Home Car Stories 20 Years + 1969 PONTIAC GTO Judge- Kenneth & Bridget Rahe
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Written by Double Dragon
Wednesday, 10 September 2014 15:29

1969 PONTIAC GTO Judge- Kenneth & Bridget Rahe


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

Everyone fears the crap shoot of buying a car unseen over long distance. Nowadays the danger can be minimized slightly with internet pictures and videos. Back in the 1980s as Kenneth Rahe unhappily discovered you could hide a lot of sins in a grainy Polaroid picture. In Ken's case he was trying to find a particular year, model and color combination and when he found it he just had to hold his breath and hope for the best. Kenneth's hunt for another version of the car from his youth that got away came to a crashing halt when a pile of junk arrived from the seller The happy ending is that a few decades of time and research eventually revealed that the pile of junk had some rarity that made it worthy of restoration.

69 GTO Judge Ken front

Ken's story begins back in 1970 when he bought a used 1969 Matador Red GTO with 18,000 miles on it. The GTO was an automatic with console, black interior 3.23 10 bolt and A/C. He loved that car and drove it 62,000 miles in a short 2 year span. That's an average of 31,000 miles a year. Ken and his crew of helpers attended cattle shows as clippers and groomers. Four guys with all their equipment cramming the trunk crisscrossed the USA and even made it as far north as Ontario, Canada in that GTO. During all that road time the car escaped serious damage. It was rear ended once in a low hit and a fender and door were hit but pulled back out. Kenneth's father urged him to trade in the GTO so he could get a truck for his work at the cattle shows. Ken sold the GTO in late 1972 when it had 80,000 miles but he sorely missed it.

69 GTO Judge ken st wheel

Kenneth remembered how sweet driving that GTO was and what a babe magnet it was! Years went by. Kenneth married and settled down but he still yearned for that 1969 Matador Red GTO. Finally he initiated a search to find another 1969 GTO with the same color combination. In 1985 Ken finally found a 1969 GTO in Mississippi with the same color combination listed in HEMMINGS. Ken was in Illinois and had to trust that the car was as the seller stated. This pre- internet era allowed the seller plenty of latitude to embellish what he had. The seller sent a Polaroid picture of himself holding a garden hose washing the car. When the Matador Red GTO arrived at Ken's place in Illinois it was apparent that the picture was prophetic. As Ken recalls,

"i got hosed!"

The car was a wreck. Kenneth states that he could have saved himself the $2,250.00 purchase price and $400.00 shipping fee and simply gone to a local junkyard and found something equally used up. The paint was faded, the floors had holes in them, and the hood was bent out of shape. The GTO barely ran at all and had no lights or turn signals. In the 3 mile drive to his house Kenneth discovered that the steering wandered wildly and the car had absolutely no brakes. As soon as she saw the car his wife Bridget never let him hear the end of it. After taking his dad and brother in an abbreviated ride in the GTO it was parked by the house because it was unsafe to drive. The GTO eventually ended up in the cattle barn. Ken and his wife had kids and as space was needed the car eventually was moved off the property and into a storage shed.

69 GTO Judge Ken 400 Ram Air III

After years of putting it off, in 1998 Kenneth decided to take the GTO out of storage and bring it back home to try and fix it. Ken improvised. For example when he took the GTO apart and removed the body off the frame 55 gallon drums served as his 'rotisserie support' system. The car was moved around using a tractor chain. The GTO ended up in another storage shed up the road from the house while work occurred in fits and starts. Ken would get enthused and make good progress and then hit a snag or encounter some task he wasn't capable of handling and discouragement would derail the project again.

When thieves broke into the shed around 2002 they stole a lawn mower and a go kart but left the car! That poor GTO was certainly not receiving any appreciation from anywhere during this period. Kenneth finally lost motivation and put the whole mess up for sale in the WHEELER DEALER. In 2 or 3 months all he got was one offer for $500.00. The new parts put into the car exceeded that amount and he determined to hang onto it.

The turning point came in August, 2003 when Kenneth turned 50. The unmistakable passage of time created an urgency to get this car done. Ken was only 19 when he sold his original Matador Red GTO back in 1972. He had 62,000 miles of memories with that car. He had owned the second Matador Red GTO for nearly 2 decades and had driven it about 5 miles and not one inch of those miles were enjoyable given it's decrepitude. The pace that Ken worked at within the constraints of his family obligations meant that he would never complete the project on his own. It was time for outside intervention.

Ken received good feedback about CW Restorations in Mason, Ohio which specializes in Pontiac restoration. The shop was a few hundred miles from Ken's place in Illinois but he wanted to do business with someone he could trust rather than someone who was merely convenient.

69 GTO Judge ken PHS shipping document

The owner of the shop, Chris Winston looked over the Pontiac Historical Services research (which is shown above with the final sequence of the VIN removed for privacy). Chris agreed that this car was pretty rare with an impressive option list. It was a real GTO Judge 4 speed with Safe- T- Track ordered with a nice color combination and a long list of options including some seldom encountered options.

The VIN prefix means

2+ Pontiac Motor Division

42= GTO

37= 2 Door hardtop

9= 1969 Model year

R= Arlington, Texas final assembly plant

The final VIN numbers are a factory sequential series.

This beat up GTO had been brutalized in its 15 years on the road but it actually started out as a prestigious car that cost a whopping $5,046.08 when new. The car was shipped June 2, 1969 to the new owner via Ken Bender Buick Pontiac Inc in St Charles, Missouri. In one of the several interesting coincidences concerning Ken's second Matador Red GTO the dealership owner was also named Ken. See a story on Ken Bender in the DEALERSHIP section of this website filed under MISSOURI.

Ken's GTO includes the Judge option which automatically triggered an upgrade to the optional Ram Air III 400 engine. The first run of 2,000 Judges and about 100 Judges sponsored for dealer drag racing were all painted Carousel Red (Pontiac-speak for Chevrolet's "Hugger Orange") and this has created the mistaken impression that all 1969 Judges were this color. In fact, after the first batch of Carousel Red Judges were built, the car was available in various colors but perhaps because of the initial effect created with the Carousel Red prototypes many dealers ordered display cars in that color to ensure instant recognition on the lot. About 80% of the run of 6,833 Judges in 1969 were painted Carousel Red. The Matador Red paint job on Ken's Judge falls into a minority group but it is correct for the car and it looks terrific.

Even if you didn't order your Judge in screaming eyeball assaulting Carousel Red Pontiac made certain no one was going to miss a Judge. The Judge came with reflective multi color stripes and matching psychedelic 'The Judge' logo color keyed to the customers' paint color. The package also included Rally II wheels sans trim rings, hood tachometer and a pedestal mounted rear decklid spoiler.

Ken's Judge has the desirable 4 speed floor mounted Hurst shifter with Judge specific aluminum 'T handle' and 'The Judge' logo attached to the glove box door. The car was shipped to a business Universal C.I.T. Credit Corporation on Arsenal Street. It appears that the initial owner of the car was a business man who titled the car as a business vehicle. The tax write off benefits of that arrangement probably prompted him to go hog wild with the option list. The first owner of this car ordered this car as an exaggeration of a growing trend in the GTO's development as a high end car. At first glance it seems this is a street warrior with The Judge, Ram Air III and 4 speed but it also has A/C and a multitude of comfort items. This seeming dichotomy was becoming increasingly common in the later years of the GTO.

69 GTO Judge ken tilt steering wheel

When it first appeared for the 1964 model year, the GTO was a bare bones street fighter that young kids ordered with Tri Power, 4 speed and Safe-T-Track and little else. Weight slows down a car and options cost money. The GTO didn't really need options to make it an upscale car. It already had round gauges, buckets, carpet, engine turned dash applique and other touches that made it a 'finished' car by the standards of the era.

69 GTO Judge ken power trunk release

By 1969 the GTO was firmly established with the street set and many of those guys had come a long way in 5 years. The GTO was still a nice cruiser that aroused owner pride even in base form. Many other competing musclecars of this era were saddled with strip speedometers, bench seats and other remnants of the banal passenger car origins upon which the muscle version of the platform was based. The lowliest of GTOs had image even before the option list came out. But that option list was being exercised quite heavily by the end of the 1960s. Owners and the GTO had 'come of age'.

