1971 Pontiac Judge – Radical Remembrance

If you’re thumbing through the pages of this particular publication, you’ve undoubtedly had a past encounter with a Pontiac that’s left an indelible impression upon your high-performance psyche. Whether it was a vintage example drawing wind through a carburetor or a late-model fire-breather fed by fuel injection, there’s an exact point in every hobbyist’s life where the rush of acceleration has left him screaming “I want more!”

Lincoln, Nebraska-resident Monte Town’s addiction began in the mid-’70s at the impressionable age of 13. “My father was used-car shopping for my sister and took me along as he test drove a ’69 GTO he’d found on a dealership lot. To this day I remember how it felt when he stomped on the accelerator and the 400 roared to life,” the 47-year-old bank president recollects. “I was tossed against the seatback and ‘cool’ was the only thought in my mind. Needless to say, it was too much car for my sister, but it was one of those, ‘When I grow up…’ moments for me.”

Monte drove a ’69 Olds Cutlass through high school and college, and while it was a GM A-body, it wasn’t the GTO he dreamed of. Over the next few years, he began dating Kim Norris, and the two would later marry. But the story of how Monte and Kim acquired this beautiful Quezal Gold ’71 Judge begins well before Monte ever became acquainted with the Norris family, and you may be as amazed to hear, as we were, how fate brought everything together.

A Pontiac Family
Kim’s parents, Roger and Sandy, were longtime Pontiac hobbyists and owned a number of them over the years. “We bought Pontiacs because we liked the performance, styling, and ride,” says Sandy. “Our first GTO was a ’69 that Roger ordered new. It was our family car and I drove it to work daily. I can still recall how beautiful and powerful it was. We both loved it. When it came time to trade it in, the GTO wasn’t available any longer, so we bought a LeMans instead. We always wished we’d never gotten rid of the GTO, however.”

A Pontiac man at heart, Roger knew the significance of the GTO’s optional “Judge” package, and he purchased a few distinct examples over the years. “The first Judge was a Cameo White ’71 convertible he bought in March 1979 from a gentleman in Levittown, Pennsylvania,” Sandy recollects. “It was all original and very clean, and Roger was very particular about it. He drove it only on nice days, and always avoided wet pavement and gravel roads. Today it has just 15,500 miles on it and still remains in the family.”

Roger’s second Judge was this Quezal Gold ’71 hardtop, which he bought in the summer of 1981. Though it had just 44,000 miles on it and was completely original, the ’71 hardtop wasn’t quite as nice as the convertible. “The interior was spotless, but the exterior finish was original and he planned to repaint it someday,” says Monte.

The last Judge he purchased came a year later, when he found a Verdoro Green ’69 hardtop for sale locally.

The ’71 Judge Hardtop
Sandy tells HPP that Roger was a longtime member of P.O.C.I., and the couple regularly attended its regional car shows and national conventions. “He planned to perform any necessary repairs and then show all three Judges,” she adds. For the Quezal Gold ’71 hardtop, that process began by covering any areas where its original paint was worn thin, using gray primer to prevent the exposed metal from rusting while it awaited a complete restoration.

Monte recalls seeing the Quezal Gold Judge in this condition when he and Kim started dating. “Seeing his Judges took me back to my childhood and that test drive with my dad,” he adds. “On more than one occasion after Kim and I were married, I asked Roger about his plans on restoring the Quezal Gold ’71, but he never gave a definitive answer. I believe he felt cars like this were worth more financially if they were touched less.”

Housed in the rear axle is a 3.55 gear set with an 8.875-inch ring-gear diameter and an optional G80 Safe-T-Track differential. The Y96 Springs and Shocks package, which was a required $4 option with the Judge package, combined stiffer coil springs and shock absorbers with the already-standard 1.125-inch front and 0.875-inch-diameter rear sway bars.

Roger did his best to preserve the Quezal Gold Judge until he could begin its full and complete restoration. He and Sandy then relocated from Omaha, Nebraska, to Las Vegas, Nevada, in the late-’80s, and the three Judges were stored in Fort Collins, Colorado. However, Roger unexpectedly passed away in 1992 at the young age of 48, and the trio of iron sat for the next several years, until 2002 when Sandy began sharing them with their children.

The ’69 hardtop and ’71 convertible went to Kim’s sister, Kris, while Monte and Kim were asked if they had any interest in owning the Quezal Gold hardtop. “It didn’t take me long to respond with a strong ‘yes,’ says Monte. “We had a local ‘expert’ look at it to get an idea of its value. He gave us a low-ball amount and then offered to buy it for exactly that. It sounded way too low to me so I drove out to Fort Collins, rented a U-haul trailer, and made the journey back to Lincoln.”

