Being first is relatively easy; staying first isn't. Nobody in '60s Detroit knew that better than Pontiac, especially when it came to muscle cars. After all, Pontiac had created the breed in 1964 with its GTO, which within four short years faced a slew of competitors, all ready to unseat it as king of Muscle Mountain. Pontiac struck back with the fully redesigned 1968-1969 Pontiac GTO & Judge.
In many ways, it was the best yet. The pillared coupe body style was gone, but convertibles and hardtop coupes returned with clean, muscular new styling dominated by bulged bodysides, fast-sloping hardtop roofline, and a big bumper/grille with newly hidden headlamps. The nose was sheathed in body-colored Endura plastic, a material Pontiac had been playing with since 1964, able to ward off low-speed impacts without chipped paint or dented metal. Pontiac demonstrated its value with a TV commercial showing white-coated "testers" gleefully hammering a GTO's nose to no ill effect.
Enhancing this new appearance was the three-inch-shorter, 112-inch wheelbase applied to all '68 GM intermediate two-doors (four-doors spanned 116 inches). A strong new full-perimeter frame enhanced rigidity and even handling, though it contributed to curb weights some 75 pounds higher than '67. Engines were evolved from the previous roster of 400-cid V-8s. First came a 350-bhp base unit, followed by a 360-bhp H.O. option. To the latter could be added new Ram Air II induction, basically the previous Ram Air I setup with two functional hood air intakes, as on the '64 GTO, instead of one.
Later that year, a special tunnel-port engine with revised intake manifold became available, rated at 366 bhp. Last-and least -- was a two-barrel "economy" V-8, continued from '67, making 265 bhp on regular gas. Fewer than 3,300 of the nearly 88,000 GTOs built for '68 were so equipped. That grand total was 10 percent better than GTO's 1967 volume, and the new styling was surely a factor.
Pontiac created a strong performance vehicle in the 1968-1969 Pontiac GTO and Judge. Read more about the car's powerful performance features on the next page.
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As might be expected, the 1968-1969 Pontiac GTO and Judge was still a fierce performer: Motor Trend's Ram Air II example clocked 6.5 seconds 0-60 and blasted through the standing quarter-mile in 14.45 seconds at 98.2 mph. But that was little better than what the '64 had managed, mainly because the GTO had gained some 500 pounds in the interim. Worse, a MoPar Hemi or 427 Ford Torino could show "The Great One" a clean pair of heels, all else being equal -- which, admittedly, it seldom was.
Plymouth started a new game in '68, the "budget muscle car," and the surprisingly high sales of its whimsical Road Runner prompted rush replies from rivals for 1969. Pontiac went its own way with "The Judge," a $354 option package for that year's mildly facelifted GTO. The name echoed a bit on the popular "Laugh-In" TV show in which a judicially robed Sammy Davis, Jr., intoned "Here come da judge." It also dovetailed with Pontiac ads portraying GTO as the final arbiter of street performance.
Performance The Judge definitely had, as the package included a new 366-bhp Ram Air III engine. Optional was an equally new 370-bhp Ram Air IV, also available on other GTOs, that used a cold-air box around the carburetors, fed by twin flexible tubes leading from openings in the grille. A late-season (and rarely installed) Ram Air V option reverted to hood intakes, but with driver-controlled flaps. As usual, three-speed manual with Hurst T-handle floorshift was standard, but connected to a 3.55:1 axle; four-speed and Turbo Hydra-Matic were optional, as were 3.90 and 4.33 axle ratios. With just 10.1 lbs/horsepower, The Judge delivered -- 0-60 in just over six seconds, standing quarter-miles of 14-14.5 seconds at 98-105+ mph.
The exterior was just as cop-baiting: psychedelic orange paint, black grille, tri-color bodyside striping, spoked "Rally" wheels, "flower power" name decals, and a five-foot-wide decklid spoiler on three short struts. As on standard GTOs, options included power brakes with front discs, hood-mounted tachometer, and comprehensive Rally instrumentation.
Despite its playful persona and higher standard power, The Judge found few takers. Worse, total GTO sales skidded by over 15,000 for '69. Like every muscle machine, Pontiac's was being slapped with burdensome insurance premiums, plus more federal safety and emissions rules that threatened to quench its fire -- which they ultimately did. Thus would The Judge depart after 1971, followed by the basic '68 GTO design after '72, and (belatedly) the GTO nameplate itself after '74.
Pontiac has yet to revive either Judge or GTO, and we ought to be grateful for that. Great memories should not be diluted by pale latterday namesakes.
Go to the next page for 1968-1969 Pontiac GTO and Judge engine and production specifications.
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1968-1969 Pontiac GTO & Judge Specifications
The 1968-1969 Pontiac GTO and Judge were built for performance. Check out the car's specs below.
Engines: ohv V-8, 400 cid (4.12 × 3.75), 265/350/360/366/370 bhp
Transmissions: 3/4-speed manual, 3-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic
Suspension front: upper and lower A-arms, coil springs
Suspension rear: 4-link live axle, coil springs
Brakes: front/rear drums; optional front discs
Wheelbase (in.): 112.0
Weight (lbs.): 3,505-3,590
Top speed (mph): 130+
0-60 mph (sec): 6.2-9.0
Production: 1968 htp cpe 77,704; cvt 9,980; 1969 htp cpe 64,851; cvt 7,436 (incl. 6725 “Judge” htp cpe and 108 “Judge” cvt)