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.
The Engine and Drivetrain
Classic Restorations performed...
Classic Restorations performed all the body and paintwork to transform this ’70 LeMans convertible into a Judge tribute car. Superchrome in Asbury Park, New Jersey, rechromed the rear bumper and restored the bright trim.
The powerplant is a code-WA '70 455. While the body was being restored and modified, Trey sent the engine out for a pump-gas build-up to be shipped to Classic for installation later. The block was machined, bored 0.030 over, and fitted with an Eagle 4.25-inch stroker assembly featuring a cast crank, forged H-beam rods, and forged pistons wrapped in moly rings. ARP main studs and Program four-bolt billet-steel main caps hold the crank in place, and a Melling high-volume pump, custom-fit crank scraper, and a new pan ensure oil gets to it and is scraped off of it.
A Comp Cams hydraulic roller specs out a 224/230 degrees duration at 0.050 lift on a 110-degree LSA and has 0.502/0.510 lift. Ported and polished '70 No. 64 heads were fitted with bronze guides, Manley stainless steel 2.11/1.77 undercut valves, a multi-angle valve job, Comp springs with 10-degree retainers and locks, 7/16-inch ARP rocker studs, Crane gold 1.50-ratio roller rockers, and 7/16-inch stud girdles, and Comp Cams pushrods were employed.
A Carter pump, Holley 750-cfm carb, and an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake deliver the fuel and air and a Delco distributor with a Pertronix conversion, Pertronix coil, 7mm wires, and ACDelco plugs provide the spark. A set of R.A.R.E. Ram Air 2.5-inch outlet manifolds sends the fumes through a Waldron reproduction Vacuum Operated Exhaust (VOE) system to stock tips.
The Moser 12-bolt has HD axles...
The Moser 12-bolt has HD axles to handle the engine power and 4.10 gears. Global West control arms position it and QA1 shocks and stock convertible springs control its movement on the road.
An 11-inch Zoom hydraulic clutch and an aluminum flywheel connect the engine to a Rockland Standard Gear Tranzilla Tremec six-speed with 0.67 overdrive, and an aluminum driveshaft takes the torque to a Moser 12-bolt with an Auburn posi and 4.10 gears.
The Chassis Changes
Since ride and handling were such a large part of the buildup equation, Global West (GW) and QA1 were chosen to supply many of the components. Up front, GW control arms with Del-A-Lum bushings were installed to improve geometry and handling, and QA1 coilovers control the wheel/tire movements and make the ride height adjustable. A '91 GTA steering box reduces turns to lock and improves road feel, and a 1.125-inch sway bar helps keep the ragtop flat in the corners.
Making sure the rear suspension upgrades are on par with the front, GW lower and adjustable upper control arms, QA1 shocks, stock '70 GTO convertible springs, and an Addco 1.00-inch swaybar were installed.
This is the business end of...
This is the business end of the 2.5-inch stainless VOE exhaust. When the knob is pulled under the dash, engine vacuum is applied to the vacuum diaphragms, the baffles inside the mufflers move, the exhaust flow is improved, and the tone is louder. The 3-inch aluminum driveshaft, also shown here, is stronger and lighter than stock.
To vastly improve braking, Baer Eradispeed brakes feature two-piston calipers and 12.75-inch-diameter slotted and cross-drilled rotors in front, and single-piston calipers with 11.35-inch rotors in the rear.
Wheel Vintiques' billet Rallye II wheels, 17x7-inch front and 17x8-inch rear, combine modern sizing with a vintage appearance and Firestone Firehawk Wide Oval Indy 500 tires (225/55R17 front and 235/55R17) ensure great gobs of stick in the corners. With all these mods, you'd think the project was nearing completion, but Trey wanted more—options.
The LeMans already had A/C, remote rearview mirror, and power windows. During the build up, a litany of other factory options were added like Ram Air, VOE, tilt column, Custom Sports "wood" wheel, Rally gauges with hood tach, power locks, power antenna, power trunk release, Instant-Aire system, underhood reel-out light, trunk light, vanity mirror, headlight delay, AM/FM stereo with 8-track, deluxe seatbelts, and the rare electric seatback release.
The Sandlewood interior was...
The Sandlewood interior was completely restored using a combination of original and reproduction parts. Gillin Custom Interior did the upholstery and installed the new Saddle top. (Melvin wanted more contrast with the body color than a Sandlewood top would provide.) Many of the options requested by Trey and added by Classic can be seen here. Notice that the electric seatback releases require a second doorjamb switch. The kick panels with speakers, and the console—which was modified to accept a factory-style shifter mounted to a six-speed—are new as well.
On the modern creature comfort front, heated seats, an integral garage-door-opener remote, a digital upgrade to the stock stereo and modern speakers, and halo headlights were added. And with those additions, the buildup was nearly completed, except for a few more options that still need to be installed like NOS license plate frames, mud flaps, seat-belt tensioners, a trash can/tissue dispenser, Roadside emergency kit, fire extinguisher, and the '70 8-track demo tape. "Ebay is a dangerous thing," Trey says.
Now 46 years old, Trey is ready to start enjoying his raucous ragtop on the street. The LeMans was completed minutes prior to our photo shoot, before Trey even took delivery.
Given the fact that the Pontiac was built to his specifications and Classic Restorations really sweated details, there is little doubt that Trey will soon be spinning heads wherever he cruises in his Judge-like LeMans and burning up the back roads with no worry of ruining a priceless collectible. Of course, that was the whole point.
A garage-door-opener control...
A garage-door-opener control is integrated into the sunvisor.
The VOE knob is positioned...
The VOE knob is positioned next to the Ram Air knob. One sucks air in more quickly and the other blows it out more quickly.
Though the AM/FM stereo looks...
Though the AM/FM stereo looks stock, internally it has been updated to 200 watts, and is MP3 and satellite-radio compatible. It plays through the two kick panel-mounted Pioneer speakers and two more 6x9-inch speakers behind the seat. Trey wanted modern sound from the stereo but ’70 sound from the 8-track, so the latter is wired to the front center dash speaker only, which now features a dual voice-coil setup.
The optional Instant-Aire...
The optional Instant-Aire system is comprised of a pump that can be attached to the engine and runs off engine vacuum to inflate the tires via its attached rubber hose and fitting.
Here’s an option you won’t...
Here’s an option you won’t find in the ’70 Pontiac Accessories catalog—heated seats.
It may look like a Judge but...
It may look like a Judge but it’s not, and that’s the way owner Trey Gee wants it.