as a low-priced muscle car, the committee originally devised a car called the E/T, a budget-priced GTO with a hopped-up 350-cubic-inch engine. While this car could beat a 383-equipped Road Runner through the quarter-mile, DeLorean was less than happy with the committee’s engine choice, saying that there was no place for a 350-cubic-inch engine in a 400-cubic-inch world.

muscle cars, classic cars, vintage cars, Ford, GM, Chrysler, GTO, Mustang, Camaro, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Dodge, Barracuda, Charger, Corvette Stingray, american muscle cars, darwin holmstrom, motorbooks,Though it had the obligatory Boeing 747- wing rear spoiler and exaggerated fender stripes, the 1970 GTO Judge was still an understated car compared to the competition, which may be why it was outsold by Pontiac’s Trans Am, which had a fire-belching chicken on its hood.

This forced the committee to entirely rethink its approach. DeLorean’s edict made sense—initially the Road Runner had been marketed as a budget-priced car but most buyers had loaded it up with enough options to bring the price up to GTO levels. The committee began adding standard equipment to the new package, transforming it from the least expensive GTO into the most expensive GTO. The group made the 366-horsepower Ram Air III engine standard equipment, and the Ram Air IV engine, conservatively rated at 370 horsepower, was the only optional engine. The Ram Air IV option put the GTO on par with a 440-Six-Pack-equipped Road Runner when it came to quarter-mile times.

muscle cars, classic cars, vintage cars, Ford, GM, Chrysler, GTO, Mustang, Camaro, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Dodge, Barracuda, Charger, Corvette Stingray, american muscle cars, darwin holmstrom, motorbooks,At the time this photo was taken in 2006, the Judge had covered just 50,246 miles since new. The owner drives it just 200 miles per year, meaning it now has less than an estimated 53,000 miles on the clock.

muscle cars, classic cars, vintage cars, Ford, GM, Chrysler, GTO, Mustang, Camaro, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Dodge, Barracuda, Charger, Corvette Stingray, american muscle cars, darwin holmstrom, motorbooks,This headlight, which was replaced in 1971, is one of the few items on the car that is not original factory equipment.

When the committee showed the revised car to DeLorean, he liked the upscale concept, still called the E/T, though he renamed it “The Judge” after a skit on the popular television show Laugh In. The Judge succeeded in its intended mission of raising the GTO’s profile in an increasingly crowded muscle car market. Perhaps it succeeded too well. Pontiac had difficulty in filling all the orders it received, which caused problems with the division’s dealer network. At the end of 1969, Pontiac had sold 6,833 Judges, nearly 10 percent of the 72,287 GTOs it sold that year.


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muscle cars, classic cars, vintage cars, Ford, GM, Chrysler, GTO, Mustang, Camaro, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Dodge, Barracuda, Charger, Corvette Stingray, american muscle cars, darwin holmstrom, motorbooks,This is the muscle car history to own–a richly illustrated chronicle of America’s greatest high-performance cars, told from their 1960s beginning through the present day!

In the 1960s, three incendiary ingredients–developing V-8 engine technology, a culture consumed by the need for speed, and 75 million baby boomers entering the auto market–exploded in the form of the factory muscle car. The resulting vehicles, brutal machines unlike any the world had seen before or will ever see again, defined the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll generation.

American Muscle Cars chronicles this tumultuous period of American history through the primary tool Americans use to define themselves: their automobiles. From the street-racing hot rod culture that emerged following World War II through the new breed of muscle cars still emerging from Detroit today, this book brings to life the history of the American muscle car.

When Pontiac’s chief engineer, John Z. DeLorean, and his team bolted a big-inch engine into the division’s intermediate chassis, they immediately invented the classic muscle car. In those 20 minutes it took Bill Collins and Russ Gee to bolt a 389 ci V-8 engine into a Tempest chassis they created the prototype for Pontiac’s GTO–and changed the course of automotive history. From that moment on, American performance cars would never be the same.

American Muscle Cars tells the story of the most desirable cars ever to come out of Detroit. It’s a story of flat-out insanity told at full throttle and illustrated with beautiful photography.