Home Car Stories One Owner 1971 PONTIAC GTO Judge convertible- 1 of 17
1971 PONTIAC GTO Judge convertible- 1 of 17 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Monday, 29 October 2012 14:34

1971 PONTIAC GTO Judge convertible- 1 of 17


71 gto judge convertible lucerne logo wing

Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

71 gto judge convertible lucerne front

The owner of this rare car is understandably cautious about having his name mentioned on the internet. He is not a high end collector, but his personal car happens to be one of the 17 convertible Judge GTOs built in 1971. His Judge was a daily driver and he was just as surprised as anyone when his car transformed into a highly prized collectible. This 1971 Pontiac GTO Judge convertible is the only one painted the desirable color Lucerne Blue. For our story we will call the owner "Mr. Lucerne".

71 gto judge convertible lucerne 09 dayton

All 1969-1971 Judges enjoy collectability because they combine rarity with top performance, but the net tightens as you enter the partial model year 1971. Fewer Judges were made and all of them carried the stupendous 'round port' 455 H.O. Things get really intense when you reduce the focus down to the convertible model. Of the 17 Judge convertibles built some are known, others shrouded in mystery. To see the available information on "The 17" go to the TRAVEL STORIES section of this website. A cloned 1971 GTO Judge convertible painted Lucerne Blue appears in the story titled "OOCC CORVETTE TRIP Part 3 Madison Car Show". There is also a full list of the genuine 17 cars.

The short GTO Judge run actually lasted longer than originally intended. The Judge was initially conceived as a one year 'shot in the arm' high profile car to draw attention to the GTO line-up in 1969. After that one year, the Judge was supposed to be dropped. 1970 and 1971 Judges are bonus years. On Feb 11, 1971 the Judge was cancelled, ensuring a very small production run for model year 1971 resulting in a very rare, collectible car.

The Judge went through many changes on the way from initial concept to production model. The Judge was created as a Plymouth Road Runner fighter, but evolved into a dramatic concept meant to draw attention back to the GTO. By 1969 there were so many musclecars available that the 'original musclecar' was getting lost in the shuffle.

This wasn't always the case. When introduced as a 1964 option on the Tempest, the GTO was a bombshell that ignited the supercar era. As the musclecar movement gained momentum a Pontiac Motor Division advertisement summed it up by saying,

"The others have caught on, but they haven't caught up."

GTO marketing genius Jim Wangers explains the Pontiac success story succinctly by first pointing out that,

"The entire Pontiac line made no logical sense. You could just as easily jump from Chevrolet to Oldsmobile or Buick. We had to find a way to justify the existence of Pontiac."

Dedicated attention to the Pontiac brand not only justified its existence, it catapulted Pontiac to number three sales position throughout the 1960s. Strategic racing activity coupled with a thorough performance ad campaign bolstered Pontiac's image. The uncoordinated response from competition didn't threaten Pontiac's head start. PMD thrived in the super car market that they virtually created. Pontiac's well defined performance image merged perfectly with a sense of 'specialness', youth and forward thinking. Manager John DeLorean was a young, brash charismatic leader who broke new ground constantly. He pushed for an overhead cam six cylinder engine that was a full decade ahead of its time in the domestic pushrod scene. PMD was one of the first US manufacturers to push radial tires, hidden windshield wipers and the great concept of concealing the radio antenna in the windshield glass.

The GTO was successful enough to merit a separate model from the Tempest platform off which it was based. In 1968 the GTO won Motor Trend magazine's car of the year award partly due to its new Endura bumper and flexible paint. The Endura miracle bumper made the incredible new body style possible by integrating bumper and sheet metal into one flowing line. Pontiac was always ahead of the curve, but the 1968 GTO was so far ahead of everyone that to this day the front end looks clean and modern.

Although the GTO scored with the new body, the supremacy of the GTO was challenged by lower priced competition on one side and giant cubic inch heavy hitters in the higher price arena. Chrysler had the Hemi and 440 and Ford finally got it together with the 428 Cobra Jet which threatened the GTO's performance. Inexpensive cars such as the Chevelle SS 396 undercut the GTO bottom price point. Many, many other copycat musclecars were beginning to get pieces of the pie.

The car that really rocked the boat was the 1968 Plymouth Road Runner. Some people liken this car to the first GTO back in 1964 and in some ways there are similarities. Here was a car that youngsters on a budget could buy, just like the first 1964 GTO. Astute Mopar marketers observed the slow slide upwards in price and weight happening over at Pontiac and pounced on the gap left open in the bargain basement stripped muscle car market place.

For someone who just wanted to go fast for cheap the Road Runner was your car. It was clearly a Belvedere econo platform with graphics, cool horn and an engine that duplicated the original GTO formula (heads from a top performance engine mated to a medium sized block). The Roadrunner didn't match the GTOs comprehensive imagery. Yes, the 1964 GTO was a basic Tempest with simulated hood scoops and big engine, but where Pontiac got it together was in the details. Instead of the strip speedometer and passenger car vague gauges of the Road Runner, the GTO had round sporty gauges and a decent sized tachometer. GTO shifters were solid Hurst units with accurate throws, not the long skinny inland stick found on the Roadrunner. The GTO bucket seat interior was fairly plush while the Road Runner made do with rubber floor mats and a bench seat.

Pontiac took notice of the massive sales avalanche created by the 1968 Road Runner and started fooling around with a "Road Runner" style Tempest. Pontiac already had the 350 H.O. in the Firebird and Tempest lines but they barely made a flicker in the big block world of musclecars. The Buick GS 340 and Olds Ram Rod were also out there in similarly small numbers. Pontiac sold cars through imagery. If a bargain supercar could be created the way the original GTO was packaged then Pontiac might have something cheap and fast enough to counter the Road Runner. PMD came up with the 'E/T' which is short form for 'Elapsed Time', tying into the youth racer lingo of the times. The Rally II wheels were shorn of the trim rings, the interior was bargain basement and it equaled Road Runner base form performance using the Pontiac 350 H.O.

PMD Manager John DeLorean killed it. No diluted GTOs were getting built and no GTO would be packing less than a 400. The E/T concept now flipped a full 180 degrees away from a stripped GTO to a top of the line GTO which was more in keeping with the trend in Pontiac philosophy. The only carryover from the E/T was the deletion of trim rings from the Rally II wheels. A vestige of the Road Runner concept appeared in John DeLorean's choice of name for the option; 'The Judge'. The name was inspired by the popular catchphrase "Here comes da Judge" on 'Laugh-In" which was a hip TV show of the time. Thus both the Road Runner and The Judge owed their names to humorous TV programs.

It was a good thing that GTO had the Judge and not the E/T in 1969. When the Road Runner 440 6 barrel came out Plymouth had one of the toughest, baddest musclecars ever built at an affordable price. Now budget racers could get 426 Hemi performance at a realistic cost. Aside from the fact that the Road Runner six barrel was brutally fast, it had image. The flat black lift- off hood and mean black steelies with chrome lug nuts eclipsed any beefs you might have about the Spartan interior or passenger car gauges.

The E/T wouldn't have been capable of contending with the 440 Road Runner, but the Judge was up for it. All Judges came standard with a Ram Air III engine. The only optional engine was the fabulous Ram Air IV. In the looks department the Judge was even more extroverted than the Road Runner. It had a hood tachometer, rear deck lid spoiler, Hurst T handle shifter on manual shift cars and psychedelic fluorescent stripes. As if all that wasn't enough, the first 2,000 were painted blinding bright Carousel Red (Chevy Hugger Orange which was renamed for Pontiac applications). A hundred dealer sponsored Judges drag racing across the nation were also painted Carousel Red to solidify the association between this eye popping color and the Judge option.

The Dodge Daytona with its three foot wing was the only car that was more outrageous than the Judge. The following year the Road Runner got its own version of the Daytona called the Superbird, but that car was so over the top that even the most fervent musclecar freaks didn't buy it. The Judge seemed to have set the bar about as high as taste would allow.

