Many changes occur throughout the course of one’s life. Physical, mental, familial, career aspirations, and political affiliations to name a few. But when you’re a born-and-bred Pontiac man – one thing definitely stays the same. Starting when his age was still in single digits, Jimmy Prudente’s Poncho appreciation culminated into quite a fine collection of significant arrowhead offerings. However, one iconic model – his most sought-after and prized, took three-and-a-half decades to attain. This is his story.
Jimmy is now a 59 year old, husband, father, and shipping company chief financial officer, but he was once an impressionable young lad. Jimmy places responsibility for his Poncho indoctrination in the hands of his older brother Frank and Uncle Bob. Both were tried-and-true Pontiac men. Jimmy recalls the ’67 Gold Firebird 400 Frank acquired from their uncle back in ’68. Talk about first impressions – that Firebird was the car which sparked his Pontiac flame.
Then there was Frank’s best friend, Anthony – another Pontiac/Firebird nut – who also piloted a ’67 Firebird 400. Anthony’s was black and hopped-up. At the request and command of his mom, little Jimmy would go everywhere with his brother Frank. Much to Jimmy’s delight, more often than not, this meant watching for hours, with eyes wide and jaw-agape as the big boys, smoked their rear-rubber and soared down the drag strip.
Jimmy got his license at 17, and was more than ready for a Pontiac of his own. He was anything but indecisive, yearning for a Carousel Red 1969 GTO “The Judge.” In 1977, just eight years from being factory fresh, Jimmy states, “they were a dime a dozen, you could pick one up anywhere, for nothing.”
Even so, his Judge dreams had have to wait, as Dad’s 150,000 high-mile ’69 Grand Prix served it’s last duty as Jimmy’s first ride. Definitely sporting a late-‘60s vibe, it was brown with a white top/interior, with its most redeeming quality, being the 400ci motor. After a mere six months, it was obvious, the old girl had seen better days, and Jimmy once more had visions of Carousel Red.
However, his Judge aspirations were dismissed again; this time by older brother Frank. Frank had come a long way in the car game, parlaying multiple gigs into a top sales position at South Shore Pontiac in Valley Stream, New York. Frank knew Jimmy’s hand-me-down was on its last leg. He brought news of a recent trade that had just come in – it was another GP. This one was a ’72 model; mint and silver, with only 21,000 miles. Reluctantly, Jimmy sided with practicality and grabbed the GP.
Two years later in 1979, Jimmy still yearned for a ’69 GTO “The Judge.” Now a college man, he vehemently scoured the bylines for a suitable example of his dream car. As his search intensified, Frank chimed-in once more, urging Jimmy to look at another iconic Pontiac. Jimmy grudgingly went with Frank to check-out a ’70 Trans Am for sale in Queens. It was a beautiful Ram Air III 400-cid/4-speed car, in polar white with blue guts, front fascia bird, and center stripe.
Jimmy was still less than enthusiastic, and brooded while Frank took it for a spin. Frank returned enamored, grinning from ear to ear. “Jimmy you have to buy this car, it sounds just like my Firebird 400,” he said. Giving-in to sibling rank and the appeal of the fine F-body, Jimmy bought the TA, and he still has it today. Perhaps we’ll tell that story in the future. Then, a long period of greater importance set in. Graduating college, building a career, marriage, and family all took precedence while Jimmy’s Judge pursuit would sit on the back burner for another 33 years.
By 2012, Jimmy raised a family, built a lucrative career, and planned for the future. Many years passed since he actively searched for a GTO “The Judge,” but now the time was right. With supportive urging from his wife Luann, Jimmy once more began his quest. In January of ’13, Jimmy attended the Scottsdale, Arizona Barrett-Jackson auction. He recalls a flawless GTO “The Judge” on the docket and he was more than ready to bid. With his adrenaline pumping and a life-long passion within his grasp, the Judge slipped away as bidding approached $100,000d. Jimmy’s dream would have to be fulfilled another day.
As winter warmed to spring 2013, Jimmy and his better-half were on the way to their second home in Arizona when Jimmy had an epiphany. Why not stop in at the Houston, Texas, Mecum Auction and try to score a Judge there. Two such honorable machines were on the docket and Jimmy was ready with his legal team – a flashlight, a mirror, and wife Luann by his side. The first to roll-up on the block, Jimmy describes as perfect, but as we all know, nothing truly is.
