A total of 6,833 '69 Judges were built by Pontiac, and collectively they had such an incredible impact on popular culture that today they are first-string examples from the classic muscle-car era.
How could hyping a GTO by painting it a bright-orange color, applying zany stripes, adding a menacing-looking rear spoiler; and borrowing a name from a 40-year-old comedy skit that had suddenly become an overnight hip phrase in the summer of 1968 turn an appearance-and-performance option package into what is arguably the most famous GTO ever?
Pontiac Styling Chief William "Bill" Porter was directly involved in the construction of The Judge's image. "I was growing very tired of all of the boy-racer stuff being done to muscle cars by the time we did The Judge. Everybody was putting dual racing stripes on their products and trying to be the bad boy. Our goal was to create a fun car that didn't take itself too seriously. We intended it to be a joyous spoof of the psychedelic movement happening at the time. The irony of corporate-giant GM coming out with an anti-establishment car at the height of the youth movement was not lost on us, but The Judge succeeded because Pontiac enjoyed the most youthful image of anybody. Buick, Oldsmobile, or even Ford couldn't have gotten away with something like that.
"I knew The Judge would be successful the first night I drove one home from work and was immediately greeted in the driveway by my son, Adam, who was ordinarily never very interested in cars. Shortly thereafter, the car was swamped by every kid in the neighborhood—many of whom I'd never even seen before."
GTO ad-man Jim Wangers is also intrinsically tied to The Judge. In his book, Glory Days, he recalls, "The outrageous visual statement it made, with its wild orange color, and wild psychedelic pop-art graphics, allowed it to become a darling of the protest generation. Its arrogant and outspoken posture literally shouted, ‘I know I may be a little funny-looking … but don't *@&% with me…or I'll blow your doors off!'—and with the Ram Air III or Ram Air IV engine, the driver usually could, no matter what the competition."
We reached out to our fans on Facebook (you can be one too, at www.facebook.com/highperformancepontiac) to tell us what makes the '69 Judge the Special Great One from Pontiac. Here are some of their replies:
• People who don't even know anything about cars, much less old Pontiacs, usually know what a Judge is. It's the only GTO [that has] any kind of stripes or crazy colors, too, so of course it stands out. A Judge is one of those cars that'll turn anybody into a gearhead.—Jack S. Shirley
• Put a tiger under your hood.—Chad Hale
• Just like in a courtroom [where] they say, "Rise for the judge," it's what everyone does for The Judge. [They] rise up in honor.—Robert Cajun Theriot
• When it came out, The Judge was not only the epitome of muscle-car performance and straight-line power—with 370-plus hp (probably understated) from the Ram Air IV and dominating many areas of performance among other competitors—but it took the entire international car scene by surprise because no American muscle car before had been so loud—with crazy stripes and decals and a large rear spoiler. It caught peoples' eyes like nothing else. When someone saw one, they immediately thought, Here comes The Judge, and that struck fear into [The Judge's] unfortunate competition!—Cage Williamson
• It was the sense of awesomeness.—Mark Dillon
• The Judge will rule, that's why.—Lance Demerais
• The Judge makes the final decision—James Thevenin
• It's the American icon.—Donavin McKinney
• The Judge is an American Icon. This GTO was given the perfect name [in that it was] meant to rule over all else. I think it was a fitting moniker for the car since the GTO was the first muscle car.—Kyle Wilson
• The Judge embodies everything that an A-body is. It came from a modest and humble beginning. It rose to the elevation of The Great One through adversity. The designers, much like the car itself, did not always follow the rules and did what it took to make it great. It's a pioneer, a performer, a power house, … it's a Pontiac! —Andrew Poligo
• They played off the phrase "Here comes the judge," and Sammy Davis Jr. comedy routines. The rest is history. When you ask people what first comes to mind when you say "The Judge," they sure don't say "Judge Judy," now do they?—Harold McCalla
• Ram Air, hideaway [headlights], Rally IIs, and of course Carousel Red. It's most famous by virtue of the fact that all the things that made the GTO what it was are in The Judge.—Dan Heston
• The Judge set the bar for muscle cars. It's just plain badass. It looks tough and has the motor to back it up. It lives up to the [its] name. —Alberto ElGoat Gutierrez
• The Judge represented the pinnacle of performance, style, and options of not just the GTO, but of the entire muscle-car era. It's the standard by which muscle cars are judged.—Chris Jett
• It was the fastest, the strongest, [and] the best-looking car of the muscle-car [era].— Michael Preston
• There is no higher authority than The Judge.—Gary Rousselo
• It's the Special Great One from Pontiac. Enough said.—Terry Efurd
• Why? Look at it. That's why. Lift the hood. That's why. Drive it. That's why.—Jessica Jackson
• They introduced The Judge in '69 because so many of the previous-year GTO owners had to sit in front of the judge from terrorizing the streets. —Eric Marshall