Pontiac GTO Judge
Has there ever been a badder, more intimidating, more colorful name for a car than "Judge?" With apologies to Boss Mustangs and Plymouth Road Runners, I think "GTO Judge" is the unquestioned champion in this category.
Pontiac's dead-serious GTO had kick-started the muscle car revolution in 1964. Big, fast cars were around before the GTO--the Chrysler 300 letter-series cars were among the most famous--but the combination of the 389-cubic-inch Pontiac V-8 with the attractive intermediate-size Tempest body proved irresistible. The Ford Mustang sparked the pony car class later that year, and suddenly performance cars were hot. Nearly every carmaker had a muscle car in its lineup--even AMC got into the game with the S/CRambler--but in a sea of Cyclones, Chevelles, and Chargers, the GTO stood out as the first, the most famous, and one of the best-selling.
When Pontiac revamped the Tempest and Le Mans intermediates for 1968, the GTO received the new body--and it was a knockout. The original GTO was perhaps a bit more distinctive, with its knife-edged creases and vertically stacked headlights, but the 1968 GTO grew some overtly muscular curves, an Endura body-color bumper, and natty hidden headlights. Improvements came under the hood, as well, in the form of 350 horsepower from the stock 400-cubic-inch engine and a freer-flowing Ram Air II package.
The Judge arrived in 1969, with the express intent to make clear which muscle car was presiding over the law of the streets. Armed with a flinty gaze, a high-horsepower gavel, and a hair-trigger
temper throttle, the Judge brought both the hardware and the wacky humor that made late-1960s muscle cars so compelling. The name led to some clever advertising lines, there were over-the-top graphics, and of course the wacky hood-mounted tachometer. After all, you'd hate to have the tachometer actually in the car with you. The hardware, though, was dead serious. Well, the Judge came standard with the Ram Air III 400-cubic-inch engine and had the Ram Air IV optional--both were conservatively rated, at 366 and 376 horsepower, respectively. That power was matched to a special Hurst shifter and funneled through a heavy-duty suspension and wider tires. With 0-60 times in the 5-second range, this Judge was one to fear.
Pontiac eliminated the hidden headlights and refined the suspension in 1970, but the biggest change was the addition of the 455-cubic-inch engine. The 455 didn't actually generate more peak power than the Ram Air 400s, but it was a torquier, smoother engine. From here, however, it was downhill--the GTO was not immune to the same market forces that killed off its muscle car siblings. Sprialing insurance costs, pollution regulation, unleaded gas, and fuel shortages forced the Judge to leave office and reduced the GTO to shell of its glorious past.
The GTO lives on, of course--both as a recently produced performance car, and as the legend that kicked off a golden era in American performance cars. The Judge can't claim the innovation of the original GTO, but it is a definitive example of the power and irreverence that defined the top American muscle cars of the late 1960s.
As for the commercial below--well, that irreverence is on full display. Paul Revere and the Raiders dressed in judges' wigs? Fantastic.