The Pontiac GTO was built from 1964 until 1974 and is considered by many to be the first muscle car. It went through several changes over the years, including to the bodystyles and engine options. During the late 1960s, the bodystyle went through a dramatic change. The Judge option was from the slogan 'Here comes the Judge' - from the 'Laugh In' TV program.
The Judge was equipped with a rear wing, hood mounted tach, decals on the hood, blacked out fenders, and a 400 cubic-inch engine. A Ram Air III option was available, offering 366 horsepower. More exclusive was the Ram Air IV that had new heads, new rockers, souped up cam, and a Rochester quadrajet carburetor.
Pontiac built only a few Ram Airs in 1970. Only 36 convertibles were built and only 18 were Judges. With 370 horsepower these cars were fast, desirable and new very collectible.
'The Judge' Hardtop
Pontiac re-styled the GTO in 1970 by utilizing the Tempest sheet metal in combination with a standard Endura nose. The new design featured exposed headlamps, body side creases and twin oval cavities, where recessed grilles were housed.
Standard equipment included bucket seats, twin air scoops, heavy-duty clutch, carpeting, glove box, ashtray, dual exhaust, and deluxe steering wheel. A special option called 'The Judge' was available for the GTO and was offered in a hardtop or convertible. It could be purchased for an additional $337 over the base model price of $3,267.
In addition to the standard features of the GTO, 'The Judge' option included Rally II wheels, fiberglass black wall tires, rear deck air foil, side strips, Judge stripes and decals and a T-handle shifter for cars with manual transmissions. Powering the GTO Judge was a 400 cubic-inch RAM AIR V-8 engine that developed 366 horsepower. GTO Judges with this engine were capable of going 0-to-60 miles per hour in six seconds flat.
'The Judge' Convertible
In the hierarchy of factory muscle, nothing is better than a convertible with the highest-output engine. With the introduction of the high-profile GTO Judge in 1969, some felt the job was done. Although hesitant to continue The Judge due to the higher than expected production costs, the decision was made that there was still some value left in continuing what they had started.
By 1970, the writing was on the wall for muscle cars. Strict insurance regulations meant the key market the manufacturers were aiming for might be having a hard time paying the price.
For 1970, the Judge was offered as a hardtop and for the first time, a convertible. Among the long list of available options were several Ram Air engines. Being considerably heavier, hot rodder's rarely opted for a top that would go down no matter what brand they preferred.
This Cardinal Red-over-red GTO Judge convertible has Pontiac's highest-output offering for 1970, the coveted Ram Air IV, backed by a four-speed manual transmission. It is believed that only six Judge convertibles were built with this combination, and this is the only known example built in this eye-catching color combination. Additional options include an 8-track stereo, bucket seats with center console, Power-flow ventilation, the gauge package and more.
The Pontiac GTO, in all respects a muscle car, debuted in 1964 and continued until 1974. John Zachary DeLorean, best known for the Delorean automobiles, was the individual who forced the development of the legendary GTO. The vehicle was very successful because it was able to capitalize on a segment of the market that had not been fully realized. Most of the muscle cars during this time were full-size cars. They had large engines, but due to the weight they were usually slow to accelerate. Pontiac offered a combination of 389 cubic-inch engines in their mid-size Tempest line and called it a GTO. The name GTO comes from Ferrari. It means Gran Turismo Omolgato. The GTO package included the V8 engine, premium tires, special hydraulic lifters, dual exhaust, manual three and four-speed transmission with a Hurst shifter, heavy-duty clutch, improved suspension, a 3.23:1 rear axle ration, dual hood scoops, GTO emblems, and bucket seats. The 389 cubic-inch engine was rated at 325-348 horsepower depending on the configuration and modification of the engine. The 428 ft-lbs of torque was even more astonishing. Placing this mammoth engine in a mid-size sedan created a vehicle that was untouchable. It was available in both the coupe or convertible body styles. Pontiac sold nearly 32,500 GTO's during the first year.
For 1965, the Tempest GTO received cosmetic and mechanical updates. The engine was modified and was now producing between 335 and 360 horsepower with a torque rating at 431 ft-lbs. The headlights of the vehicle were modified; they were now in stacked configuration. The dual hood scoop was replaced with a single hood scoop. Over 75,000 examples were sold in the second year.
A dealer cold air induction kit for the Tri-Power cars helped stimulate sales and increased the horsepower of the vehicle. The induction kit made use of the hood scoop and brought about the Ram Air package.
For 1966, the GTO became its own model. There were styling changes mostly concentrating on the roof and the rear lights. The engines were unchanged, however, during the middle of the year the multi-carburetor setup was no longer offered. The GTO was still more popular than ever, selling 96,946 examples during 1966.
In 1967, a new 400 cubic-inch engine was introduced. The horsepower rating was between 255 and 360 horsepower depending on the configuration. The torque rating was between 397 and 438 ft-lbs. Minor styling changes occurred, mainly the grill and the rear of the vehicle. During the 1967 model year, nearly 82,000 GTO's were sold.
In 1968, the wheel base was expanded to 112 inches and now sat atop General Motors split wheelbase A-body. Major styling changes occurred. A rubber bumper, labeled the Endura, adorned the front of the car. Hidden headlights were optional equipment. The engine choices remained the same but the horsepower and torque was increased. The 440 was not producing between 265 and 360 horsepower while the torque ranged from 397 through 445 ft-lbs.
In 1969, the competition was becoming fierce. To compete, Pontiac offered a package on the GTO that included body paint, rear spoiler, decals, and a 366 horsepower, Ram Air III V8. A Ram IV V8 could also be purchased, increasing the horsepower rating to 370. Still a very successful year for Pontiac, there were more than 72,000 GTO's sold.
In 1970, the GTO once again received styling changes. There were now four exposed headlamps. The rear engine was
redesigned and the body received new creases. The base engine was dropped. A 455 cubic-inch engine was introduced. The 400 cubic-inch engine produced between 350 and 370 horsepower. The 455 cubic-inch V8 produced between 360 and 500 horsepower. Sales were still strong, but dropping. A little more than 40,000 GTO's were sold.
In 1971, sales continued to drop. Only about 10,000 were sold. GM announced that due to rising emission and safety regulations, compression ratings would have to be reduced and all engines would need to run on unleaded fuel. The horsepower ratings began to decrease. Due to a heavier chassis, introduced a few year prior, and lower horsepower ratings, the vehicle was losing its ability to be competitive. More bad news for the GTO; this was its last year as an independent model. The front end of the vehicle received minor styling updates.
In 1972, the Judge and convertible options were no longer offered. The horsepower ratings continued to go the same direction as the sales figures: down. A little over 5,800 vehicles were sold. The horsepower output was between 250 and 300. The 400 and 455 cubic inch engines were both offered.
In 1973, only 4806 GTO's were sold. The engine horsepower decreased as well, now 230 through 250. Its muscle car status was officially gone.
The 1974 production year was the last for the GTO. It was now an option on the Ventura model line-up. It came as a coupe or a hatchback. A 350 cubic-inch engine was the only one being offered. With a 200 horsepower rating, the car was dying a slow and very painful death. A little over 7000 vehicles were sold with the GTO option.
There were a few reasons for the GTO's decline. The muscle car era was coming to a close - or just being redefined and awaiting a revitalization. Government and safety regulations were becoming more strict. There were tough fuel regulations which severely limited the output of the engines but promoted better fuel economy. Insurance charges increased making these machines out-of-reach for many consumers. The cars became heavier, and heavier. The engine sizes decreased; The cost of ownership increased. The muscle car era was destroyed. By Daniel Vaughan | Aug 2006