Their 1969 GTO Judge very special for the Dunbars

June 23, 2017

Uncle Sam called up Navy reservist Bob Dunbar to active duty for a trip to Vietnam in July 1969. He had to leave his June bride, Nancy, behind. But he didn’t leave her completely alone.

Three months before they married, he did what a lot of other red-blooded American boys did in the mid- to late 1960s. He bought one of the high-powered muscle cars that had come on the scene in 1964. And his wasn’t just any old muscle car. Dunbar bought a brand-new, Carousel Red Pontiac GTO with a 366 horsepower, 400-cubic-inch engine and a rear spoiler to keep its tail from flying off the road at high speeds.

“We were coming back to town on a Sunday night in March,” remembers Bob. “It was snowing, and a car carrier sat next to the Wellsville, N.Y. dealership, under street lights. The GTO was on top and it caught my eye immediately. I told Nancy right then: ‘I think I have to have that car.’ It was the only one in Allegheny County, and every law enforcement officer knew who owned it.”

Pontiac called this special model The Judge, piggybacking on the popularity of a television sitcom called Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. The show featured a routine called Here Come da Judge starring Sammy Davis Jr. as a funny and powerful jurist. “Order in the court, cuz here come da judge,” rang out during every episode.

“In Vietnam, guys couldn’t wait to get home and use their Navy discharge money to buy one,” remembers Dunbar. “I was lucky to buy one before I left.”

Now, 48 years later, Bob and Nancy still own their Judge. According to the registry in the GTO Association of America, they are the only documented original owners of a 1969 GTO Judge.

“Nancy continued to drive the car back and forth to work while I was in Vietnam. When I came home, I drove it for a while. But then in 1974, I put the car in storage as we began to move around in my job as a postmaster for the U.S. Postal Service. I knew the car was significant when I bought it - only 2,000 of the 1969 Carousel Red Judges were built - and I didn’t want to wear it out.”

The car sat inside in storage for 38 years until 2012. By then Bob had retired from the postal service following his last postmaster’s positions in Georgetown and Rehoboth Beach, where he and Nancy decided to retire.

A complete restoration

“If cars sit like that, they deteriorate,” said Dunbar. “I read an article in Muscle Car magazine about a man named Rammy Kimberly in Bridport, Vermont, who is a restoration specialist. Mainly Pontiacs. He’s been doing them for for 30 years. He did what is called a concourse restoration, which means the cars are gutted completely, disassembled, and put back together with completely restored and original engine, rear end and transmission, all with matching manufacturer numbers. The car looks better now than it did when it rolled off the showroom floor. And it’s just as perfect underneath as it is on top.”

Dunbar paid a little over $4,000 for his GTO Judge in 1969. The restoration cost him $85,000.

“We talked it over at the time. The kids were raised, college paid for, life goes on. We said let’s get it done. The car means a lot to us. We’re glad we did it.”

“I love that car,” said Nancy. “There was no way I was going to let it go.”

Dunbar said the car is probably worth somewhere between $120,000 and $150,000 now. “The original owner deal is important, and the story that goes with it. I’ll put out pictures of it occasionally on Facebook saying I’m the only known original owner of one. I would like to see another come forward if there is one. “

On three different occasions, the Dunbar Judge has received perfect judging scores from annual competitions sponsored by the Antique Automobile Club - the world’s largest automobile club. In the last of the three judgings, the car received the club’s highest award, known as the Grand National. “After that, the car is retired from competition,” said Dunbar.

But there are other shows. Three years ago, the car won first place for GTOs at Hemmings Concord d’Elegance Show at Lake George in Saratoga Springs, New York. “That was in 2014 when they were celebrating 50 years of GTOs,” said Dunbar. “This summer we will trailer it out to Norwalk, Ohio, for the Pontiac Nationals, and there’s a show coming up at Dover Air Force Base.”

The Dunbars keep their restored Judge in the garage of their home, only going out for national shows and to drive it around the development occasionally to keep it exercised. “I just have it out around car people,” said Bob. “Can’t trust crowds and strollers, that kind of thing. And I rarely drive it myself, for a couple of reasons. First, I can’t behave myself, and second, Nancy always drives it. She’s the lady driving the muscle car with a four-speed transmission. She likes that. And sometimes she gets in a place where she can burn the tires. The crowds like that.”

When she backs the car out of their Beachfield garage, looking carefully, making sure there’s nothing to hit, gunning the engine a few times just to hear that throaty and well-tuned exhaust, you know there’s at least one neighbor thinking: “Here come da Judge!”

  • Dennis Forney has been a journalist on the Delmarva Peninsula since 1972 and has been writing his Barefootin’ column for The Whale and then the Cape Gazette for more than 30 years. Contact Dennis at