The 1969 Pontiac GTO should be on your must-have list
What cars would you put on your bucket list? No one likes to talk about death, but if you had to create a short list of cars you’d like to drive before you hit the proverbial bucket, what would you pick?
If you love sports cars, you might dream of driving a Ferrari or a Lamborghini along the Italian Riviera. Or maybe you would like to drive an Aston Martin or a Jaguar E-Type through the streets of London. You might want to drive down Sunset Boulevard in a Porsche 356 or circle around southern France in a McLaren F1.
There are so many possibilities…
But if muscle cars are your thing, there’s probably one car that immediately springs to mind. A car that started the whole era of muscle cars when it hit the streets in the early sixties; the Pontiac GTO.
A piece of muscle car history
The GTO was introduced in 1964. Pontiac wanted something special, a sporty looking car that would appeal to young buyers. In Italy, there was a lot of interest in the Ferrari 250 GTO race car, so they decided to pinch the Gran Turismo Omologata label.
Between 1964 and 1965 the GTO was an optional package on the mid-size Tempest model. It proved so popular that Pontiac went into full production with it beginning in 1966.
By the late ’60s, and amid fierce competition from Chevrolet with the all-new Camaro, Ford with the infamous Mustang, and Dodge with the Charger, the muscle car era was well and truly in full swing. Pontiac decided to give the GTO even more muscle. They upped the horsepower, giving it 350 ponies, and introduced a new race-ready Ram Air package.
Around 1968, they offered new versions of 366 and 370 horsepower (Ram Air III and IV). This generation of GTOs had tall aluminum exhaust manifolds, taller and wider high-flow cylinder heads, larger 4-barrel carburetors, and heavier camshafts. These credentials gave the GTO true street racer status.
Many consider the 1969 model the “daddy” of the band. It embodies everything muscle cars stand for. With such a pedigree, who wouldn’t want to try the driver’s seat of just one?
The GTO is phenomenal on the road
The GTO is a car that exudes the coolness of the 60s. It has so many cool features. Turn the key and you’ll enjoy the wonderful sound of gurgling V8 sound. Jump into the driver’s seat, hit the accelerator pedal and you’ll feel the raw power of those eight cylinders under the hood.
Push the gear lever into Drive mode, put the GTO on an open road, press the accelerator and you’ll experience an adrenaline rush like no other. The GTO attacks your senses. And he’s sure to carve a huge grin on your face as you zip down the street looking like The Jokerbut without makeup.
In its time, the GTO was a very fast car. According to FastestLaps, the popular 370-hp Ram Air IV model could hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. And it has a very impressive top speed of 153 mph. The all-important quarter-mile timing, for drag racing and street racing, is pretty cool too, at 13.9 seconds.
When you see or hear one of these rides coming down the street, you can’t help but admire it. The GTO is a thing of beauty, worthy of your attention. Its aggressive look, typical of the 60s, allows it to stand out from the crowd.
We have to mention the GTO’s really cool, hidden vacuum headlamps. Hidden behind the front grille, they’re such a nice touch. And the sculpted bonnet of the car, with its central bulge flanked by two scoops. Complete with a hood-mounted tachometer, it’s nothing short of a work of art. Its body-colored Endura front bumper also blends very well with the rest of the car’s streamlined lines.
The interior of the GTO is simple and well laid out. The raised Hurst shifter on the center console is in just the right place. Overall, the set is superb. If you really want to make your friends jealous, then this has to be the car to drive past their houses.
The legendary “judge”
In 1969, Pontiac released the “Judge” GTO. They named this model after a skit from a popular comedy TV show called Rowan and Martin’s laughter.
It was originally planned to be a stripped down, inexpensive version, to compete with the Plymouth Road Runner. But instead, Pontiac decided to give GTO fans what they wanted. They gave him a Ram Air 400 engine, Rally II wheels, a Hurst shifter (T-handle), wider tires, decorative stripes, fancy decals and a rear spoiler. And for $332, it was a bargain.
They shamelessly exploited the popular phrase from the TV show “Here Comes de Judge”, with advertising slogans such as All rise for the judge and Judge can be purchased, in order to boost sales. And, that certainly did the trick, by the late 60s Pontiac pretty much owned the muscle car market.
The famous judge was certainly well appointed. Carousel Red was the most popular color. It came standard with a 366 hp Ram Air III version of the 400 cid V8. And buyers could also opt for more power, with the Ram Air IV (370 hp). With a four-speed transmission, front disc brakes and power steering, it was, and still is, a badass kit.
We owe Pontiac a debt of gratitude. Because if it weren’t for pioneering car designs like the GTO, we might never have had a muscle car era. So when you’re writing your bucket list, spare a thought for the GTO, because we believe “The Judge Rules!”, long live the GTO!
Hemmings Find: Iconic 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge