Smokey & The Bandit Trans-Am

Smokey & The Bandit Trans-Am

Story and photos by Cam Hutchins

As films go, 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit may not have been as epic as Ben Hur, but it certainly firmly planted the 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am into every teenage boy’s dreams. The era of Muscle Cars was over and this was one last kick at the can for a big powerful American car to rule the day! Burt Reynolds driving the Trans-Am in the movie certainly contributed to a sales jump for Pontiac! Product placement was certainly not new; the use of James Bond’s Aston Martins and the Bullitt Mustang certainly helped sales of those cars….but those cars were driven by the “Good Guys.” Asking Pontiac to pony up six brand-new Trans-Ams for an outlaw, that takes some guts.

The movie’s director, Hal Needham had guts! The former stuntman and good friend of Burt Reynolds asked Pontiac for six Trans-Ams, but got only four Trans-Ams and two sedans for Sheriff Buford T Justice to abuse. Needham made it work, partly because this was his first stab at directing and writing a movie, so he was highly motivated to make it a success!

He wrote the original movie, with a $1 million budget, for another pal, Gerry Reed to play the Bandit. Reynolds read it, and said he would do the movie, and Reed became the truck-driving “Snowman.” This bumped the project up from a B movie destined to play at 1:00 a.m. after the main movies in drive-in theatres, to be a feature film that was second only to Star Wars in 1977.
The original budget financed by Universal Studios was $5.4 million, but right before shooting was to begin, it was slashed by $1 million. Burt Reynolds was one of the highest paid stars at that time, and was to be paid $1 million, so that left Needham $3.4 million to shoot the movie. Filming started in August of 1976 and it was released in May of 1977. Sales did increase for 1977 but with only a few months left to get 1977 models, the 1978 model sales is what really took off, and the 1976 sales of 46,701 were more than doubled by 1978 with 93,341 Trans-Ams sold.

The early Trans-Ams did not have an easy time of it, as most other manufacturers were dropping their Muscle and Pony cars for better gas mileage. Trans-Am bounced back from the dismal beginning sales with only 1,286 units selling in 1972! Sales in 1975 and 1976 might have increased because the Corvette now only had a 350 cu. in. V8, so if you wanted the big bad mill (albeit, not a big block), Trans-Ams were the only way to go.

Pontiac was celebrating its 50th year anniversary in 1976, and had designer John Schinella develop option code “Y82” that was for a Black car with lots of Gold striping. It drew heavily from the black-and-gold paint scheme of the John Player Special Lotus Formula One cars. Of course the “Screaming Chicken” decal on the hood was very unlike the Lotus and had originally been created by Bill Porter and Norm Inouye. On the early Trans Ams, it was tastefully used in modest sizes, but Schinella urged it being plastered all over the hoods in 1973. It was $62 in 1977 for the optional decal, code WW7.

Needham and Reynolds saw promotional photos for the black–and-gold special edition 1977 car, and requested them for the movie. It turned out the car shown in the photo was a 1976 model with the front bodywork planned for the 1977 models applied, and the 6.6 litre decal on the shaker hood. The movie would come out in 1977, and not wanting to wait for production 1977 cars, they got 1976 455 cu. in. cars and added the new front clip and the 6.6 litre decal on the “Shaker” hood scoop.

This helped in the filming of burnouts, because the 1977 models had been “down-powered” to the 400 cu. in. engine with severe smog restrictions. The standard (RPO L78) 6.6 Litre, 400 cu. in. (engine code XA ) Pontiac motor produced a mere 180 horsepower @ 3,600 rpm, and was mostly a carry-over from ’76, with 325 lb-ft of torque at 1600 rpm for 1977, a 15 lb-ft improvement The T/A 6.6 Litre option cost $50 and produced 200 horse by replacing the 400’s heads with the heads from the Pontiac 350 with smaller combustion chambers, boosting compression ratio to 8.1 from 7.6:1. For California and high Altitude states, there was an Oldsmobile 403 cu. in. engine that was certified smog friendly.