The 1969 Judge became available in other colors after the initial 2,000 were produced. Many of the optional colors were more restrained, but the initial run of Carousel Red cars established an image that was right over the top. The Judge was announced Dec 19, 1968 and made it into showrooms in early 1969 selling a healthy number of cars despite a truncated model year. It also accomplished its mission: returning focus to the GTO.

John DeLorean and Jim Wangers were gone in 1970, which may explain why Pontiac didn't make proper use of the opportunity created when General Motors rescinded the 400 cubic inch limit on intermediate cars. Of note, an 'E/T' type car was built once John DeLorean was gone. It was called the GT-37 and came standard with a 350-2 bbl. Although it carried optional engines right through to the 455 and was good looking, the fact that Pontiac built a performance image car with a 350-2 bbl as base equipment says a lot. Even the original E/T concept car that DeLorean rejected as too tame at least packed a four barrel 350 H.0.

Pontiac was the only GM division that didn't take full advantage of the new cubes allowed in 1970 intermediates. Pontiac was scooped by Chevrolet with their insanely powerful LS6 454. Tellingly, John DeLorean was now general manager over at Chevrolet and ensured it received plenty of exposure. Of course DeLorean wasn't at Chevy during the development of the engine but he pushed it hard. Buick also beat Pontiac in 1970 when they released a Hemi hunter 455 Stage 1 coupled with the GSX package which actually outshone the Judge graphics. Oldsmobile carried on in the footsteps of the specialty Hurst/Olds of 1968 and 1969 when they brought out a W-30 455 engine for their 1970 4-4-2.

Pontiac released a passenger car spec 455 as an option for the GTO, while keeping their performance focus on the 400 cubic inch Ram Air IV. One thing DeLorean's absence didn't hurt was the looks of the GTO which many consider to have reached a high water mark with the 1970 model. The Judges were even wilder looking in 1970 with two 'eye-brow' multi color stripe accents above each of the new fender creases molded above each wheel. Judges came standard with the very capable Ram Air III, but many magazines of the time commented that gigantic engines were essential to meet the over the top musclecar competition of 1970.

71 gto judge convertible 455 HO d side

Pontiac fixed that for 1971. PMD took the 455 and mated it with RA IV type performance parts. Every GTO Judge built in 1971 came with this incredible engine. Even hampered by lowered compression, PMD tests revealed that the 1971 455 H.O. was the second fastest GTO ever tested.  Only the revered Ram Air IV posted faster quarter mile acceleration during PMD testing.

Although Pontiac deleted GTO traditional chrome on the engine valve covers and engine oil dipstick, the engine bay wasn't completely devoid of pride. 1960s style lettering boldly declares "455 HO" on stickers that cover the air cleaner lid. The two inlet holes on either side of the air cleaner shown in the engine shot mate with the functional ram air port holes in the underside of the hood, shown below.

71 gto judge convertible lucerne ram air inlets

The GTO now used forward facing wide hood scoops that looked very much like those used on the new 1970 1/2 Firebird Formula.

71 gto judge convertible lucerne top of hood

Unfortunately this wonderful engine came too late. Musclecars were dying. Slow sales led to the cancellation of the Judge option. The cancellation was announced in mid model year, February 11, 1971 setting the order cut-off date beginning Feb 15, 1971.

71 gto judge option cancelation announcement

The lucky customers who bought a 1971 Judge didn't know at the time how few were going to be made, particularly convertibles. But in a post musclecar, post convertible world people quickly figured it out. As early as 1977, one owner was already aware of the rarity of his car and the potency of the engine. Dr. Tom Lane advertised his Cameo White 1971 Judge convertible for sale at a premium price for the time. He listed it as a collectible car, noting the extraordinary engine and limited production run.

But back in fall of 1970 no one really had any inkling that the end of the musclecar era was imminent. Mr. Lucerne placed an order for his super rare car unaware that the Judge was about to become extinct. There was no reason to suspect that he had just ordered a future collectible. He was just switching his current Judge for a new one. The catalyst for Mr. Lucerne's special order Judge traces back a couple of months to his July, 1970 marriage. His new bride couldn't handle the clutch on his 4 speed 1969 Matador Red Judge.

