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1970 PONTIAC GTO Judge- Gary & Donna Edwards PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 15:41

1970 PONTIAC GTO Judge- Gary & Donna Edwards


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

70 GTO Judge gary driver side

Gary and Donna Edwards have owned this 1970 GTO since 1974. When they bought the GTO the relevance of the Judge option didn't register as being particularly significant. It wasn't until years later they realized that the 1970 GTO Judge has become quite a high level collectible.

The GTO Judge option was originally intended to be a one time option designed to draw some attention back the GTO now drowning amidst a sea of flamboyant musclecars. The first batch of 1969 GTO Judges were all painted eye scorching Carousel Red (the Pontiac name for Chevrolet Hugger Orange) with multicolor reflective stripes and Judge logo. The Judge was topped off with a rear deck lid spoiler and automatically included the optional Ram Air III 400 engine. Once the initial batch of cars made an impression the Judge appeared in various other colors. At the end of the year the Judge had accomplished its mission of drawing attention to the GTO. Instead of cancelling the Judge option as planned, Pontiac noted that the option had accounted for nearly 10% of GTO production and kept a good thing going for the 1970 model year GTO.

70 GTO Judge Gary nose

Many fans of the GTO consider the 1970 model to be the pinnacle of its styling. Despite this, the sales of the GTO were down severely due to the insurance squeeze and an oversaturation of the market. Another issue hurting the GTO was that in the eyes of the street freaks the GTO had slipped down the totem pole from top dog to middle of the pack.

The Judge option got off to a bit of a slow start for the 1970 model year partly as a reflection of depressed muscle car sales in general and partly due to the specific print ads used for the The Judge option. The Judge ads used a nice looking white Judge with black spoiler. It looked good but the whole Judge premise was based on over the top colors. To see pictures of the white print ad 1970 GTO Judge restored in 2009 see the OOCC Corvette Trip Part 4- GTO Nationals in the DESTINATIONS section of TRAVEL STORIES on this website. Once Pontiac went public with the new 'official' Judge color Orbit Orange, the Judge option started selling briskly again.

70 gto judge gary rally II

Aside from sedate advertising at the start of the model year the 1970 GTO Judge was hindered from its potential to stand at the pinnacle of musclecar performance through some other circumstances. What seemingly held Pontiac back was the departure of division head John DeLorean to Chevrolet for the 1970 model year. Pontiac had been working on a tunnel ram version of the 400 called the Ram Air V. Pontiac had also developed excellent round port pieces for the production Ram Air IV 400 which could have been adapted to a larger cubic inch engine. Pontiac seemed to be heading to the summit of performance again at the time DeLorean was promoted to Chevrolet.

What happened next indicates a change of direction at Pontiac. The Ram Air V was cancelled. DeLorean's other pet project the OHV 6 cylinder was gone for the 1970 model year. The OHC didn't fit under the hood of the new Firebird and it never sold well anyways. But if DeLorean was in charge he would have pushed for a hood bubble. In mid 1970 a bargain basement version of the GTO named GT-37 appeared.

All of these developments were ran counter to the trajectory that DeLorean had set in motion. Part of the issue was simply that engineers in all the Big Three manufacturers were being hard pressed to address upcoming emissions standards which siphoned away energy and money from high performance development projects, but it does seem telling that DeLorean's personal stamp quickly dissipated upon his departure.

70 GTO Judge Gary passenger side

General Motors lifted the 400 cubic inch limit for intermediate car engines for the 1970 model year. Pontiac was the GM 'performance division' and should have been at the forefront with a mega cube killer engine. Instead, nothing much happened. Although GM had given into the reality of Chrysler monster Hemis and 440- 6 packs and the Ford Cobra Jet 428s roaming the streets none of the GM divisions was prepared for GM's sudden capitulation to the marketplace. The ban was rescinded leaving the GM divisions very little time to respond. The divisions scrambled to get a high performance mega cube engine into their intermediate musclecars.

Chevrolet notably came out with the legendary 454 LS6 Chevelle SS which had one of the highest factory horsepower ratings of the musclecar era. It's tempting to credit John DeLorean's transfer to Chevrolet for the appearance of the LS6 but the big block performance heritage traces back to Zora Anton Duntav's work with Corvettes.

Buick floored everyone with their stupendous 455 Stage 1 which has now been dueling Hemis in brand grudge matches for decades. Buick also blew everyone's mind with a total musclecar package they named the GSX which "out- Judged" the Judge of 1970. Oldsmobile fans had already previewed a 442 with a 455 courtesy of the Hurst Olds collaboration of 1968 and 1969 but adding a W-30 set up the 455 made 1970 one of Oldsmobile's crowning moments.

