Most collector car fans younger than the Boomer generation likely have no idea why Pontiac would name a high-performance version of its GTO muscle car The Judge.
Hint: “Here come de judge, here come de judge, order in the courtroom, here come de judge.”
That’s the refrain from a 1968 hit record by veteran comedian Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham, which was wildly popular and is regarded as the first rap single, with a throbbing drum beat behind a rhythmically spoken comic routine. The riff was picked up by comedy legend Flip Wilson, who used “here come de judge” as a repeating catchphrase on the Rowan & Martin Laugh-In TV show.
Pontiac, facing sagging sales for the GTO, quickly adopted the pop-culture lexicon, creating a 1969 model-year package with “The Judge” decals, graphics and a rear spoiler. Sales picked up initially but the package was discontinued after 1971. Because really, a running joke can only last so long.
Today, The Judge versions of GTO command a premium, and there are many tributes and clones out there that were created from regular GTOs simply by adding the decals and other bits.
The Pick of the Day is reputedly authentic, however, a 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge Ram Air III, described as a “genuine factory-produced” example by the Rochester, Minnesota, dealer advertising the Pontiac on ClassicCars.com. The hardtop has been “documented by its original trim tag and PHS (Pontiac Historic Services) documents, receipts and some owner history.”
“Restored in its original and very rare color of Starlight Black with factory black interior,” the seller notes. “Numbers-matching WS code engine and PHS documented with rare factory air-conditioning and 4-speed Muncie transmission.”
The judge is powered by the original 400cid V8 that’s rated at 366 horsepower, and with factory options that include lighted hood tach, power disc brakes, power steering, console, AM/FM radio with rear speakers, remote mirror and retractable headlights.
The car runs and drives well and has been “museum kept,” the seller says, although not specifying which museum or how long it was kept there. The photos with the ad show that the GTO is in sparkling condition inside and out, and looks essentially brand new.
On the air-filter housing is a special piece of authenticity, a hand-written message apparently to a former owner that says, “Hey Dan… Good luck with this great ’69… My favorite Pontiac.”
It’s signed by Jim Wangers, the famous marketing genius who stirred up Pontiac’s performance image and boosted excitement about the GTO; he’s often called “the godfather of the GTO.” Wangers created the marketing blitz surrounding The Judge, which he helped originate.
Whether this car’s written message is a rarity or if Wangers commonly signed GTO air-filter housings is something I just don’t know.
Besides being an impressive muscle car, the GTO Judge is a fascinating piece of mid-century marketing history, with ads for the Pontiac using such catchy phrases as “All rise for The Judge” and “This Judge can be bought.”
This particular judge can also be bought, with a asking price of $114,900, which the Hagerty value guide testifies is justified for such a sterling example. You be the judge.
To view this vehicle on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day.