1969 GTO Judge Road Rocket
The Pontiac GTO Judge was only around for three years (1969-1971), but in that short time, it became legendary. The GTO was first produced in 1964, but the Judge model amped up performance on an already popular car.
The GTO was a DeLorean
Most people don’t realize that John DeLorean, who later created the “Back to the Future” DeLorean, was the head engineer at Pontiac and the GTO was his baby. DeLorean and his team were reacting to GM’s 1963 ban on factory-sponsored racing. They wanted to maintain a performance profile for their division and they thought the best way to do that was to create a special car that would appeal to the younger end of the car-buying public.
The GTO utilized the Pontiac 389 cubic inch engine but was put in a body that was closer to the Tempest model rather than the full-size Catalina of the time. In fact, the first GTO was an add-on performance package for the Tempest Le Mans before the Le Mans became a model in its own right.
Paying Off the Judge
The GTO was in full glory by 1969. The Judge model was a $332 add-on- to the regular GTO, and that money bought you a 440 Ram Air III engine (more for a Ram Air IV), Rally II wheels, a Hurst shifter, and a rear spoiler.
The Judge was offered only in “Carousel Red” (which many people called “Competition Orange”) but soon became available in all the standard Pontiac colors due to consumer demand.
The GTO Judge was never as popular as the other cars in its class, the Plymouth Roadrunner and Chevy Chevelle SS 396. However, it had a strong following. In 1969, over 72,000 GTO’s were sold, 6,833 of them were The Judge model.
How the Car Got Its Name
Labeling the Pontiac as a “GTO” outraged foreign car enthusiasts. DeLorean lifted the name from the Ferrari 250 GTO. GTO stands for Gran Turismo Omologato, which, in Italian, designates a race car approved in its class.
“The Judge” has an even more bizarre history. Legend has it that it came from “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” a TV comedy show which ruled the ratings from 1969-1973. It was popular that TV Guide rated it #42 in the Top 50 TV shows of all time. The show had a running gag with the “Here comes the Judge” tag line. Famous stars of the time lined up to say it (see the bonus video below). GM, always ready to climb on a marketing bandwagon, adopted the popular catch-phrases for their muscle car.
The “Here Comes the Judge” skit featured a British actor, but the recurring skit did not become popular until Flip Wilson took the role. He is the one who made it famous. Later, Sammy Davis, Jr revived the skit and he is shown in this video.