Wade Kawasaki’s restored 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge. Post-restoration photos courtesy Coker Tire.
Blame it on Facebook: after reconnecting with a high school friend on social media, Coker Tire president and COO Wade Kawasaki paid him a visit during a vacation trip to Hawaii. In his friend’s garage sat a remarkably original 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge, a car that was soon offered for sale to Wade, under the caveat that he finish the long-pending restoration. Completed by Bodie Stroud Industries just in time for the 2015 SEMA show, the Cardinal Red GTO will appear on Friday night’s episode of American Restoration, airing on the History Channel, before starring in a Restoration Profile segment in the May 2016 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines.
Growing up working in his father’s Los Angeles gas station, Wade dreamed about one day owning a Pontiac GTO Judge. Finding the (then) two-owner car on Oahu rekindled his passion for the model, and his friend’s Judge showed a mere 44,000 miles on the odometer, thanks to a life spent entirely on the Hawaiian Islands. Though cosmetically tired and suffering from a damaged left front fender and left quarter panel, the car was intact, and still equipped with its numbers-matching drivetrain.
The car as purchased; tired, but complete. Pre-restoration photos courtesy Wade Kawasaki and Bodie Stroud.
It was this originality that complicated the restoration. After shipping the car back to the mainland, Wade initially intended to tackle the project with his son Tim, but as more and more parts came off the car, he began to realize its originality, and hence, its historical significance. Recognizing that a home restoration was no longer the best alternative, Wade reached out to Bodie Stroud, whose Sun Valley, California, shop specializes in both restorations and custom work. The shop is also featured on the History Channel’s newly revamped American Restoration, appearing in all 13 episodes of season seven.
The engine prior to removal during restoration.
Bodie Stroud Industries first tackled the body work, which amounted to replacing the damaged fender, fitting a new hood (provided by Wade, as the existing hood was a damaged aftermarket part) and tweaking the panel fit to get acceptable gaps all around. No rust repair was needed, so the body was media blasted, primed and resprayed in Cardinal Red. Underneath, the chassis and rear-end were sent out for powder coating, and in the interest of safety, new brake lines, fuel lines and a new gas tank were fitted. Next came the interior work, and most of the original interior was saved, though the car did receive new glass and trim.
The 400-cu.in. Ram Air III engine and Muncie four-speed transmission were pulled and sent to Wade for assessment, but little rebuilding was required. The heads were sent out for work (largely to ensure the car would run well on unleaded pump gas), but the rest of the engine remained mostly untouched. Even the transmission was left alone, a testament to the car’s gentle use during its time in Hawaii.
As Wade wanted to debut the car at the 2015 SEMA Show, time quickly became the enemy, and Bodie admitted that his crew was still finishing the car as the transporter sat waiting outside the shop. In the end, however, the project was finished and the Judge made its scheduled public unveiling, to rave reviews, at SEMA. Friday’s episode of American Restoration details the drama leading up to the car’s completion, and May’s issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines (on sale March 29) dives into quite a bit more detail about the car’s restoration.
Here Comes the Judge, season seven, episode eight of American Restoration airs at 9:00 P.M. (Central and Eastern) on Friday, February 26.