Although Mr. Lucerne didn't want to let his 1969 Judge go, he was willing to accommodate his wife's need for an automatic transmission. He was thoughtful and reasonable but he wasn't going to be satisfied with anything less than another GTO Judge. The happy couple agreed to replace their current 4 speed Judge with an automatic transmission Judge. Mr. Lucerne's sole condition before setting out for the showroom was that he needed a set of the optional Rally II wheels on the new Judge. With the bare requirements hashed out (Judge, automatic and Rally II wheels) the newly married couple entered the local dealership. That is how they ended up ordering a rare collectible car through unintentional timing and circumstance.

I have seen the original dealership paperwork pertaining to the Judge. In order to preserve the owner's privacy, ONE OWNER COLLECTOR CAR is not publishing the name or location of the original dealership in this story and it has been removed from any documents shown here. The owner is pleased to share his car with others but he wishes to keep some information private.

When the couple entered their local dealership to order the car in September, 1970 GM was in the midst of a strike. The strike ran from September 15 to November 20, 1970 which delayed their order. The cowl tag shows a date code of 12A. The 12= December and A= First week of the month. A production sheet with the Fisher body number dated Dec 9, 1971 confirms the early December build date.

Looking at the list of options at first glance you wouldn't notice any corners being cut. However, the list of options was negotiated between the couple. Part of the reason is that the GTO option itself automatically added extras to the car, even before you got to the Judge option.

The GTO provided performance upgrades with a 400-4 bbl with 3 speed floor shifter and dual exhaust and blackwall G70x14 tires. Aside from this, the GTO also raised the style and comfort level of the car with recessed windshield wipers, custom cushion steering wheel (three spoke), brake pedal chrome trim package, custom carpets, lamps for ashtray and glove box and courtesy lamp, dual horn and the rocker panel moldings.

71 gto judge convertible lucerne mirror

Mr. Lucerne wanted the dual sport mirrors but conceded to his wife's desire for frugality by standing pat with a single chrome driver's mirror. He also regrets missing out on the gauge package. The standard instrument cluster used warning lights and only two gauges: fuel and speed. This was the last year for the 140 speedometer. You can see the original mileage sitting at 61,000 miles in the photo below.

71 gto judge convertible lucerne speedometer

The WT1 Judge option package automatically added desirable options to the well equipped GTO package.

LS5= 455 HO (upgraded from the GTO 400)
N98= Rally II wheels
WU3= Ram air hood
Y96= Ride and handling package
G70x14 black sidewall Wide Oval tires
T Handle Hurst shifter (only for the manual transmission)
Rear decklid airfoil
Judge and ram air decals

The dealer list of options includes some items that are part of the Judge package already. The list of options is Judge, ram air hood, automatic transmission, power steering, Rally II wheels, G70x14 white letter tires, power front disc brakes, ride and handling (H.D. shocks and springs), Safe- T- Track, radio, console, front and rear floor mats. The total price was $4,863.05. Mr. Lucerne didn't have a trade-in because he sold his 1969 GTO Judge to his neighbor.

The sad fate of the 1969 Matador Red Judge is disturbing. The neighbor used the Judge to tow snowmobiles on a trailer. We all cringe thinking of such a special car relegated to being a tow vehicle, but back in the day it was just another car to most people. A 1973 accident sent the snowmobiles crashing into the back end of the Judge.

The 1969 Judge wouldn't have been towing anything and would have survived unscathed had it remained in Mr. Lucerne's possession. On the other hand, the world would have had one less 1971 Judge convertible if not for the switch. Mr. Lucerne's 1971 Judge wouldn't have existed at all if not for his special order. So we are down one 1969 Judge but instead of only 16, Mr. Lucerne notched the total up to 17 of the 1971 convertible Judges built. All 17 were special order cars.

The Judge dealer prep began Jan 4, 1971. The Judge was ready for Mr. Lucerne Jan 5, 1971. Note that the road test section of the pre-delivery service isn't checked off. If I was a mechanic working in pre-delivery I wouldn't have missed my chance to take a shot at a 455 H.O.!