Upon close inspection, Jimmy’s flashlight failed to reveal the crucial serial numbers on the Pontiac block or the exhaust manifold. Actually, they had been ground-down. Before bidding, Jimmy spoke with the owner, who informed him the motor had been replaced with a period-correct mill, but that’s all he knew. Still intrigued by its pristine presentation, Jimmy was still a player, feeling he might be able to grab the Goat for a reduced amount.
That’s when Luann interjected by reminding her hubby about his nitpicking Pontiac pals, who would spot the non-numbers-matching motor in an instant and never let Jimmy live it down. Jimmy knew he wouldn’t be completely happy. So, following his wife’s wisdom and intuition, he let the first Judge leave chambers without raising his arm.
A few hours later, the second Judge arrived. Not as clean or stunningly presented as the first, but all numbers-matching, as confirmed by its Pontiac Historic Services (PHS) documentation and Jimmy’s flashlight appraisal. Jimmy schmoozed with the owner, trying to feel him out.
A Texan, he told Jimmy, he lived only a two-hours-drive from the auction and if reserve wasn’t met, he was takin’ her home. The auctioneer began his chant and an anxious Jimmy entered the fray. At $46,000 the reserve was off and Jimmy smelled blood in the water. A few more calls brought the bid to a comfortable $50,000 and Jimmy would not to be denied. Seconds seemed like hours before the hammer fell. The ’69 GTO “The Judge” was finally his.
“HERE COME DA JUDGE”:
The Judge option was originally conceived as an eye-catching, yet affordable, high-performance muscle car, in tune with Plymouth’s Road Runner. It was named for the popular comedy skit on the 1968-’73, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In TV variety show. Jimmy’s example is a low-option car, and true to this concept. His (RPO 554) “The Judge” is a classic Carousel Red hardtop with black interior, powered by the standard 400ci Ram Air III Pontiac motor.
Wielding the 366hp/445lb-ft, is the optional M20 wide-ratio 4-speed transmission, with a Hurst T-handle shifter. The standard 3.55 gears reside in an optional Safe-T-Track Posi rear-end. The Judge is raw to the core with manual steering, drum brakes, and no A/C. The only other extra-cost add-ons are the famous hood-mounted tachometer, and a center console. Jimmy also installed two under-dash Autometer gauges to monitor oil pressure and water temp.
Jimmy recalls things moving fast after placing his winning bid. By the time he went to inspect his new Goat, Reliable Transport was already loading it up for the drive north. When Jimmy returned to New York, several days later, the Judge was still en-route. Having to go back to work, he put his son Jimmy Jr. on alert. On day seven, post auction, the Judge arrived at Jimmy’s house and his son took delivery.
Jimmy remembers watching the clock and counting the minutes like a kid in school waiting for the bell to ring. When it did, he ran to the Long Island Rail Road and hopped his train for home. After what seemed like an eternity – not only for delivery, but from childhood, when he first fell in love with the iconic Pontiac – Jimmy walked in the door and told his son, “let’s take it for a drive”. They both did just that, giving the vintage muscle car a neighborhood shakedown before returning it to the safety of the garage.
Calm and cool today, Jimmy jokingly describes a minor crisis afflicting the Judge only hours after that first test drive. He recalls going into the garage to admire his lifelong-automotive ambition made good, and zeroing in on an ominous puddle under the Goat’s Endura nose. Certainly, no novice, Jimmy knew immediately, the OE heater core had blown. It was pouring antifreeze all-over the floor from the drivers-side of the firewall and into the interior.
Without hesitation, Jimmy and his son removed the seats and ripped up the soaked carpeting. Hours later, Jimmy’s wife Luann walked in from work, expecting to see her husband’s long-awaited GTO “The Judge”. But what she saw first, was the Goat’s seats sitting in her living room – ahh, the joys of marriage.
Jimmy wasted no time getting his Judge into factory-fresh order. This included laying down new carpet, having the Carousel Red coat resprayed by Blue Ribbon Autobody in Bayshore, New York, replacing all the hoses/wires with date-coded pieces, and swapping Flowmaster exhaust with an OE system.
Since the radiator incident, Jimmy has enjoyed trouble-free miles in his iconic, 50-year-old Goat. He cruises to local car shows/gatherings and won first place in the 1968-’69 GTO class at the Rhode Island Pontiac Celebration. Jimmy’s ’69 GTO “The Judge” proudly and deservedly, sits atop the totem pole of his collection of other potent Pontiacs. So, after his three and a half decades of yearning, it’s safe to say, that justice was definitely served.