Drive!|January 2021
From Controversy Comes Clarity

During the build or restoration of any car, there are a few big decisions and millions of smaller ones. Usually the major issues become the easiest to make as in which car, what color to paint it, which engine to build, etc. It’s the multitude of little dilemmas that often cause the greatest angst. These smaller quandaries often mean the difference between a nice car and an awesome build. For Tom Farnsworth of Pinedale, Wyoming, the act of standing in judgment of his own instincts is what made his ’69 Pontiac GTO Judge the crowd-pleaser it is.

Tom was first exposed to Pontiac’s marketing genius in the spring of 1969. By that time the GTO was already one of the staples of the muscle car scene. The new A-body debuted in 1968 with a shorter wheelbase shared with the Chevelle and 442; however, the GTO was the only A-body with the new Endura color-matched front bumper. This made it look even better and further established the model as the biggest influencer in its class.

During the ’60s, each division of General Motors had its own distinct personality. Cadillac was the aspirational upper crust. Buick was the refined, conservative brand. Oldsmobile was looked upon as unique and innovative. Chevrolet was all about youthful appeal and blue-collar work ethic. Pontiac was the wild and creative one, and nothing confirmed this more than the release of the GTO Judge.

The Judge was an over the top variant believed to be inspired by Flip Wilson’s character on the hit NBC variety comedy show “Laugh In.” As a boy living in New Castle, Wyoming, Tom first saw a Judge via a friend’s older brother. “I was 13 when I saw this bright orange GTO. It was amazing with the fender licks, hood-mounted tach, rear wing and the word ‘Judge’ on the nose of each front fender. It was the coolest car I’d ever seen,” Tom said. The image of the Judge stuck with him for the next 30 years. During that time he owned many muscle cars, but there was always an open parking space waiting for a Judge.

“Thank goodness for eBay,” Tom proclaimed. Twelve years ago, while browsing the online auction site, he came across a ’69 GTO Judge. There it was, a slightly modified version in the famous bright orange (actually called Carousel Red). After reading the full description, he learned that it was not an original Judge, but a GTO Judge tribute car. At first he was slightly disappointed, but after further consideration, Tom assessed the possibilities and opportunities. Here was a chance to build a better, personalized Judge without destroying one of the 6,725 that came off the Pontiac assembly line. He also realized the entry level price would be far less than starting with an actual Judge. He was right about one of those thoughts.

The long distance purchase was made, and the car was shipped from Phoenix to Pinedale, Wyoming, a town whose motto is “All the Civilization You Need.” If you’re a car guy, then Tom’s garage is where civilization begins in the western part of the state, and life was about to get quite a bit wilder.

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GUEST QUARTERS: A few hours before I checked in, I received a text message that Crane’s Beach House had an opening, and I was upgraded to its luxury villa. Needless to say, I was eager to see what awaited behind the doors of Villa No. 7; the door, by the way, was sealed with a “sanitized and sealed” sticker, and I later found the same sticker sealing the refrigerator door and toilet as well.

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