71 gto judge convertible lucerne dealer prep

The final six digit sequential number of the VIN is removed from all of the paperwork to maintain owner privacy. The VIN prefix breaks down as follows:

2= Pontiac
42= GTO (this was the last year that it was a separate series)
67= Convertible
1= 1971 model year
P= Manufactured at Pontiac, Michigan assembly plant. (all the Judge convertibles were built here)

The dealer invoice dated Jan 5, 1971 below lists The Judge option ninth in the list of options. The Judge option package cost $394.95.

71 gto judge convertible lucerne dealer invoice

$90.72 in excise tax was paid on Jan 8, 1971. On January 11, 1971 the big day came when Mr. Lucerne put temporary ten day plates on the car and drove it home. Below is the original registration with the owner's name and city information removed.

71 gto judge convertible lucerne registration

Once he had his Judge at home, Mr. Lucerne took his father and mother in law on a ride. The ride didn't last long. Just 10 miles from home the engine developed a deep engine rap. There was no choice but to turn off the engine and wait for the dealer to send someone out to get the car.

In fairness to the dealer, the engine rap would probably not have reared its head even if a pre delivery road test had been done. The standard road test done by a garage or dealership is well under one mile round trip and is often no more than around the block. Every minute away from the service bay costs the establishment money and the further afield you go, the greater your chances of having an accident.

A friend who is a mechanic relates a true life horror story: he had just installed a new transmission in a pristine 1970 factory 454 Corvette. He took the car out to make sure the transmission was shifting correctly. Two blocks from the garage, the Corvette was totaled by an idiot who ran a stop sign. This stuff really happens. The pre- delivery mechanic working on the Judge may have simply deferred the road test because the timing was bad for traffic or an unexpected problem may have been dumped on his service bay. Whatever the cause, the end result was a real hassle for Mr. Lucerne. He was stranded on his first ride in his new car and then without the car while the dealer tried to figure what was wrong.

Once the Judge was back at the dealership the problem was traced to a rod cap bearing that was loose. The 455 H.O. was fixed under warranty. The engine rap never recurred, but a new problem reared its head. As a consequence of the rod cap bearing repair, the Judge leaked oil like a sieve probably due to an improperly sealed gasket somewhere. Not an auspicious beginning!

The Judge was washed regularly and well looked after but not spared winter weather. It was used for daily year round transportation, weathering snow and salt for nine winters. Despite this, the Judge held up pretty well with only a few holes in the driver's side inner fender. The other fenders were still solid. The Judge was used for business trips as far as 400 miles away from home at regular 70 mph highway cruising speeds. Mrs. Lucerne used the Judge to go back and forth weekly from the hospital to visit her mother and drove the car quite a bit.

The Judge wasn't just a utilitarian vehicle. The top was down whenever the weather was nice. Mr. Lucerne tried to discover the top speed of the tremendous 455 H.O. with a few friends in the back seat. As he recalls,

"The Judge passed 140 mph. When the needle moved across the brake warning light and settled on the 'B" in brake light we ran out of out."

Based on the spacing of the speedometer increments the needle was sitting around 155 MPH. Making allowances for the 10 percent exaggeration typically found in speedometers back then the Judge was really flying; probably in the neighborhood of a genuine 140 MPH. Mr. Lucerne jokes that one of his rear seat passengers developed a speech impediment during that ride which dogs him to this day!

Drag strip time slips attest to the factory performance of the 455 H.O. In totally stock form as a daily driver without a tune or plugs the Judge ran 14.48 through the quarter mile according to an official timing slip from summer, 1971. Another of the 17 Judge convertibles built in 1971 also racked up a similar time slip. Dr. Mike Green had just completed a restoration on his white 1971 Judge convertible and put it through the traps out of curiosity. Mike recorded a 14.4 at 100 MPH.

Both husband and wife drove the car in spirited fashion without concern for gas mileage. As Mr. Lucerne comments,

"Gas was only 30 cents a gallon back then."