69 GTO Judge ken luggage lamp

By the late 1960s fans of the GTO were mature and had more money for options which they freely loaded on the cars. Older customers no longer relied on their cars solely for street racing and cruising. Most GTOs were now doing double duty as cruisers and work commuters and were often shared with spouses. Wives demand power steering and brakes. A teenage grease monkey in a thin t shirt doesn't need air conditioning, but his wife doesn't want her her makeup to run or to mess up her hair with the windows down. Even some GTO owners now in their mid 20s had real jobs forcing a commute to work wearing a hot suit. Suddenly A/C was appearing in GTOs whereas before the power robbing heavy A/C units were scorned.


69 GTO Judge ken reclining pass seat

Ken's Judge is loaded up beyond even the late 1960s trend of checking off boxes on the order form. Aside from the air conditioning and Soft Ray glass all around, Ken's GTO has G70 x 14 Red Line tires, power front disc barkes, power steering, gauge package,  console, optional hide away headlights, front cornering lamps, luggage light, remote trunk release, door edge guards, front and rear floor mats, pushbutton radio, 8 track stereo, dual vanity mirrors in the sun visors, remote driver's rear view mirror, rear seat shoulder belts, tilt steering wheel, sport steering wheel, and a reclining passenger seat. Some of these options are rarely seen.

69 GTO Judge Ken remote control rear view mirror

Kenneth began shipping parts for the project over to the CW Restorations headquarters. Twenty years ago in the context of the hobby the Judge had been a pile of junk. In the new century It was certainly worth saving. The higher dollar value assigned to rare cars made it worthwhile to restore cars that would be rejected in the 1980s as basket cases and cut up for parts. New technology and knowledge available in the 2000s make it possible to save original parts that would have been considered too far gone back in the 1980s. The modern era offers new paint systems, chroming and powder coating. So in many ways it was fortuitous that Ken's project was delayed as long as it was.

69 GTO Judge ken vanity mirrors in both visors

The restoration was a major project requiring inner and outer fenders. The rear quarters were replaced right up to the top of the roof seam. The car needed a new trunk pan and floor pans. The front nose was not only rusted at the front but it required a lot of work to straighten it out . All the mechanical issues were fixed and everything was refinished before being re installed.

69 GTO Judge ken rear shoulder seatbelts

Wherever possible original pieces were saved, particularly some of the very rare options. Man hours and care allowed the spoiler to be refurbished as was the original chrome. The glove box door and 'Judge' logo are original, but the seat covers are reproduction replacements. The spare tire is a reproduction item. The original 8 track hasn't been refurbished and re installed yet but it is on the list of things to finish up with.

Ken's Judge has traveled a mere 10 miles more than when it was first unloaded off the truck in 1985 leaving the mileage at 80,113 miles. First it didn't get driven because it was too awful now it doesn't get driven because its too nice! In an interesting coincidence, the original GTO that Ken first owned had 80,000 miles on it when he sold it. It seems as if Ken's new GTO Judge is a continuation of sorts starting at the mileage the old GTO left off at. Ken travels with the car but not in it like the good old days of cattle grooming. This time Ken is hauling the car to be judged in shows. Ken's GTO Judge has won the GTOAA Concours Gold two times now. It has won Ault Park Concours d'Elegance (Best In Class - Muscle Car - Cincinnati) and Keeneland Concours d'Elegance (White Ribbon).

Back when he first parked the remains of the Matador Red GTO Judge on his property, Ken's wife Bridget told him he was crazy. Now that the car is complete with a long list of awards she has come around to appreciating the GTO hobby. She has become such a convert it was actually Bridget who encouraged him to buy a GTO convertible. Ken now owns 4 GTOs in total and greatly enjoys traveling to shows and talking to interesting new people.

His only regret is that his Matador Red GTO Judge is now too nice to drive. He's only put about 10 miles on it since he bought it. Seems like fate decreed that Ken was not allowed to exceed 80,000 miles in a Matador Red GTO!



Last Updated ( Tuesday, 30 September 2014 15:33 )