Who wouldn't love to own an Orbit Orange '70 Judge convertible just to drop the top and drop jaws on main street? Problem is, there were only 168 '70 Judge convertibles made and in the last few years, auction sale prices peaked at well over $300,000 for a prime example and are still currently in the low-six-figure range, despite the poor economy.
Unless your daily driver is a Bentley, you own a palatial estate, and you light your hand-rolled Cubans with burning "Benjamins," even if you could raise the cash to buy a real '70 Judge convertible, once you have it, a drive around the block may make your knees knock at the mere possibility of dinging it.
So how else can you have fun in a Judge convertible yet still stay off Xanax? Build one of your own. Just don't pretend that it's real, especially when it comes time to sell it. There's no worry of that with Keysville, Virginia-resident Everett W. Gee III's (Trey) Judge tribute. Why? Because it's a LeMans and it retains its LeMans VIN.
Trey explains, "I had been a Corvette guy for many years before I began this project. Once I got married and started a family, I knew that my '67 327/350hp Corvette convertible would not be practical. I considered a Chevelle, but the GTO was the first musclecar, and when I saw an Orbit Orange '70 Judge go across the auction block on TV, the styling screamed '1970s King of Muscle.' I really wanted a classic GTO, but with the power, ride, and comfort to rival modern cars—a great car to drive. At the same time, I didn't want to heavily modify an original GTO or Judge and put lots of miles on it, because I would feel guilty for depreciating a piece of history, so I decided that a tribute car built as a restomod would be my best choice." In 2006, Trey purchased a $15,000 LeMans convertible and work began.
The roller-cammed 467ci stroker...
The roller-cammed 467ci stroker engine features a hi-po Holley carb and Edelbrock intake, yet retains iron No. 64 heads that were ported to match the flow requirements of the new combo.
Teaming up with Classic Restorations Enterprises' owner Melvin Benzaquen, a plan was developed. The body was to be treated to all the visual cues of a '70 Judge convertible. Its engine would be heavily modified inside, but retain a mostly stock appearance outside. An overdrive manual trans is a must for shift-it-yourself fun and to keep the rpm down on the highway, and a bulletproof rear is required for durability.
The GTO was a competent handler for its day, but suspension technology has come a long way since, and let's not forget this is a LeMans, with an even softer ride. To that end, upgraded suspension and brake mods would be employed but they wouldn't be over the top, as ride quality is just as important as handling. Modern wheels and rubber would complete the performance mods, again with an eye toward appearing as a mild upgrade from the stock Judge.
Trey also wanted to take the opportunity to add a few creature comforts that weren't available for '70, and he wanted to seek out a few more factory options, from the obvious to the downright extinct, and have Classic incorporate them into the build as well.
A far cry from a stock LeMans,...
A far cry from a stock LeMans, these suspension upgrades installed by Classic Restorations will raise handling and braking performance to levels unheard of in ’70.
The end result is a '70 LeMans that looks like a super-rare Judge, but drives like a much more modern performer. Let's learn how they did it.
Classic Restorations chemically stripped the body to bare metal to determine how much work was needed and where. Some minor patches were required in the floors and trunk, and though the rear quarters had already been patched, they needed to be redone. Since this is a LeMans, Classic Restorations ordered the requisite GTO body parts, including a reproduction hood, fenders, rear spoiler, and rear valance panel, and sourced an original Endura front bumper. While the stock rockers and doors needed minimal work, the repro hood and fenders took some time to get straight and properly fitted.
Once the bodywork was completed, PPG Epoxy primer was applied, and the panels were block-sanded until straight. PPG sealer was shot next, followed by three color coats of PPG DCU in Orbit Orange. Finally, three coats of DCU 2021 clear were laid down. Once the paint was dry, wet-sanding in a progression of grits from 1,000 to 2,500 smoothed the finish, and 3M compound followed by Finessing It and Hand Glaze brought up the shine.