From March 28 through April 1, Mecum Auctions will bring a selection of heavyweight collector cars to State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. The Saturday sale includes some of the event’s most desirable offerings, including a rare Pontiac GTO that represents one of the high-water marks of the classic muscle-car era.
Indeed, automotive historians are in much agreement that 1970 was the most exuberant model year for the breed of automobiles whose power and tire-smoking, straight-line performance would not be revived by stateside manufacturers for more than four decades. By 1971, the party was certainly shutting down, as the looming global oil crisis conspired with tightening emissions regulations to consign America’s beloved muscle cars to the history books. But that eventuality would not occur before Pontiac concluded its GTO legacy with the Judge. And the vehicle crossing Mecum’s auction block is one of only 168 examples of the GTO Judge convertible produced in 1970.
“The Pontiac GTO Judge option, offered for three model years beginning in 1969, was the perfect intersection of performance and pop-art culture,” says John Kraman, lead TV commentator and analyst for Mecum Auctions. “The Judge package showcased the GTO as a trendsetter that not only kept up with the times but actually led the charge.”
Pontiac’s GTO was the creation of John Z. DeLorean, long before the maverick’s debacle with his snake-bitten DMC-12. History is on his side, crediting his brainchild—the 1964 GTO—with being the first purpose-built muscle car ever made. Any similarity to the Prancing Horse’s Gran Turismo Omologato is illusory: pure Detroit marketing at its 1960s-era best. In fact, Pontiac’s top performer earned the affectionate nickname of “Goat” by admirers and detractors alike.
This specific car is equipped with the model’s “standard” 400 ci Ram Air III V-8 engine. The official figures of 366 hp and 445 ft lbs of torque, though, are widely viewed as lower than the actual output delivered. A 455 HO Ram Air IV version was also available. Published numbers notwithstanding, the Judge was at the head of the Pontiac class of 1970, doing street and dragstrip battle with other standouts like the 426 ci, Hemi-powered monsters from Mopar.
The example on offer was built at Pontiac’s assembly plant in Fremont, Calif., and delivered new to Maser Pontiac-Cadillac in Dodge City, Kan. Comprehensively restored to original specification by Bright Built Hot Rods of Salina, Kan., it features rally gauges and tachometer, factory rally wheels and Firestone Wide Oval white-letter tires. Kraman offers some additional details about the vehicle, saying, “This restored 1970 Judge convertible has the desirable four-speed transmission and factory air conditioning, along with other rare options including an eight-track tape player. Combined with the attractive Atoll Blue exterior and matching interior, and with numerous show awards to its credit, this is a serious muscle car that represents an investment-grade opportunity for collectors.”
Importantly, it retains its matching-numbers drivetrain and original suspension, and is also equipped with a Positraction G80 3.23:1 rear end. Its accolades include the 2011 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals Concours Silver Award and the GTO Association of America’s 2012 Concours Silver Award.
Presented with documentation that includes a copy of the window sticker, this car is a colorful time capsule of the Flower Power era. To that end, it’s purported to have been named for the “Here Comes the Judge” catchphrase from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In, America’s most popular TV show at the time, which must have inspired some Pontiac ad man late one Monday night. As for what the Judge will potentially sell for, the jury is still out.
Click here for more photos of this 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge convertible.