Changing Hands
When Monte got it home, he gave the Quezal Gold Judge a thorough inspection and found it was in good condition overall. “There wasn’t any visible rust anywhere on the body, and the doorjambs were perfect. It seemed to be a very solid car and was complete. It ran great too,” he adds. It did, however, need paint, and it sat in this condition for a few more years before Monte conferred with fellow hobbyists to determine exactly how to proceed with the restoration.

“The Judge was very special to the family, and Kim and I thought it would be exciting to have the car professionally restored and surprise Sandy with the end result,” Monte said. He inquired about area restoration shops and Chalek’s Auto Body in Bellevue, Nebraska, was highly recommended. After checking the shop’s credentials, he ultimately employed Chalek’s to return the Judge to a factory-fresh appearance.

The No. 197 cylinder heads are limited to the ’71 455 H.O. and feature 2.11/1.77-inch valves, intake ports that are 10-percent larger than a typical D-port casting, and round exhaust ports. A combustion chamber volume of 111cc produces a compression ratio of 8.4:1 on the 455.

The Restoration
Chalek’s began with complete disassembly and chemically stripping the Judge’s body to bare metal. Though no major rust was found, shop owner Dave Chalek says that a spot of rust on a quarter-panel just behind the rear wheel was repaired using a small patch. The entire body was then coated in Dupont urethane primer and sanded smooth. It was treated to four basecoats of Dupont Chroma Premier in Quezal Gold and three coats of clear. The finish was wet-sanded using papers with grit ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 before being polished with 3M products.

While the body was being refinished, the Judge’s frame was powdercoated black, and its suspension and brake systems were completely rebuilt using stock-replacement components. The 455 H.O. was stripped of all its accessories, and the No. 197 round-port cylinder heads were sent off for a valve job. The reassembled long-block was then treated to a fresh coat of Pontiac Engine Blue in its correct-for-’71 shade. Most everything else that resides underhood was refinished in its correct color or chemical plating.

When the body and frame were reunited, new stainless-steel fuel lines, a freshly rechromed rear bumper, and a reproduction exhaust system from Gardner Exhaust Systems in Red Hook, New York, were added. The original interior was so clean, it was simply washed with soap and water during reinstallation. It otherwise remains completely untouched.

The Final Result
After several months, the day arrived for Monte to reclaim the freshly restored Judge. He likens the event to stepping back to 1971 and taking delivery of a new car. “I visited the body shop several times during the course of restoration, but it wasn’t ever in one piece. Seeing the finished product sitting outside the shop when I drove up to take possession was jaw dropping. What started out as a simple repaint progressed into a frame-off restoration, and I was absolutely amazed at how well it turned out. It felt great to fulfill my father-in-law’s dream.”

Throughout the process, Monte never told his mother-in-law of the Judge’s restoration. “We kept it a secret from her for several months. With just a few weeks left before we brought it home, my youngest son asked in front of her, ‘So when do we get the Judge back?’ We laugh now that we nearly got it completed without her ever knowing, but she was very surprised nonetheless.”

The fact that only 374 Judges were produced during the ’71 model year is among the many reasons Monte loves it, but he’s also proud of the fact that its mileage is relatively low and its interior is completely original. “I can’t imagine that there are too many Judges like it remaining. It’s just a great car that turned out better than any of us ever expected,” he says.

“It drives like it’s new too,” he adds, “The 455 H.O. runs great and you need to hold on when the secondaries open. I love to hear the full-throttle roar.” It has four-wheel drum brakes, however, and that means you must always be ready to use some leg strength to get her stopped. “Whoever ordered this Judge thought a lot about going fast but put less thought into stopping,” he notes.


Since its completion, Monte hasn’t taken the Judge to any shows. “I’m a total novice and would like to show it, but I don’t want to do it any injustice from my lack of experience,” he admits. “It’s something I plan to do though.” For the time being, Monte says he’ll enjoy the Judge by driving it on nice days, but plans for it to spend most of its time sitting next to another of Roger’s prized Pontiacs, a ’79 10th Anniversary Trans Am with just 1,854 miles on it.

“There were several beautiful muscle cars in the Omaha neighborhood where I grew up, and I always dreamed of owning one. I wasn’t able to then, but I feel fortunate to have this Judge and the Trans Am in my garage today. Maybe there’s something to the saying, ‘Good things come to those who wait,’ or maybe I’m just one lucky guy,” he states.






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