All the GM divisions cobbled together some kind of legitimate performance big block musclecar offering except Pontiac. Pontiac, who invented the musclecar era with the Pontiac GTO dropped the ball and maintained focus on a 400 cubic inch performance engine. In 1964 a 400 cube engine in an intermediate was a shocker but by 1970 mega cube engines were now the norm. Pontiac could have stuffed a 428 H.O. into a GTO (it wouldn't be the first time!) and come up with a performer.

But a 428 would leave Pontiac behind the trend of huge engines. Boring and stroking the 428 yielded the magic 455 cubic inch capacity. The numbers were there but the engine was a stroker. No attempt was made to hot rod the passenger car oriented 455 because it was deemed incapable of high revs. Pontiac offered a 455 simply because they could, but they restricted their performance focus on the rev happy 400. Pontiac spokespeople treated the 455 as a torque monster for the GTO buyer who wanted to load up on PS, PB, A/C and heavy options.

John DeLorean's absence had thrown Pontiac off their stride. Pontiac did get it together to put a rear sway bar on the GTO which improved handling. DeLorean opposed the rear sway bar during his reign at Pontiac. Handling improved for the 1970 model year GTO, but when it came to brute force, Pontiac didn't chase down the last drop from the 455. Pontiac amended this oversight in 1971 when they put some Ram Air IV goodies onto the 455 and created one of the best high performance engines they ever built despite being hindered by a compression drop in 1971.

In hindsight it's hard to understand Pontiac's reluctance to massage the 455 back in 1970. It is now the engine of choice for many racers. In fact, Gary raced this Burgundy GTO Judge with a 455. Significantly, when the original 400 Ram Air III blew up Gary selected a 455 for his buildup. Gary's Judge racked up some decent wins running a 455. A few speed parts was all it took to make that 455 work right. Many Pontiac guys took advantage of the fact that the external dimensions of Pontiac engines are the same which makes a stealth 455 installation very easy. In fact Pontiac engine interchangeability was what first gave Pontiac the edge when creating a 389 GTO which easily bolted into the engine mounts created for the 326 Tempest V8.

But back in 1970 the factory 455 left Pontiac GTOs lacking in the eyes of the street sweepers. Pontiac was the only GM division without a true high performance 455 sized engine. CAR AND DRIVER tested a 1970 GTO with the 455 and speculated that many new GTO owners were not necessarily going to be performance nuts. The GTO was so good looking it seemed likely many people would buy the car on looks alone. C & D managed a 15.0 second quarter mile time with the 455 and a 4 speed. The 0-60 was impressive due to all the torque.

Thomas McCahill of MECHANIX ILLUSTRATED tested a 1970 GTO with 455. The GTO was hampered by the heavier convertible body and poor aerodynamics with the wind dragging convertible top up but still managed to produce an astounding 134 MPH top speed. McCahill's GTO had 3.23 gears. Even in 'pedestrian' form that 455 had potential.

This tarnish upon the leading performance division of GM couldn't completely detract from how fantastic looking the GTO was.

The GTO package for 1970 was stellar. The 1970 GTO achieved what many consider to be perfect looks. The flanks had 'muscle bulges' added and the front nose was a nice evolution of the original 1968-9 model year nose. The rear of the car had wrap around bumpers that seemed to make the rear of the car tighter looking.

70 gto judge gary steering wheel

The interior was essentially unchanged which means one of the very best musclecar cockpits in the business. Chrysler and Ford still had a slight edge in utility since they provided more gauges in standard form, but the GTO offered an optional gauge package which Gary has on his Judge as seen below. Note the 30,000 mile odometer reading. !970 was the first year for the 140 MPH speedometer in the GTO.

70 gto judge gary gauges

The optional gauge package irked some testers because pointers went in a counter intuitive direction for oil pressure and temperature. The GTO also offered the optional 'Formula steering wheel' which was a thick rimmed flat dish racing style steering wheel. It looked great and made a big difference for driving feel.

70 gto Judge gary driver seat

Where Pontiac was behind the curve was with 6 inch wide x 14 inch diameter wheels. With 7 x 15 becoming more common on muscle cars the GTO was missing out here. The serious street sweepers obviously were unaffected by this since they immediately installed custom wheels and fat tires right after taking delivery of their GTOs.

70 gto judge gary driver door panel.

Ordering the Judge option automatically included real hardware along with the exterior extroverted add- ons. Judges came with the optional 400 Ram Air III engine and offered an aluminum T handled Hurst shifter for the manual shift models. Note the 8 track in Gary's Judge nestled behind the shfiter console with an old Elvis tape in it.

