The roof and decklid still wear factory paint in Carousel Red, and the other body panels w
When Jim Kowalski bought his ’69 GTO Judge new, he knew it was a keeper but couldn’t imagine it would still be handing down high-performance justice more than 40 years later.
“My ’64 GTO convertible was totaled by a drunk driver in 1969, and the accident put me in the market for a new Pontiac,” Jim recalls. “A friend of mine had a new Judge and it really impressed me, so I immediately started looking for one.” After visiting three dealerships—one wanted to sell him a Verdoro Green Ram Air IV GTO, but he passed—Jim found a Carousel Red Ram Air III Judge on the new car lot of Coe-Hayden Motors in Ionia, Michigan. It was the only Judge at the dealership that day.
“It had 17 or so miles on it,” Jim says. “I fell in love with it.”
Original in-dash gauges function as intended, and the clock was upgraded to quartz movemen
For a lot car, the Judge had every performance option Jim would have picked if he had special ordered it. The 366hp Ram Air III 400 and 3.55 gears came standard, and the Muncie four-speed, front disc brakes, Safe-T-Track, Rally gauges and clock, and hood-mounted tachometer were popular extra-cost performance items.
“The price was $3,900 including tax, tag, and a full tank of gas,” he continues. “I put down a $1,300 cash deposit (all in hundred-dollar bills) on June 6, 1969, and came back the next day with 26 more hundred-dollar bills and drove it home.”
When he got there, Jim’s dad, Leonard (an Oldsmobile employee who drove a new company car every two years), offered to give up the family’s one-car garage so that the Judge wouldn’t see rain or snow. “He thought it was so cool,” Jim says.
Unlike four-speed ’69 GTOs, which each came with a shifter-ball, ’69 Judges left the facto
Soon thereafter, Jim treated his Judge to some of the popular aftermarket bolt-ons of the day—Anson Sprint aluminum slots, wide and beefy bias-ply tires, spring spacers, and air shocks. He even installed a Ram Air IV intake manifold. Since he worked at Lansing Plating, he chromed many of the engine-bay items, too: the upper Ram Air pan, air cleaner, breather tube, belt-drive pulleys, alternator, engine hoist hook, dipstick pull, heater core cover, master cylinder and brake booster, hoodspring, hood hinges, and more.
Jim had a favorite Friday and Saturday night cruise spot—Lansing, Michigan’s Washington Avenue—that he and his friends affectionately called “The Gut.” While Jim’s friends lived by the motto, “Break it in hard from new, drive it fast, and expect it to have a short life,” Jim took the high road. “I don’t remember racing it much,” he says. “Other guys street raced every weekend, but I loved the Judge and babied it. I wanted it to have a long life.”
The interior is original except for new carpeting and floormats.
In 1970, the Judge took on a new role. “I married and it became the family car,” he says. Six years and two kids later, his father gave him a ’70 Oldsmobile, and Jim retired John DeLorean’s flamboyant limited-edition musclecar to a weekend cruiser.
He says the next chapter in the Judge’s story started in 1986, when he pulled and bagged the original 400, installed a ’67 400 and straight dumps, and began taking the Judge to car shows. “I didn’t realize how popular—or iconic—the Judge had become in all those years,” he says.
In 2010, he reinstalled the original long-block, and asked Scott Tiemann of Supercar Specialties to give his Judge a budget restoration, focusing primarily on exterior rust repair and new paint. “The rust wasn’t that bad for a Michigan car,” Scott says. “You can tell it spent most of its life in a garage.”
Restorer Scott Tiemann of Supercar Specialties accommodated the Ansen Wheels’ 4-inch backs
Scott stripped the paint, leaving factory-issued Carousel Red on the roof and decklid only. “I repaired spot rust in the rear quarters, front fenders, the left floor pan, and the bottom of the doors. Some of it had previously been addressed by body shops over the past 40 years, but to collision-shop standards. We re-performed that work and additional rust repair to my standards, which is based on a concours philosophy,” he says.
PPG products were used in the restoration, K38 high-build urethane primer to smooth the body panels, and six coats of PPG lacquer in Carousel Red. Scott wet-sanded the new paint to match the surface of the existing OE paint with 1,500- and 2,000-grit sandpapers. He says, “It takes some expertise to blend the new paint to the original lacquer.”
The vintage Ansen Sprints are wrapped in M/T Sportsman 29x12.5-15LT rubber in the rear and
In 2011, Jim and his Judge returned to Scott—this time to get the original steel brake lines replaced. “Jim drove it for so many years that I felt it was time to take the car apart to preserve it,” Scott explains. “After some discussion, we decided I would pull the body off the frame, replace the brake lines, and powdercoat the chassis. Since Jim wanted his Judge to retain a steeper rake from rear to front than the factory intended, I removed the old air shocks and spring spacers, and replaced them with 2-inch-taller-than-stock springs from Detroit Spring, custom 2-inch spacers, and longer-than-stock KYB shocks. It re-created the Judge’s late-in-’69 street stance, but without the harsh ride qualities that Jim had lived with ever since then.”
During the restoration, the men also agreed that the Judge’s original mill was crying out for a metamorphosis. That entailed boring the 400’s cylinders 0.030-inch, and mating the original crank with 6.625-inch Eagle forged rods and Federal Mogul forged pistons.
The No. 48 D-port heads were sent to SD Performance for CNC-porting, and upgraded with 2.11/1.77-inch stainless-steel valves, bronze valveguides, and Crane 1.65:1 rockers. A Crane hydraulic flat-tappet cam (218/224 duration, 0.500/0.500 lift, 112 LSA) directs the valvetrain components. Then the engine was reassembled and reinstalled.
Now oil is delivered via a Melling 60-psi pump; an ACDelco fuel pump delivers high-octane energy drink to the original-and-rebuilt Rochester Quadrajet; and the original distributor (with Mallory Uni-lite conversion module), factory coil, high-temp Super Stock 8mm wires, and AC45S plugs dictate spark delivery into the cylinders.
Here’s the original dealer order worksheet.
Hooker Headers (replacing this Judge’s original Ram Air iron exhaust manifolds) route the spent gases through 1.75-inch primaries and 3.00-inch collectors, and then through a 2.5-inch dual exhaust featuring Flowmaster cans. The original single-piston, 10.9-inch front discs and rear drum brakes are rebuilt.
Now, despite having over 60,000 miles on the odometer, Jim says his ’69 Judge is as fun to drive as when he bought it new. He also enjoys taking it to car shows. “I won Third Place in Modified at the 2009 GTOAA International Convention (the Co-vention) in Dayton, Ohio, and displayed it at the Ames Performance Tri-Power Pontiac Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, in 2010 and 2011,” he says.
If you’re looking for an original-owner ’69 GTO, don’t put Jim and his Judge on your shortlist. “I don’t know how it works in your town,” he says smiling, “but in my town, the Judge is not for sale.”