In the world of Pontiacs, there is much to enjoy and experience, but there really isn’t a lot of truly new things out there. Sure, we have new restoration parts coming out at a pretty impressive rate these days and engine parts for our beloved Pontiac V-8 continue to be developed and marketed.
The truth is though, with the last Pontiac rolling off the assembly lines in 2010, and the marque’s proud heritage now being continued by the aftermarket converting Camaros into Trans Ams, it’s not what it once was. The hobby is still very strong though, and we make it our job to take note of anything that’s new. This car is something new and it’s also wildly interesting.
When showgoers happened upon this Carousel Red Pontiac at the Ames Performance Pontiac Nationals, many were left scratching their heads. “What exactly is this?” many asked. The truth be told, the crowd around this unique machine was so thick, that it was actually difficult for our editor, Tom DeMauro, to photograph it. They knew that this was a completely new and unique approach to Pontiac car building—Tom was just going to have to wait his turn. He did, and snapped off these photos of a truly innovative machine during a rainstorm.
So the question remains—what exactly is this GTO Judge lookalike? At a casual glance, one would think that it was a late-model Goat, customized to look like a ’69 Judge. The thing is, the proportions are not consistent with an Australian-built Goat—it’s smaller, yet the lines are quite similar. Close, but no cigar. Time for more head scratching. Give up? Wait for it ... wait for it ... this amazing machine started life as a Sunfire! Yes, it was a four-cylinder-powered commuter car, but now it is so much more.
The interior is an interesting and visually pleasing blend of old and new. The stock dash
It gets even better—this one-of-a-kind Pontiac sports a custom frame, late-model LS2 power, and some of the most amazing bodywork we have ever witnessed in person. Take it to any Pontiac event and see where the crowd flocks.
This incredible Judge tribute was engineered and executed by Michel (pronouced “muh-shell”) Gagnon of Westbury, Quebec, in Canada. Unusual and innovative Pontiacs are nothing new for Michel. Longtime readers may remember his 455-powered ’84 Fiero, which appeared in our Feb. 2000 issue. He also built an ’87 with a Northstar drivetrain, and has been a die-hard Pontiac fan since 1985, when he purchased a ’68 Firebird convertible. He owned a factory ’69 Judge and some Second-Gen Trans Ams, so he has quite a bit of experience around Pontiacs.
The inspiration for the Sunfire-to-GTO conversion was a fairly simple one, but the execution was incredibly complicated. “I wanted to build a small Pontiac to drag race, but with the final result being too nice to race, I decided to keep it for show only,” Michel said. “Maybe someday I will go on the track with it.”
This project was far more ambitious than anything he had done before, involving the integration of major components from no less than five vehicles: a ’95 Sunfire, a ’95 S-10 pickup, an ’05 SSR, ’03 GMC Sierra, and a ’69 GTO parts car. Not only is the workmanship top notch but the vision that brought about this melding of various GM components is so out of the box that it redefines what imagination and the ability to weld can accomplish.
The narrowed 9-inch Ford rearend features 3.50 gears and is suspended using ’02 F-body upp
Michel began work on the project back in September of 2009, starting with a used-up ’95 Sunfire that he paid $400 for at a municipal auction and a ’69 GTO parts car that he’d had for more than 20 years. Actually, the Goat was little more than a stripped-out roller, too far gone to be a viable restoration candidate, so it was sacrificed for the cause.
Michel started measuring, disassembling, and cutting. The front section of the Sunfire’s unibody was cut away and a frame was built using the front clip from a ’95 S-10 pickup. It features the stock S-10 front suspension, augmented with Summit 2-inch dropped springs and a Buick Grand National front sway bar. The rear half of the frame is custom fabricated to mate to the underbody and also allowed for the installation of a narrowed 9-inch Ford rearend. It is hung on ’02 F-car upper control arms, custom lower control arms, and QA1 coil-over shocks.
Its powertrain is more in line with what one would find in a late-model GTO. It is a 6.0-liter LS2, which actually came out of a wrecked ’05 Chevy SSR. It features a stock block and bottom end but also sports a set of Patriot Stage 3 heads, a Thunder Racing single-pattern hydraulic roller cam with 224 degrees of duration at 0.050 and 0.563-inch lift with the factory 1.7:1 rockers. It also features a Z06 Corvette intake, while a pair of ’03 Corvette exhaust manifolds facilitate the swap.
This engine is mated to a 4L60-E, which was liberated from an ’03 GMC Sierra and transfers power to a custom driveshaft on to the aforementioned 9-inch rearend, which features 3.50 gears and a limited-slip differential. An owner-fabricated loop adds a measure of safety.
This angle shows how well the scaling down of the stock GTO body pieces came off. They are
Bodywork is what really makes this car standout and it’s one of those instances where the more you look at it, the more you find. Obviously, with the large difference in size between a ’69 GTO and a ’95 Sunfire, a lot of scaling down of pieces had to be accomplished. To be specific, the Sunfire is 24-inches shorter and 8-inches narrower than the Goat, so it was much more than just bolting on a pair of fenders to get the car to look right. Michel and his friend, Luc Poulin, did it all themselves.
Up front, the Endura bumper and lower valance panel were narrowed four inches per side and a like amount was removed from the hood and grilles. The front fenders were cut just behind the wheelwell and their trailing edges were recontoured to match up with the cowl and doors. The stock door handles were removed and replaced with ’69 GTO chrome door handles and key locks.
Inside, large portions of the stock floorpan and firewall were cut away to make room for the new powertrain. A custom-fabricated transmission tunnel was installed, along with a recessed firewall. Similarly, the rear of the floorpan was cut away to make room for the large wheel tubs, driveshaft tunnel, and rear frame section.