All accessories were solid and the car had no quirks aside from the persistent oil leak. The Judge was smooth and quiet on the highway with a tight body free of the usual rattles or squeaks which commonly develop on convertibles. Body flex did make the doors a little harder to close over time, but it was only noticeable in relation to what it was like when brand new. Convertibles from this era often have a small steel insert in-between the doors to assist body integrity. The factory was being proactive based on how commonly this ailment was anticipated to happen. See the metal tab placed in the door in the shot further down showing the driver's door stickers.

71 gto judge convertible lucerne driver door

The convertible top was another story. It began to leak quite a bit in the seams towards the end of the 1970s. There was one particularly bad spot around the rear window. The back window itself never yellowed which is a common hassle with many convertibles from this era.

By 1979 the oil leak was out of control. The transmission was slipping, too. With only 61,000 original miles the Judge was parked pending a fix. We all know how these scenarios unfold. Adult life gets so busy that before you know it a lot of time has gone past.

With the Judge, it got complicated. When it came time to address the oil leak there were decisions to be made. If you start to fix an oil leak, this entails extensive work. You often end up pulling the entire engine. If you are going to go this far, do you take it the rest of the way and just restore the entire car? How much is enough? How much is too much? Over the years the Judge escalated in value, which altered the repair approach from "fix it to be functional" to "restore it to preserve history."

It wasn't until 2004 that the family had the time and space to tackle the Judge. Aside from the fact that time had inflated the value of the car, the Judge was deemed worthy of a restoration because it had been a part of the family for 40 years. A complete accurate high end restoration was performed just in time to enter the GTO Nationals in Dayton, Ohio 2009.

As mentioned earlier, the body was fairly solid and little rust repair was needed for a repaint. Mr. Lucerne himself created the stencils that reproduced the original stripes and lettering. Stickers such as the VIN sticker inside the driver's door and the tune-up specs sticker on the radiator shroud were reproduced. I removed the sequential numbers from the VIN in Photoshop but the VIN was completely duplicated on the reproduction door sticker. The build date is 12/70 which is December, 1970. The period correct Texaco service sticker contains a clever joke: it is dated June 23, 2009. The car received new oil just in time for the GTO Nationals show!

71 gto judge convertible lucerne door sticker

Attention to detail included things you will never see. The original build sheet was reproduced and placed in the same spot the original was found on top of the redone gas tank once it was re-installed. The convertible top was replaced. The chrome and bezels on the car are original. The tires are reproduction Firestones just like the ones that Mr. Lucerne fought for on the original order form. The springs were ok which makes sense given that they were heavy duty (ride and handling package) and had experienced minimal mileage.

71 gto judge convertible lucerne steering wheel

Interiors that are exposed to frequent top down cruising are usually in rough shape despite low miles and this one was no exception. Whenever possible original parts were saved and re-used or refurbished to maintain as much correctness as possible. For instance, the original vapor barriers used in the doors were saved because they are paper and reproductions are plastic. The driver's seat had a rip in it, and the seats needed re-upholstery. The dash was redone and the carpet was replaced. The Judge has reproduction pedals.

71 gto judge convertible lucerne pedals

The engine was rebuilt to stock specs and painted to emulate factory style runs and spatters. The original markings on the firewall were reproduced. The original power steering hose was saved and recrimped.

71 gto judge convertible lucerne power steering

The car retains the original fuel pump and an original NOS oil filter was even located for the restoration.

71 gto judge convertible lucerne oil filter

A date coded jack sits in the trunk and a service station sticker from the 1970s was reproduced and added to the inside of the driver's door. The car is a work of art.

The ironic thing about the Judge which is such an ultimate driving machine is that Mr. Lucerne has been deprived of driving it as much as he would have liked. He is pleased to see the car brought back to new condition but laments that it's too nice to drive now. He did enjoy the car a bit back in the day, but he didn't get his fill of driving the Judge because the oil leak became too much to deal with before the car was even a decade old. A positive way of looking at it is that the oil leak prevented the car from being exposed to decades of winter salt which preserved it from deteriorating too far to be saved.

The Judge made its car show debut at the amazing 2009 GTO Nationals in Dayton, Ohio shortly after the restoration was completed. It won a well deserved concourse Gold.

71 GTO Judgeconv lucerne rear spoler


Last Updated ( Friday, 14 May 2021 15:24 )