70 gto judge gary aluminum T handle Hurst shifter

Outside there was no missing a Judge. The reflective multi color stripes (now two separate stripes that followed the new 'power bulges' over each wheel), Judge psychedelic logo, rear pedestal mounted air foil and (sometimes) a front chin spoiler told the world to take a second look. The official Judge color for 1970 was Orbit Orange which looks better than the prior year's Carousel Red. Unlike the 1969 run which was 80% Carousel Red, the Orbit Orange Judges didn't amount to a significant portion of the Judges built despite being the 'official' Judge color this year.

70 gto judge gary spoiler

Gary's Burgundy Judge came with a Sandlewood interior which made for a more restrained version of the Judge. The first owner kept this Judge for about 4 years after taking it home from the F.E. Avery Company in Columbus Ohio. See a story on Avery in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website filed under OHIO Dealers.

The first numbers of the VIN 242370P decode as:

2= Pontiac Motor Division

42= GTO

37= Two door hardtop

0= 1970 Model year

P= Pontiac, Michigan final assembly plant.

70 GTO Judge Gary window sticker

The window sticker displays the WT1 Judge option, M20 four speed, G80 Safe-T-Track and gauge cluster. Some attention was lavished on comfort, too: U63 Radio, U57 8 Track tape stereo, console, mats, Soft Ray glass, defroster and moldings. The total price came out at $4,450.43 which was fairly hefty for the time period.

The original owner stored it during the harsh Ohio winters which kept the miles down. The second owner brought the GTO with him from Ohio when he moved to Redondo Beach, California in 1974. After scaring himself with the 500 ft lbs of torque he was ready to move on. He described the Judge,

"It is too much car."

The second owner hadn't owned it that long when a friend of Gary's in California alerted him to the car. Gary became owner number three had it shipped to Ohio which is ironically where the car originally came from. The first two owners barely drove it leaving the GTO Judge showing a super low 2,800 miles when Gary bought it for $3,200.00.

70 gto judge gary steering scoops

All Judges automatically included Ram Air engines and functional Ram Air hood scoops. In the picture below you can see the Ram Air button under dash which allowed the driver to open or close the air scoops while on the move.

70 gto judge gary pedals and ram air button

Gary raced the car for 6 years at Norwalk dragway, Dragway 42 and Thomson Dragstrip. Back in 1974 numbers matching was not relevant and guys routinely swapped in larger engines.

70 GTO Judge Gary 455 dressed up as a 400 ra III

Gary retained the foam sealer and air cleaner assembly from the Ram Air III when he dressed up the new 455 sitting in the engine bay. Readers may recall that the 1970 vintage 455 Pontiac had hurt their King of the Mountain image. But with some good parts and some work a 455 can be made to perform. Over the years the 455 has become a top choice for engine builders despite its early reputation as a slow stroked engine.

With little more than a 4.33:1 axle and Mickey Thompson drag slicks Gary's GTO turned mid 13s at 102 to 103 MPH with the 455. Gary recalls that when he had racing wires on the GTO at night you could see sparks from the ignition system. The GTO saw some cruising action, too. Gary and Donna were married in 1972 but she was supportive of his racing hobby. When the kids started to grow up and real life intruded the GTO wound up in the garage supporting boxes and a ping pong table.

In the mid 1990s someone told Gary that the GTO Judges were collectible. Once the significance of what he had stashed away in his garage dawned on Gary he took action. The GTO was still fairly original. Gary repainted the car in 2002. The car's low mileage made very little necessary to make it roadworthy: a new master cylinder, booster, upper rad hose and water pump. Few changes have been made other than adding an AM/ FM radio and 3 inch stainless Flowmaster exhaust. Gary had also added beauty rings to the Rally II wheels back in the day, despite the fact that Judges were delivered sans the rings.

Gary recalls the engine screaming at 55 MPH when driving to the dragstrip with the tachometer reading 3,500 RPM. In order to enjoy the car at cruises a set of 3.73:1 rear gears were substituted for the 4.33s used in the drag racing days. The front bias ply tires were thumping so Gary switched to 235/60 x 14 radial tires. With radials on the GTO it cruised smoothly at a steady 110 MPH on a back road with the 3.73s. The Judge had much more left but Gary didn't want to run himself out of road trying to find out how much more the car had to offer.

70 GTO Judge Gary rear

The GTO returns about 6- 8 MPG at a steady 65 MPH cruise on flat interstate highways burning Sunoco Ultra Premium. With the 3.73s the tachometer reads about 3,200 RPM at that speed.

70 gto judge gary rear exhaust splitters

The Judge now attends car shows and cruise nights and has sparked some rivalry between Gary's boys as to who is going to end up owning it down the line! It certainly is nice to know that some of the new generation still appreciate the classic musclecars.

70 GTO judge gary tail lights

Last Updated ( Saturday, 27 September 2014 20:21 )