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.
Along with an aggressive advertising campaign, Pontiac also put Judges in the hands of the automotive press. Popular Hot Rodding did the most extensive coverage, starting with a stock Judge in our April '69 issue. Pontiac arranged for editor, Lee Kelley, to work with Royal Pontiac, the division's back door high-performance dealer. The Judge PHR worked with was a bizarre setup, equipped with the stock Ram Air III, Muncie M13 three-speed gearbox, 3.55 rear gears, power steering, and power brakes. Royal had done their usual massaging prior to the trip to the dragstrip, and it showed-the Judge managed to turn a 14.05/100.6 mph on street tires. A set of Goodyear slicks resulted in a best of 13.95/99.5 mph (Kelly noted that the slicks were too tall for the gearing, resulting in the lower-mph figure). Finally, bolting on a set of Doug's headers, installing an advance curve kit, and re-jetting the Q-Jet scored 13.65/101.1 mph.
The Judge returned two months later, now called "Project Judge," with an aggressive plan to pull the Judge's time down in the 12s, but remain totally streetable. The drivetrain was gutted, replaced with a 3.90 gear set and four-speed Muncie. The engine was given the Royal Bobcat treatment, which tuned the distributor, shaved the head gaskets to raise compression, modified the valvetrain, and re-jetted the carburetor. A heavier-duty clutch was installed, and the Judge responded with a 13.20/108 mph. A set of super sticky slicks knocked it down to 12.86/109.89.
PHR wasn't done with Project Judge. In the August '69 issue, they worked on tuning the Judge in search of the perfect launch. A set of airbags were installed in the rear coil springs, along with a Hurst Line-Loc and a Carter electric fuel pump. The 3.90s were trashed in favor of a set of 4.33 gears, and taller slicks were installed. The Judge responded with a 12.62/110.70 mph.
There was really only one more change to make to Project Judge, and that occurred in the December '69 issue. Kelley went for the ultimate Pontiac street engine, the Ram Air IV. Royal built up a Ram IV for Project Judge that produced way in excess of the advertised 370 hp. The heads were cleaned up, ported, and polished, and careful attention was paid to the combustion chambers. The engine went into Project Judge with a new set of headers, a flex fan, and a King Kong clutch. This was about as good as it got for a GTO, and Project Judge, which had started out as a humble, 14-second car, pounded the quarter with a 12.25/113.92 with open pipes and slicks. PHR's Project Judge was exactly the kind of press exposure Pontiac wanted to promote the Judge as a strong runner in the stock classes.
Pontiac also put the Judge into the hands of their premiere drag racer, Arnie Beswick. Beswick had been loyal to Pontiac since the late-'50s, and was one of the few who campaigned a series of all-Pontiac S/S and FX racers through the mid-to-late-'60s. Beswick actually campaigned three Judges in 1969; one to run in Pro Stock, a second called the Super Judge (see sidebar), and a D/Stock version, featured here.
Thanks to Beswick's extensive contacts inside Pontiac, his D/Stocker came from the assembly plant a little lighter and a whole long stronger than a run-of-the-mill Ram Air IV Judge. The Pontiac Tool Room assembled a Ram Air IV for Beswick with "select" parts, carefully set up and dyno'd to ensure it was putting out way over the advertised 370 hp. The specially built body was devoid of body sealer or insulation, which made for one hell of a noisy ride, but saved precious pounds. Also left off were power steering, power brakes, and radio. Drum brakes were specified since they provided less rolling drag.
The ET was Pontiac's ill-fated...
The ET was Pontiac's ill-fated attempt to build an econo GTO to compete against the budget-priced Road Runner. General Manager John DeLorean turned it down, and the ET eventually morphed into The Judge. (Paul Zazarine collection)
Throughout 1969, Popular Hot...
Throughout 1969, Popular Hot Rodding magazine raced and modified a '69 GTO, starting out with a factory Ram Air III engine, then progressing with simple mods and tuning, bolt-ons, then eventually a breathed-on Ram Air IV powerplant tweaked by Royal Pontiac.
The only option Beswick requested was the optional Code 414 retractable headlamp covers like many GTOs on the street were equipped with (this was "stock" after all). Beswick took the D/Stocker, along with the other two race cars, to Dick Scully, who was given free rein over the three cars' appearances. Along with the door art and other lettering, Scully came up with a wild Pop Art striping theme on the hood and deck that broke up the yards of orange sheetmetal.
Since promotion of the Judge and the GTO was the reason for Beswick's three orange-hued race cars, their visual impact at racetracks throughout the Midwest was mind blowing. Beswick would often tow his Super Judge funny car with the D/Stocker, then later race it during the event. After a 7-second pass with the Super Judge, Beswick would wave to the crowd as the D/Stocker pulled it up the return road in front of the stands. Pontiac hoped that spectacle would sell a few Judges.
