Car of the Week: 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge

By Brian Earnest

Jan Jordan figures there is really only one reason she every wound up with her 1969 GTO Judge. Well, make that four reasons.

“I had four brothers,” she laughs. “I had graduated from high school. I was 18 years old in 1969 and I have four bothers and they helped me decide which car to buy.”

Jordan shopped for the car on her own, though. And she made all the decisions herself. It all turned out to be a learning experience for a first-time car buyer. “After I knew what to look for, I went to the Pontiac dealer in Wausau [Wis.] and they had a ’69 Judge, and I actually signed a contract,” recalls Jordan, a resident of Mosinee, Wis. “But by the time I got my loan and went back, they had sold it to someone. And because I was so young I didn’t realize that was illegal. So I went to Cooper Pontiac in Stevens Point, because they had one. It was orange, it was cool and I didn’t care if it was fast because I didn’t speed. I drove slow [laughs].”

“My dad passed away when I was 7 years old and my mom said I could buy a car. Nobody came with me to look for the car, I just knew what I wanted and I went alone. I got a loan from the credit union of my employer. They took the payments right out of my paycheck, so they weren’t too worried about the payments getting made.”

Jordan had one little issue to solve before she could drive the car 20 minutes home from the dealer, however. “I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift,” she says. “So the salesman gave me lessons.”

Jordan wound up driving the Judge daily for about five years before she decided it was time for something different. The GTO stayed in the family, though, because she sold it to her brother, Ed. He kept the car for a few years and then sold it to another brother, Al. “Then Al took it off the road and put it in storage in 1977. And then Al moved to Alaska and he sold it to my son, Troy Hack. Troy was going to restore it, but it was just too expensive, so Troy generously gave it back to me.”

That was in 2000 — 26 years after she had last owned the car. Jordan wasn’t sure what would eventually happen to the Judge, but she knew she didn’t want the car to leave the family. “I wanted to restore it,  but it was just so expensive,” she says. “So I just had it sitting in my garage, and I’d look at it, but that was about all.”

In 2010, Jordan married Roger Cook, who thought it was a good idea to restore the GTO back to its original glory. Cook had some background with the car, too. “We dated in that car back in the early ’70s,” he laughs. “She doesn’t like me telling people that, but we used to date in this car!”

“But then he went back to the Air Force and we went our separate ways … until we were married in 2010,” Jan adds.

“I always liked it, and I finally said, ‘We need the space. We are either going to restore it or get rid of it,” Cook says. “So we started looking for somebody who would take it on.”

It took about five years, plenty of hand wringing and help from a lot of different sources, but The Judge was finally back presiding over the streets of Mosinee in 2016.

De Judge cometh

Any muscle car inspired by the “Here Come ‘de Judge” skits on Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh In” TV show was sure to be a bit crazy and the GTO Judge was crazy in a very fast way. As Car Life magazine once put it, “Pontiac inspired the supercar for this generation . . . and The Judge is one of the best.”

“Born Great” was the catchy sales slogan that Pontiac Motor Division used for the 1969 GTO “The Judge.” The new model of GTO was designed to be what Car and Driver magazine called an “econo racer.” In other words, it was a heavily optioned muscle car with a price that gave you a lot for your money. It was a machine that you could take racing, pretty much “as is,” and for a lot less money than a purpose-built drag racing car cost. It was seen in many street races, too.

GTO styling was shared with the LeMans with additional standard equipment features including a 400-cid/350-hp V-8, dual exhaust, 3.55:1 rear axle ratio, heavy-duty clutch, three-speed gearbox with floor shifter, Power-Flex cooling fan, sports-type springs and shock absorbers, redline wide-oval tires, carpeting, Deluxe steering wheel and choice of bucket or notchback seats. A cross-hatched grille insert with horizontal divider bars appeared and hidden headlights were standard. GTO lettering was seen on the left-hand grille, right-hand side of deck lid and behind the front wheel openings. Tail lamps were no longer completely surrounded by bumpers and carried lenses with bright metal trim moldings. Rear side marker lamps were of a shape inspired by the GTO shield instead of the triangular type used on Tempests.

