The ’69 GTO was one Detroit great that did indeed live up to its press release, and the Judge package was the exclamation point on a Division and a decade that exemplified power, instant gratification, and excess.
Michael Spatola’s excellent example of the breed is a factory code-19 Starlight Black on black, Ram Air III four-speed Judge with 68,000 miles. Though the mileage may indicate that it’s a pampered original, its story reveals just the opposite. But first, some history.
When Michael was a teenager in Brooklyn, New York, in the mid-’70s, he caught the “fever” from his older brothers, who owned many musclecars. He saved enough money to purchase his own first car, an Expresso Brown ’69 GTO, which he enjoyed and later sold. In 1980, he purchased a ’67 GTO that he still owns.
Starlight Black is a seldomseen...
Starlight Black is a seldomseen color for the ’69 Judge. Owner Michael Spatola wanted one so badly that he ran multiple classified ads for it—but he came up empty. Finally a friend offered the advice that lead to this Judge.
By 2002 his interest had turned to all things Judge, as long as it was black. Finding a Starlight Black ’69 Judge with substantial paperwork to prove its provenance would be no easy feat, as he soon learned. After an exhaustive search, Michael turned to his good friend, Richmond County Pontiac Association co-founder Joe Portagallo, who provided some leads. Soon thereafter, Michael was off to a Connecticut barn, where a Judge had sat since 1988 and was not for sale. Michael recalls, “It wasn’t easy but after several conversations, I ended up buying it.” The price: $14,000.
He learned the Judge was a Connecticut car all its life, originally delivered on July 7, 1969, to Stephen Pontiac Cadillac in Bristol. Its original suggested retail price was $4,150.08, which included the following options: the Judge (code-554) four-speed trans, AM radio, console, Soft Ray glass all around, G70-14 WW tires, HD Safe-T-Track, Rally Gauges, power steering, and power disc brakes.
Though every effort was made...
Though every effort was made to retain original parts in the code-258, black Morrokide interior, there were still parts that needed to be replaced. The headliner, carpeting, seat covers, and door panels came from Ames Performance, and Just Dashes restored the dashpad.
With the officer of the court in need of a total restoration, Michael again turned to Portagallo who suggested Rammy Kimberly Restoration in Bridport, Vermont, a one-stop Pontiac resto shop that can handle the body and paint, interior, and drivetrain, and in 2003 Michael sent the Judge to the Green Mountain state.
Though the outer shell looked pretty good, after sitting on dry-rotted tires on a filthy floor for nearly 15 years, underneath the pitted Pontiac was another story. Once the body was separated from the undercarriage, the rust issues became more apparent; then the shell was stripped with Klean Strip to reveal rust in the hood, fender heels, doors, and quarters.
Fresh reproduction sheetmetal from Ames Performance Engineering was welded in where possible, but there aren’t repop parts available for every ’69 GTO body part. Rammy spent two full work weeks on the rust-prone rear-window channel alone, welding in new metal. The wheelwells were fairly rusted, but ironically the quarters needed only spot metal repairs; the fenders were savable.
The original 366-horse, WS-code...
The original 366-horse, WS-code R/A-III 400 was bored 0.030 over and completely rebuilt. Though it retains its original carb, intake, ignition, and exhaust, a hotter Comp hydraulic cam adds a few more horsepower without sacrificing driveability.
Following all the bodywork, the application of PPG self-etching primer, and blocksanding, next came K-36 two-part primer and more block-sanding, and finally a coat of Vari-seal.
Three base-color coats of PPG Deltron urethane in Starlight Black were applied, followed by two coats of PPG Deltron clear. After the paint had sufficient time to cure, wet-sanding began with 1,000-grit paper and ended with 2,000. Final-polishing with a silicone-free, German-made compound called Menzerna brought out the shine.
The numbers-matching WS-code 400 Ram Air III received a 0.030-over bore and replacement pistons and rings. Its cast crank and rods were machined and retained. A Comp Cams hydraulic stick provides 224/230-degrees duration at 0.050 and 0.477/0.480 lift. The No. 48 heads were rebuilt with fresh 2.11/1.77 valves, and the original Q-jet, iron intake, and Delco points distributor were restored. Behind a fresh 10.4-inch clutch is the Rammy-rebuilt M20 four-speed gearbox and 3.55:1-geared 10-bolt rear from another ’69 GTO.
Throughout the process, it was of paramount importance to Michael that Rammy retain as many original parts as possible. Anything that was salvageable was completely disassembled, restored, and reused.
Michael says he had such confidence in Rammy’s talent that he never even saw his Pontiac until it was completed. In fact, only phone conversations and “big checks” went to Vermont until the Judge was ready to come home to Marlboro, New Jersey.