The movie was released in May of 77, about halfway through the buying cycle for the model year, and the Trans-Am’s sales rose by 20,000 cars. The car was a hit as was the movie, but today in 2021, they both are kind of cheesy and under-powered. The movie was real old-school special effects including a rocket-boosted jump and a stunt on wet grass through a kids “football game” where the stunt driver lost control and tragedy was barely avoided.

Out of the four cars provided by Pontiac, the rocket-boosted jump car was destroyed during the cross-river jump and, depending on sources, two of the three remaining were so badly damaged as to be virtually wrecked. The last remaining car for filming had to be pushed for its final scene as it would not start. Reports online differ on whether it was three wrecked or four wrecked, and one car was used to promote the movie. This “Star Car” was deemed lost at one time, but when it went up for sale on eBay in 2015, it did not sell. It got restored and the following year at the Barrett-Jackson Auction, Burt Reynolds drove the car on the stage and it sold for $550,000 to a Florida-based car collector, John Staluppi.
Interestingly Needham had worked with Trans-Ams before, and had been involved in developing the McQ Cannon, an apparatus used to cause a car to roll without ramps. He was actually testing the undercar-mounted cannon for the John Wayne Movie McQ, and an overzealous charge of gunpowder almost killed Needham. Another stuntman performed the stunt in a 1973 Brewster Green Trans-Am in the 1973 movie filmed in the Seattle area. The movie followed the success of Bullitt, even using a subdued dark green car and an extended car chase.
For the movie “McQ,” two Trans-Am’s were destroyed, and the colour, “Brewster Green” was only available in 1973. Interestingly, it had the premium SD 455 engine and only 7 of the 146 Brewster Green Trans-Ams had the SD 455. The Movie McQ came out in January of 1974 and they built less than 5,000 Trans-Ams in 1973, and possibly the movie’s release helped the sales of the 1974 models, as Pontiac sold just over 10,000 Trans-Ams that year.

Needham decided three times is the charm, so he tried to recreate the magic with Burt Reynolds in 1978 with another set of Trans-Ams, this time red cars with the 403 Oldsmobile engines. The movie is about an aging stuntman trying to make a big payoff by jumping the Trans-Am across a 325-foot gorge. Needham and Reynolds came back in 1980 with Smokey and the Bandit 2 with another black-and-gold 1980 Turbo Trans-Am, then again with Smokey 3 and a 1983 Pontiac Trans-Am.

With the release of Smokey one and two, as well as Hooper, the Trans-Am sales were so good for Pontiac, they held off on a complete redesign for a little longer and did make a much better car with newly designed 1982 model, and the cars got better and better until the crashing of the economy and the cancellation of the Pontiac brand in 2009.
Knowing that most Hondas will kick the crap out of the 1977 Trans-Am on drag strip or twisty road, the 1977 and 1978 Trans-Am are still quite legendary! Legends are made often on lack of facts and more emotion, and the 1977 Trans-Am certainly harks back to a simpler time without much competition. There was only the newly re-released 1977 Camaro Z28 and Mustang Mach I with a V8 and even less horsepower than the Camaro’s 350 cu. in. mill. Competition should have come from the 360 cu. in. V8 Aspen R/T and 360 Volare Roadrunner, but the Aspen sold only 4,468 units with the big motor.
So buying a 1977 Trans-Am was pretty much the most fun you could have on the road and it actually could generate 0.80 G on the skip pad which was better than the Camaro’s 0.74 G. It was a hefty car at 3,530 lbs, weighing 20 lbs less than a Half-Ton GMC shortbox pickup.

The car came well-equipped with a long list of options and looked great and hey, you could pick up Sally Fields on the side of the road! The “Screamin’ Chicken” hood decal was optional, but all Trans-Ams came with shaker hoods, and in 1977, the back plate of the scoop was not easily removed by unfastening it; you needed a hacksaw to open her up for breathing. The list of equipment was impressive: 4-speed manual transmission, Saf-T-Track differential, Rally gauges with clock and tach, front and rear stabilizer bars, Rally II wheels, Dual Body Colour OSRV mirrors, LH remote; front seat floor console, rear air spoiler, Shaker hood, front air dam and plenty more. The 77 Firebird was the last year for the rear console, which had never sold well.