Pontiac Motor Division’s release of the “The Judge” option package was made on Dec. 19, 1968. At first, “The Judge” came only in bright orange with tri-color striping, but it was later made available in the full range of colors that were available for other ’69 GTOs. Special standard features of The Judge package included a blacked-out radiator grille, Rally II wheels (minus bright trim rings), functional hood scoops and “The Judge” decals on the sides of the front fenders and “Ram Air” decals on the hood scoops. At the rear of the car there was a 60-inch wide “floating” deck lid airfoil with a “The Judge” decal emblem on the upper right-hand surface.

The standard “The Judge” engine was the Pontiac 400-cid/366-hp Ram Air III V-8. It came linked to a three-speed manual transmission with a floor-mounted Hurst T-handle shifter and a 3.55:1 rear axle. A total of 8,491 GTOs and Judges were sold with this engine and only 362 of them were convertibles. The more powerful 400-cid/370-hp Ram Air IV engine was installed in 759 cars in the same two lines and 59 of these cars were convertibles.

“The Judge” option was added to 6,725 GTO two-door hardtops and only 108 GTO ragtops. The editors of Car Life magazine whipped a Judge through the quarter-mile at 14.45 seconds and 97.8 mph. Supercars Annual covered the same distance in a Judge with Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission and racked up a run of 13.99 seconds at 107 mph.

Looking good at 50!

Jordan’s Judge turned the big 5-oh this year and the car looks great, but it wasn’t easy. The process took five years and actually started many years ago when Jan’s brother Al had it. “He had started to buy parts and quarter panels and a hood and different parts,” she recalled. “He wanted to restore it some day, so he was collecting things for it. So we had all those original parts from when he owned it, and we were able to use all that.”

The couple had a hard time deciding at first who to turn the project over to. “We had one place fly out to look at it, and when it came time to give us an estimate and they found out she had originally bought the car it was like, ‘Oh, so it has personal attachment,’ and there was no limit,” he said. “It had sentimental value so there was no limit to the price!”

“No one would really give us an estimate what it would cost,” Jan adds.

Finally, the couple settled on having a local shop serve as a sort of general contractor, “but there wasn’t just one shop that worked on it,” Cook says. “Lots of people were involved. Like we take the dash out and ship it to California, and another place would do the chrome. Most of the time it was done in places around Wisconsin.”

Cook also scavenged some parts himself from junkyards that were within driving distance. “We put air conditioning in it,”  he pointed out. “I went down to Tigerton [Wis.] to a junkyard and took it out of another car myself. We replaced a lot of little things, like window cranks that were worn out and things like that.”

Jordan still has the original window sticker, which shows the car cost a grand total of $3,446.76 after showing up on the lot loaded with about a dozen options and accessories. Among them were a four-speed manual transmission with a console; flip-up headlamps; radio; power steering; heavy-duty battery; tinted glass; and front floor mats. One noteworthy option not on the car is the familiar hood tach, which Cook says frequently causes consternation among car show attendees. “I’d say six or seven times out of 10 you’ll hear somebody come up and say, ‘This is a clone. This isn’t a real Judge, it doesn’t have the hood tach.’ And I get up and go over and say “We know it’s original. She bought it new!’ But people don’t know you could get them without the hood tach.”

Few cars will get you noticed quicker than a bright orange ’69 Judge, with snazzy graphics, a big ol’ spoiler in  the tail and a growling 400 V-8 under the hood. Jordan is probably used to the attention the car gets after so many years, but the car’s extroverted personality is a huge part of its enduring appeal.

“Even for the little kids, it’s a head turner. I do [enjoy it],” Cook says. “Compared to new cars, yeah, it’s a beast. There is no comparison — you know the long-throw four-speed compared to the close-mesh six-speed like in her [2013] Mustang [laughs]. There’s no comparison. But it’s an old car.”

“We’ve put about 1,600 miles on it and we like to take it out. She wanted a trailer queen, but I said, ‘No, no, no! If we are going to put this much work into it, we’re going to use it.”

Unlike the day she went to shop for the car and had to learn to drive it, Jordan almost always has company in her Judge these days. “I don’t usually drive it now,” she says. “Roger always drives. I just ride along.”

 

 

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