When it comes to muscle car preferences, Ron Moller's ruling was made as a teenager. No deliberation was needed to know he loved Pontiac's GTO.
"I saw one and loved it right away. Especially their iconic hood that jumps out at you," the Mundelein resident said. "One look and you know the car is all about business."
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So in 1979, four days before his 18th birthday, he headed over to an area Volvo dealer at the time, Wigglesworth Motors in Glenview. There he purchased a used, red 1968 coupe. The youngster had his dream machine but he later began to question his verdict.
"It got me wanting more," he said. Good news was delivered upon appeal. Pontiac had thought ahead for the horsepower-hungry crowd and its answer was "The Judge."
This desirable GTO package sported such things as wider tires, a Hurst shifter and a souped up Rally III engine. One of Moller's neighbors owned a 1969 example of this special muscle magistrate. With his decision made, Moller quickly sold his Goat to make room and cash for a new acquisition.
The Judge was delivered and not a moment too soon. It had been sitting, locked away serving hard time.
"The car was in really poor condition. It was used hard, raced and abused," Moller said. A past full-throttle sprint had resulted in the entire right side of the car being mashed and bashed up. Making matters worse, the powertrain was removed from the car during a repair gone unfinished.
The outlook seemed grim but the case to restore the GTO wasn't thrown out. Undeterred, Moller eagerly accepted the challenge of getting the Pontiac back together. In the seller's defense, he had made progress on the project.
"He had purchased all the needed factory body panels," Moller said. "He included them in the deal."
It didn't take long for the young enthusiast to start the car's first of three restorations. This initial foray lasted three years. "I rented garage space from another neighbor. I taught myself many things, including how to paint."
The dented body panels were replaced and the vehicle was repainted in its factory Palladium Silver color. The next step was giving the powertrain a bit more authority. The engine was switched to run a higher compression and race fuel. Ram Air IV cylinder heads were installed on the 400-cubic-inch V-8, along with a performance camshaft.
"It looked stock but was highly modified," he said.
The years passed and Moller's skill set grew. In the early 1990s he took another pass. "I had learned so much more about body and paint. I was really able to drastically improve the overall look." He also de-modified the engine to make it tamer for street use.
A third, frame-off restoration began in 2002 and took six years to complete. At the time, Moller had just purchased a townhouse. "Most of the work took place in the garage but during the process many of the parts ended up living with me in my master bedroom," he said.
The engine block is now 472 cubic inches and utilizes a four-speed manual transmission. Koni shocks are mounted at the corners along with drag radial tires.
Despite the hours and sweat equity put into this Judge, Moller is the first to testify the effort was well worth it.
"Every time you fire it up, there's a shot of adrenaline going through your body. It's unlike anything else."
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