The 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge was evidence that muscle cars could reflect the cultural currents of their time.
In most circumstances, a judge commands respect. But society in the 1960s grew increasingly irreverent toward establishment figures, and "Here comes da judge!" quickly went from a sardonic catch phrase on TV's Laugh-In to a staple of the American lexicon.
In naming the newest GTO incarnation "The Judge," Pontiac seemed to be saying: "This car has authority, but like the Road Runner and its ilk, it doesn't take itself too seriously." Abundantly powerful V-8s secured the first part of the message; op-art graphics and bright primary colors brought home the second.
As originally conceived, The Judge was to be an econo-muscle Goat, maybe a pillared coupe in a single color, with rubber floor mats and only the hottest performance equipment. The Judge that debuted in December 1968 wasn't so severe, being instead a $332 option package for the GTO hardtop or convertible. But it included a host of features that cost far more when ordered individually.
Standard was the 366-bhp Ram Air III evolution of the GTO's 400-cid V-8; an underdash knob now closed its hood scoops in wet weather. Pontiac trimmed a few bucks from the base price by fitting a three-speed manual with Hurst T-handle shifter (and by deleting trim rings from the standard Rally II wheels), but all Judges had the regular firm GTO suspension and wide-tread Polyglas G70x14s.
Another $390 landed the new Ram Air IV with its radical cam and underrated 370 bhp. Restless at idle, weak below 3000 rpm, this edition of the 400 was a pain to drive on the street and a task to launch at the strip, but it was a weapon in the hands of a skilled driver. A close-ratio four-speed ($195) or automatic ($227), Posi ($63), front discs ($64), power steering ($100), and hood-mounted tach ($63) filled out the well-appointed Judge.
No somber black robes for this jurist, however. A rear-deck spoiler, blackout grille, and Judge decals
decorated the body, though the cabin was standard GTO except for judge badges. To kill any budget-muscle pretense, every regular GTO option was available, including hidden headlamps. The Judge performed no differently than similarly equipped Goats. It just did it with less reverence.
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