By the late summer, the Ram Air IV had grown a little tired (no wonder, considering all that damn towing!), so Beswick yanked it for a blueprint and balance job. When the Ram Air IV went back in, Beswick added a set of headers designed by his friends at Pontiac Engineering and built by JR Headers. This budget rebuild did shave a couple of tenths off his mid-12-second e.t.'s
The Judge was raced occasionally for a few more seasons, and then sold. The new owner stashed it away, and didn't bring it back out until 2000. When Beswick turned down the offer to buy it back at a considerable premium, the owner sold the car to an Illinois collector, who only had to have the 1,700 mile Judge detailed, and commission Scully to repaint his wild pinstripe motif.
In 2007, Beswick's D/Stock Judge went across the Mecum auction block for $315,000, sold to Todd Werner of Clearwater, Florida. Werner has built up a unique collection of singular high-performance and race cars, and Beswick's Judge now resides fender to fender with other legendary drag cars. Forty years after Arnie Beswick's D/Stock Ram Air IV Judge first hit the track, it's still making history, one quarter-mile at a time.
The Super Judge
Beswick's '69 Super Judge funny car (he preferred to call it "Experimental Super Stock") was the product of his experience racing in FX for several seasons. He commissioned Fiberglass Limited to cast the body, faithfully following the lines of the '69 GTO. The only modification was to chop the top slightly. Beswick preferred to keep the original lines of his Pontiac race cars intact. He felt Pontiac made "good looking cars" and didn't want to "clutter up the original body designs." He would even install correct grilles to remain as close to a stock appearance as possible
The Super Judge was powered by a 428ci Pontiac engine with a 671 GMC blower, and Ram Air IV heads. Beswick preferred to use M/T rods with Venolia pistons and a 421 Super Duty crank. The Ram Air IV cam, with 308 and 320 degrees of duration, was reground to modify the exhaust overlap to eliminate overheating due to burning a nitro mix. Beswick found it wasn't unusual to develop cracks between the intake and the exhaust valves due to the overheating. Backing off the nitro mixture alleviated the overheating, which Beswick did whenever he felt his competition was an easy smack down.
As the 1969 racing season progressed, the Ram Air IV heads were trashed in favor of the new Ram Air V heads, recently developed by Pontiac Engineering. With the Ram Air V heads, Beswick found his overheating problems vanished, thanks to the larger exhaust valve diameters and enlarged exhaust ports. The Ram Air V heads would prove to be the most trouble-free he'd ever use.
Beswick debuted his new Super...
Beswick debuted his new Super Judge at the '69 Super Stock Nationals at York, Pennsylvania. First equipped with Ram Air IV heads, Beswick later fitted a set of the new Ram Air V heads on a 428 Pontiac block. (Paul Zazarine collection)
Logghe Brothers built the...
Logghe Brothers built the tube frame, while Fiberglass Limited manufactured the one-piece body. Dick Scully used the same paint treatment on all three of Beswick's Judges, however the funny Judge had the word "Super" slipped in between the words "The Judge" on the doors. (Paul Zazarine collection)
This early magazine advertisement...
This early magazine advertisement for The Judge used the original ET, now dressed up to look like a real GTO. Notice how the car lacks Judge decals on the fenders, and the slash stripe is pre-production. A GTO nameplate was air brushed onto the fender and the B-pillars were airbrushed out. (Paul Zazarine collection)
Thanks to his extensive work on automatic transmissions for racing, Beswick found no difficulties hooking the modified M40 to a full-sized Pontiac rear with 3.90:1 gears. Depending on tire diameter, he would occasionally run with a set of 4.11s, but he found the 3.90 cogs best, especially with the 12-inch hard compound tires he preferred to use.
The Super Judge was completed in time for the '69 Super Stock Nationals at York, Pennsylvania. There were gremlins to chase, and Beswick spent most of his weekend at York working through the Super Judge's teething problems. After getting the kinks out of the car, he was able to turn mid 7-second e.t.'s at 175-185 mph. Later, when the Ram Air V heads were installed, Beswick broke into the 6-second bracket with speeds approaching 200 mph.
In 2007, Beswick's D/Stock...
In 2007, Beswick's D/Stock Judge went across the Mecum auction block for $315,000, sold to Todd Werner of Clearwater, Florida. Todd has built up a unique collection of singular high-performance and race cars, and Beswick's Judge now resides fender to fender with other legendary drag cars.
The Pontiac Tool Room assembled...
The Pontiac Tool Room assembled a Ram Air IV for Beswick's D/Stock Judge, with "select" parts, carefully set up and dyno'd to ensure it was putting out way over the advertised 370 hp. Beswick later added a set of headers designed by his friends at Pontiac Engineering and built by JR Headers.
The restored interior of Arnie...
The restored interior of Arnie Beswick's D/Stock Judge, now owned by collector, Todd Werner.