Let’s be honest, muscle cars are not the first thought when we hear about vehicles that sell for $1 million (and more in some instances) at high-end sales like Mecum Auctions’ events. Seven-figure rides typically are called “exotics” or “supercars” and hail from somewhere in Europe or other continents, can be the only one of their kind and in impeccable condition, and often show fewer than 100 original miles on their odometers.
This pseudo-elitism doesn’t apply exclusively to foreign-made cars. At Mecum bids, there’s always plenty of good old Detroit iron that is also low-mileage, garage-kept (climate-controlled, carpet-floored, etc. ), mint-condition, and worth every grunion in a king’s ransom. The caveat is, million-dollar examples of 1960s and ’70s muscle cars (or the Big Three’s late-model high-performers) are not common, per se. So, whenever a U.S.-built hot rod clears the block for a cool mil, it’s definitely a big deal. Chuck Cocoma’s uber-rare, meticulously restored 1970 Pontiac GTO “The Judge” convertible definitely skewed that paradigm at Mecum’s 2023 opening event in Kissimmee, Florida, selling for a final tally of $1,100,000.
So, you’re wondering what’s so fantastic about Chuck’s ragtop 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge, and how in the world it commanded such a high price. Well, like any big seller at a Mecum auction, it’s a super-low-production vehicle that’s in beyond-pristine condition, restored by Bill Clapper of Midwest Musclecar Restoration Inc. of Allenton, Wisconsin.
Related: Pontiac’s Huge Contribution to the Muscle Car Movement
The Orbit Orange Goat is one of only seven Judge convertibles made in 1970 that featured Pontiac’s fabled Ram Air IV 400 cubic-inch engine and GM’s Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 (Turbo 400) three-speed automatic transmission.
GTO’s “The Judge” era ran from 1969 to 1971, with the lion’s share of them being hardtop models. The option was introduced in an effort to boost declining sales for the midsize muscle car. In 1970, GM’s Pontiac Motor Division assembled a total of 3,783 Judge editions, which were highlighted by a body-colored rear spoiler, optional hood tachometer, unique stripes, and, of course, signature “The Judge” decals on the front fenders and rear decklid. The convertible top is one of the main criteria that set this Goat apart from the masses. Only 168 Judges were produced this way in 1970, with black, white, dark blue, buckskin, and beige being the available colors for the cover.
A 400 cubic-inch, 370-horsepower (445 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 rpm) XP Code Pontiac L76 V-8 engine is another attribute that adds to this Judge’s uniqueness. It’s an optional Ram Air IV powerplant that cost $390 in 1970. Only 17 GTO “The Judge” convertibles were made with this engine for that model year.
Round-exhaust-port cylinder heads and manifolds are the hallmarks of a Ram Air IV engine. The heads also feature raised-roof intake ports, a port-matched aluminum manifold with heat crossover, four-barrel carburetor, and a hydraulic “041” camshaft that enable the V-8 to rev as high as 6,000 rpm.
The Turbo 400 automatic transmission is the final component that earns this car its spot on the roster of limited-number GTO “The Judge” models. In 1970, only seven convertibles were outfitted and sold with the Ram Air IV/Turbo 400 powertrain.
A peek into the Judge’s cockpit reveals Pontiac’s leather-finished “Formula” steering wheel, an AM/FM stereo and 8-track player, a center console, and custom seat belts. This model also has power disc brakes, power steering, and a Soft Ray tinted windshield. Note “The Judge” badge on the glove box door.
Pontiac’s GTO underwent a cosmetic makeover in 1970. The update included making the car slightly wider and redesigning the rear area with a new bumper and taillights, and quad-tipped dual exhaust that exits through cutouts in the valance.
Striping for Orbit Orange (which is very close to yellow) 1970 GTO “The Judge” models is a combination of blue, pink, and an orange that’s slightly deeper than the body color, which actually was coveted for that year.
The million-dollar Goat’s restoration included mounting the correct Firestone Super Sports G70-14 Wide Oval tires on what were optional Rally II steel wheels, with “PMD” (Pontiac Motor Division) center caps.
Functional Ram Air hoodscoops are also key components in a GTO’s makeup. This 1970 Judge’s scoops are appropriately identified with Ram Air IV decals.
Front fenders and rear quarter-panels are slightly bulbous and feature pronounced creases. The styling changes were fairly significant for LeMans and GTO in 1970, and further emphasized the “wide-track” concept that Pontiac adopted for its cars in the early 1960s.
Up front, 1970’s cosmetic updates centered on replacing GTO’s hide-away headlights with a full Endura bumper that includes individual grilles and dual headlights on each side.
Chuck’s 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge convertible has a strong “show” pedigree. Prior to being sold to Don Nichols Inc. of Walworth, Wisconsin, the Goat actually was a factory exhibition car. In 1999 and 2000, this car received Pontiac-Oakland Club International’s highest honors: Junior (’99), and Senior Gold awards, symbolized by this 2000 POCI grille badge.
With the $1,100,000 sale of his Orbit Orange 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge convertible (Ram Air IV/Turbo 400), Chuck Cocoma (right) of Rockford, Illinois, is arguably the king of Pontiac GTOs. His collection includes more than 40 Goats of all configurations and color schemes (hardtop, convertible, Ram Air III, Ram Air IV, “The Judge,” etc. ), nine of which (all Ram Air IV cars) were sold at Mecum Auctions’ Kissimmee, Florida, 2023 opener.
Chuck says he has been devoted to the platform since purchasing his first GTO, a 1965. “A buddy and I were going up to Madison, Wisconsin, from Rockford, and I said, ‘You’re about to be passed.’ He was driving a 1963 Plymouth with a 383 and a four-speed, and when the GTO came up alongside, the guy downshifted, and that GTO just left us in the dust. So, I said, ‘I got to have one of them.’ When I got home from the service, I ordered one.”
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