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 color for the ’69 Judge. Owner Michael Spatola wanted one
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 to retain original parts in the code-258, black Morrokide int
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 R/A-III 400 was bored 0.030 over and completely rebuilt. T
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.
And come home it did in the spring of 2008. Since then, Michael has enjoyed his resurrected piece of Pontiac history on the New Jersey streets. “It drives like it’s brand new, performs like a musclecar, and sounds great coming down the road,” he says.
Though he’s not the least bit hesitant to drive it anywhere, he takes pride in the fact that today the Judge calls a plush suburban enclave its home—a large step up from the barn where it used to reside.
As you may imagine, this Judge has also become a trophy magnet at the shows, taking Best of Show Stock and First Place at HPP Day in Englishtown, New Jersey, in 2008; the Gold Award at the Garden State GTO Show; and a People’s Choice Award and Gold at the Pontiac Fall Nationals.
There are many reasons why this Judge could be classified as a highly significant Pontiac to come out of the musclecar era. You’ve heard businessmen parrot the old cliché location, location, location. Well, in our hobby, its documentation, documentation, documentation. This Judge has the written and photo documentation to prove its pedigree—including the original title from 1969.
Starlight Black was a rare color for the ’69 Judge. Though Carousel Red Judges basked in the media spotlight back then and are still very popular today, the road lesser traveled by the original buyer of this one made all the difference for Michael, who finally has the Starlight Black Judge he’s desired for so long.
Michael would like to thank his wife, Michele; his four kids; Joe Portagallo; and Rammy Kimberly for all their support on this project.
Resto in Progress
Though he started out with a Pontiac that was mostly complete, restorer Rammy Kimberly still had plenty of body rust to deal with on this Judge. Let’s see how extensive it was.
Here is the before photo. Though some items have been stripped off of the Pontiac, the Ram
Check out the Swiss cheese floors.
This is just a portion of the rusted sheetmetal that was cut out of the Judge.
Look at how much metal Rammy had to weld in. The floors; trunk floors; inner and outer whe
The body panels were checked on an old frame prior to mating the shell with the restored c
At this stage, the Judge is ready for its nose.
The frame was restored using parts of another frame to make repairs, and the suspension wa
The fresh underside is finally rust-free and painted. Ram Air Restorations’ 2.5-inch dual