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MR10_r107_36-DarinSchnabel

Milt Robson’s triple-black 1969 GTO Judge is a triple-threat of collectability. It has the powerful Ram Air IV V8 engine. It has a 4-speed. And it’s a convertible. It is one of the rarest 1969 Judges in the world.

For 1969, the real beast GTO engine option came in the form of a Ram Air IV, which was rated at 370 horsepower.

A very significant option package made its debut on the 1969 GTO. Named for a popular anti-establishment catchphrase on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” “The Judge” was originally conceived as a way to combat the budget-minded muscle cars coming from Ford and Plymouth.

When it debuted, The Judge package was a $332 option on top of the cost of a GTO hard top or convertible. It included the 366-hp Ram Air III V8, a rear spoiler, Rally II wheels (minus trim rings), three-colored side body stripes and “The Judge” decals.

With the optional $389.68 Ram Air IV engine, Car and Driver piloted a 1969 Judge through the quarter-mile in 13.7 seconds at 103.6 mph. When the model year was over, Pontiac had sold 58,126 GTO hardtops, 7,328 GTO convertibles, 6,725 Judge hard tops and 108 Judge convertibles. The grand total was 72,287 GTOs. But there were only five 1969 GTO Judge convertibles with the extra-cost Ram Air IV V8, and this is the only one that came in Starlight Black.

It was a very desirable combination of features, including the close-ratio four-speed manual transmission ($184.80), heavy-duty Safe-T-Track differential ($63.19), covered headlamps ($52.66), three-spoke wood-style steering wheel ($34.76), power disc brakes ($64.25), console ($55.82) and power steering ($105.32). Total cost when new was $5,147.27.

This is the most valuable car in the Robson Collection. It is also one of the most significant examples of its kind, with provenance from new, outstanding documentation and virtually perfect condition.

{analysis}{auto}2974{/auto}This Ram Air IV Judge convertible, Lot 250, sold for $682,000 at the RM Auctions Robson Collection Auction on November 13, 2010.

To the uninitiated, this result for a GTO must seem completely ridiculous. To be fair, even those of us who follow Ram Air IV GTOs were a little surprised at how much it sold for—especially given the state of the economy. RM’s pre-sale estimate of $750,000 to $1,000,000 certainly sparked debate among the Pontiac faithful, and selling a Ram Air IV Judge convertible at no reserve was indeed a bold move.

But to better understand this sale, one must first attempt to grasp two distinct markets that merged in this car: that of Judge convertibles and that of Ram Air IV Pontiacs, aka “round port” cars.

First let’s touch on Judge convertibles. A total of just 292 were produced during the three years (1969, 1970 and 1971) of production. This low number, along with the fact that Judge convertibles are unquestionably the ultimate GTO, has always made them highly desirable. When one narrows down to things such as color and transmission selection, that 292-car total starts to have a real impact on value.

Big horsepower, tiny production

Attrition is high among all muscle cars, and many of the 292 GTO Judge convertibles cars are now in the ownership of Mother Earth. But it gets even trickier. For serious collectors (such as Robson), the squelch gets adjusted even further on this particular frequency. They want the famous Ram Air IV engine, which is the 426 Hemi/LS6 454 of the Pontiac world.

The Ram Air IV, although rated at a mere four horsepower more than the standard Ram Air III engine, was actually quite different and added up to a lot more than more horsepower. It was fitted with a hotter cam, a better rotating assembly, a two-piece aluminum intake manifold, and the all-important round port cylinder heads that replaced the Ram Air III’s rectangular port castings.

And if you thought 292 Judge Convertibles over three years was a tiny number, consider that the Ram Air IV was only available in 1969 and 1970, during which a total of just 24 Judge Convertibles were ordered with the option: five in 1969 and nineteen (although some argue 18) in 1970. One can see where the mystique of a Ram Air IV Judge Convertible comes from. They are indeed the Hemi ‘Cuda convertible of the Pontiac world, and they are equally rare as Chevrolet’s famous 1970 LS6 454 Chevelle convertibles.

Original engines ever rarer

Now, here is the real rub with Ram Air IV cars: Very few have their original engines. While this is usually a huge deterrent in most muscle cars, Ram Air IV buyers have generally accepted that most of these cars lost their original blocks as a result of having a notorious aversion to high rpm. It usually makes them throw up—and you can’t just tuck rods and other engine parts back in.

The market for 1970 Ram Air IV Judge convertibles is well established. In May 2008, a 4-speed car with a non-original engine sold at a Mecum sale for $378k. In October 2009, a numbers-matching car with an automatic transmission sold at Mecum for $371k, and I profiled it in the February 2010 issue of SCM.

And Robson’s own non-original engine, 4-speed car sold for $308k at this sale just prior to the subject car hitting the block. These sales show that 1970 Ram Air IV Judge convertibles have stabilized in the $300k-400k range today, and that is proof that their significance still attracts willing buyers. And remember that almost four times as many 1970 Ram Air IV cars were built than 1969 versions.

Yes, 1969 Ram Air IV Judge convertibles are a whole ‘nother ball game.

Of the five that were built, all were 4-speeds. I don’t know of any that survived with their original engines. And rarely do any of them come up for sale. To be honest, I can’t remember ever seeing one offered at public auction.

As such, this car is uncharted territory. I inspected the Robson car shortly after its restoration was completed during the 2005 GTOAA National Convention. There just isn’t a better color than black for a badass muscle car, and all else equal, a black car usually brings a 20% premium.

A value-setting car

There are some nits to pick: Robson’s car, 6 years from restoration, lost some of its snap, although this is nothing a good resto shop couldn’t correct in a few days. And many new buyers can’t get their heads—or checkbooks—around a muscle car with a heart transplant.

All that aside, rumor has it that Robson was approached with a $1m offer for this car a few years ago. Factoring in the decline in muscle car values since then, the price paid for it as this auction works out to just over a 30% discount from the peak—which is right in line with a lot of other high-end muscle cars.

 
The bottom line is: If you want sand, you go to the beach. And for the first time in many years, Milton Robson opened the only beach in the world—and the price of admission was up to the people that came to play. Which means we must declare that the current market price for one of the five 1969 Ram Air IV Judge convertibles to be just under $700k. And I call that a spot-on sale for Robson, and a well-played buy for the end user, who saw it as an opportunity to add a spectacular and rarely available GTO to his or her stable. My congratulations go to both.{/analysis}

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