In early 1969, the underdog New York Jets upset the favored Baltimore Colts to win Super Bowl III; Led Zeppelin I, the first heavy-metal album was released; the Beatles gave their last public performance on the roof of Apple Records in London; and the Boeing 747 jumbo jet made its maiden flight.
About 25 miles northwest of Detroit via Woodward Avenue, Pontiac Motor Division unleashed a GTO that was unlike anything else on the street. It was named "The Judge," and Pontiac, who had invented the whole muscle car phenomenon in 1964, laid everyone on their ear with a wildly colored Goat with Pop Art stripes, decals, and a 60-inch spoiler on the rear deck. "The Judge was a 'hype,'" said marketing genius Jim Wangers, the godfather of the GTO. "The original '64 GTO was created to be an image-making 'hype' for the more sedate LeMans. The Judge was created to be a 'hype' for the GTO."
Originally planned to be a bare bones, low-buck Road Runner fighter with a 350ci HO engine, the Tempest-based junior muscle car was nicknamed, "ET" (for elapsed time). ET would wear GTO emblems, have optional Rally II wheels without trim rings, bench seat, stripped down interior, hood tach, body slash stripe, chrome Tempest front bumper, and Tempest hood. Just one color was offered-Carousel Red-a Firebird hue that Chevrolet used on the Camaro and called "Hugger Orange." It would be cheaper than a Judge, and the 350ci HO engine would have some testosterone, thanks to a set of GTO heads, four-barrel Q-Jet, and dual exhausts. With a little massaging, ET could beat the 383ci base engine Road Runner. To keep costs down, ET was standard with a three-speed manual, with a four-speed or Turbo Hydra Matic being optional.
When Pontiac General Manager John DeLorean saw the ET, he liked the idea, but torpedoed a 350ci engine in any car with GTO emblems. "This is a 400ci world," DeLorean said. "Bring this car up to GTO standards, and then we'll figure out how to cut the price."
Pontiac product planners held onto the Carousel Red paint, the stripped Rally II wheels, and the slash stripe, and kicked the rest of the low-buck idea to the curb. Instead, ET would now be a $337 option on the GTO, fitted with the 366hp, 400ci Ram Air III engine as standard equipment. Every other GTO option was available, including the 370hp, 400ci Ram Air IV engine. Bright psychedelic stripes and decals, and the mind-blowing rear airfoil completed the ET package. This time, DeLorean gave the car thumbs up, but said the "silly" name had to go. "Every time I turn on the TV these days," DeLorean said, "I hear this funny guy shouting, 'Here comes da Judge, here comes da Judge!" DeLorean was referring to Flip Wilson's court routine on the popular NBC-TV show Laugh In.
The Judge hit the streets in January 1969, and sales were strong as young buyers responded to what Pontiac called "a special brand of justice." By the end of the model year, Pontiac had sold 72,287 '69 GTOs, and 6,725 of them were Judges. Most buyers were happy with the Judge's Ram Air III engine, however 302 Judges were ordered with the optional Ram Air IV. The RA IV featured free-flowing cylinder heads with huge round exhaust ports, special cast-iron exhaust manifolds, an aluminum intake manifold, and higher lift hydraulic camshaft.
Although GM was officially out of racing, every division except Cadillac was passing racing parts out the back door. Pontiac took a uniquely different approach to encourage racers to campaign Judges in NHRA. If they purchased a Judge and went racing, Pontiac would supply the dealer with an extra engine and drivetrain for that customer. Of course, the customer had to prove that he was racing his Judge to qualify for the program. Since the majority of '69 Judges were painted Carousel Red, the idea was spectators would see hundreds of Judges running in stock classes all over the country. It's estimated that approximately 100 Pontiac dealers participated, however it's not known how many Judges were raced as a result of the program.