The rear of the Sunfire was also extensively modified. Its rear quarters were cut at the backlight and the much of the trunk pan was removed to make way for a new rear body section. Beginning on the inside, Michel built wheel tubs to fit the larger than stock rubber. A trunk floor was fabricated, while sections of the original trunk pan were re-used to locate the new rear quarter-panel sections and wheel tubs.
Under the hood, the Judge features a late-model LS2. It was upgraded with an ’06 Z06 Corve
Each front half of the Sunfire rear quarters were retained and mate to the ’69 GTO rear quarter-panels, which feature correct wheel lip contours and tuck in tight, retaining the signature GTO “coke bottle” bodysides. The rear quarters blend beautifully into the roof section, which features a cut-down ’69 GTO backlight and surrounding roof sheetmetal. The filler panel between the backlight and decklid was also cut down to fit.
The decklid, taillamps. and rear bumper were narrowed, as was the Judge rear wing. Four inches came out of each side of the bumper and though it is visually narrower, the proportions have been retained—no one component looks like it is not scaled down the same amount. Rather than rechroming the rear bumper, it was painted body color, a touch that Michel believes should have been done at the factory.
PPG urethane two-stage paint was applied, using four coats of Carousel Red and four coats of clear. It was wet-sanded from 800 to 2,000-grit before a final polish with products from Presta. Reproduction Judge decals are mated to stripes painted to resemble factory Judge striping.
With a project such as this, it’s important to retain an authentic Judge appearance. Michel went with a set of 15-inch Rally II wheels, but in this case, he narrowed the front wheels to 5 inches and widened the rears to a full 12 inches. The front wheels mount a set of Mickey Thompson Sportsman 26x6x15 radial tires, while the rears mount a matching pair of Mickey Thompson Sportsman 29x15-15 radials.
Inside is one area where the majority of the details remain more Sunfire than GTO. In this case, the beat-up original interior was traded out for pieces from an ’05 Sunfire. The dash was augmented by a full set of Summit gauges and a GTO Judge emblem was placed on the glovebox door. The accelerator and brake pedals are vintage pieces, to give a more authentic look to the interior.
Trying to classify a one-off machine like this is difficult, it has qualities of musclecar, Pro-Street, Pro-Touring, and radical custom. Whatever genre you try to put it in, the recognition it has received has been very positive. It took a First Place at the Granby International car show, awards in some local and regional shows in Quebec and Ontario, and a Second Place at the 2012 Ames Performance Tri-Power Pontiac Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.
Even the most jaded Pontiac fan would have to concede that Michel Gagnon’s GTO Judge tribute is an amazing feat of engineering and of vision. By working with what was available to him, combined with some very solid welding and fabrication skills, he really showed the Pontiac world that new, innovative designs were still very much a possibility. Great job!
Here is the Sunfire as Michel purchased it. It was little more than a used-up commuter car, but he saw the potential there that no one else did.
With the front section of the unibody removed, the Sunfire is mocked up with the S-10 front frame section and a ’69 GTO fender. The hardest work is still to come at this point, but the basic dimensions are beginning to take shape.
Much of the factory firewall and front floorpan is cut away to make room for the 4L60-E automatic transmission.
The new recessed firewall and floorpan section is welded into place. Note how the trans tunnel mates with the factory console and shifter. Tubing support for the dash is a factory piece.
The rear of the Sunfire body is cut away to make way for the custom body sections. A rear frame section has been added and the 9-inch Ford rearend is placed under it for positioning purposes. Note the welded-on mounts for the upper control arms. The corners of the factory trunk floor are repurposed as anchors for the new quarters and rear body panels.
The side of the rear frame section is visible here, as is the GTO rear quarter section, which is temporarily tacked on. Though the main framerails run front to rear, this is considered a unibody, as the floorpan is welded to the frame.
The car is really starting to come together in this shot. We can see how the ’69 GTO rear quarter-panel section was mated to the front of the Sunfire’s rear quarter. Also visible are the wheel tubs and GTO-style wheel lip.
More of the scaling down of parts can be seen at the rear, where the bumper has been narrowed approximately 4 inches per side, as well as the decklid and rear wing. Even the taillamps were narrowed to keep the proportions consistent. There has also been a thorough massaging of the rear quarters where they meet the bumper, and the opening for the backlight is taking shape.
The completed body is on a rotisserie in preparation for the laborious block-sanding and priming sequence.
The Sunfire/GTO Judge’s major bodywork is essentially finished and the car is assembled. It is on a flatbed to head to the body shop for disassembly, paint, and reassembly. Note how beautifully the GTO body panels are massaged into place. The weld lines are all visible in the fenders and the front valance panel. See how the door now features a ’69-era handle and keyhole. This car must have turned some heads going down the road, even at this stage of the build.
The interior and underside of the body receives its color coat—Carousel Red, of course. The paint is a PPG basecoat/clearcoat system.
With the underside of the car now painted, final assembly of the suspension and other undercar systems can be started. Here, the rearend is mounted with its suspension components and brake lines, and the Summit Racing electric fuel pump and related fuel lines are also installed.
Michel’s Sunfire/GTO Judge is nearing completion, with the body/chassis assembly fully painted and the suspension and drivetrain installed. It’s sitting on all four wheels and is awaiting the bolt-on sheetmetal and interior.
The wiring for the dash and the engine computer are being installed. The overall quality of this machine is outstanding. New things can happen—even in the world of Pontiacs!