The list of optional equipment is long and even includes odd things like the pedal trim package “JL1” for $6 and the “light trailer group” package “V81” that is $24 cheaper if you got air conditioning, but $64 if you did not get a/c. Other notable options include the Hurst T-roof and a CB radio installed for $195. That is almost four times what the more powerful engine cost, but when air conditioning costs $478 and the “Y82” Trans-Am Special Edition package with T-tops costs $1,143, it is better not to bother counting pennies. To get a Special Edition package without T-roofs still cost $556

The lacklustre acceleration of the car, previously mentioned, has to be put into the context of the era. Premium brands like BMWs of the ’70s, ran about half the models tested on the website above 10-second zero-to-60 times, and half less than 10 seconds, barely.
On the same website, testing 11 Audis of the ’70s, not a single car ran zero-to-60 in less than 10 seconds; in 2020, Audi’s acceleration runs went from the quickest time of 3.2 seconds to the slowest of 5 seconds flat for a 5,000 lb. SUV. A mere 12 short years after Bandit drove his 1977 Trans-Am as a blocker for the big rig, the Firebirds were able to run 0-60 in 5 seconds flat and before the cancellation of the Pontiac brand, they were producing some extremely quick cars and many of them ran 0-60 around 5 seconds or less.

The present owner Kevin Mindel and his son Brandon found this Bandit Trans-Am on the popular car sales website “Bring a Trailer” in 2020. They wanted it to add to their growing fleet of movie-inspired cars that is their passion. When we get back to normal, expect to see these cars regularly at car shows and special occasions. Imagine going to your wedding in a Burt Reynolds Trans-Am?

Their company, “BC DeLorean” can be seen at and they also have a “Back to the Future” DeLorean, K.I.T.T Trans-Am, Johnny Carson’s DeLorean and some 4x4s from Jurassic Park. Burt Reynolds and the Trans-Am make quite a pair and it is hard to imagine one without the other. Reynolds had owned quite a few Trans-Ams, and cars similar to ones he drove in movies including this car which sold for almost 30 times the original price.

Reynolds’ love of Trans-Ams shows as he also has a recreation of the Red 1978 Trans-Am Rocket Car used in the movie Hooper, and a 1984 Trans-Am used for promotion of his U.S. Football league team, the Tampa Bay Bandits during the mid ’80s.
This 1977 Trans-Am is reportedly the last “Bandit” Trans Am owned by Burt Reynolds, and although not restored by him, he did have the paint and most of the interior refurbished, added “Bandit” lettering on the driver’s door and put his signature on the hood and dashboard. The car also came with a hat and jacket from the actor. The old school odometer has only five digits and shows 145,000 kilometres or 90,000 miles, and it does have the W72 performance package, with the 200 horsepower. So, there is no telling how many of those miles are only on the rear wheels because of all the massive burnouts a 200-horse car can do.
Is it possible that the movie Smokey and the Bandit spurred on the sales of performance coupes to the point that the Big Three American manufacturers actually started building driver’s cars again? So maybe cheesy or not, the 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am from Smokey and the Bandit really does have an iconic place in the hearts of Carnuts every where….or maybe it was just Sally Fields!

-Burt Reynolds and his stuntman Hal Needham were the inspiration for the friendship between Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in the recent movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood says Quentin Tarantino.
-One other player hoping for big sales of the “Trans Am” was the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), Trans-American Cup series. Pontiac built the Trans-Am to be a sports-racing car. Intended to be a contender in the Sedan class of the series, Pontiac agreed to pay $5 for each Trans-Am car sold as a royalty to the SCCA.
-If it sounds like a duck…the cars in the movie had automatic transmissions but all sounded like they had manual transmissions. The sound of the cars actually came from the 1955 Chevy used in Two Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti.
-The Firebird and its sister car the Camaro came out as direct competition to the Ford Mustang. The president of Pontiac, John DeLorean, only had a few short months to make a Pontiac version of the Camaro. Not wanting a bland car, too similar to the Camaro that could hurt Pontiac’s reputation as a performance division, he added four inches in the front with a “Vee” nose and slotted taillights to achieve the “Pontiac” look. The upper brass slammed the brakes on big engines except on full-sized cars and the Corvette. DeLorean protested and got a concession of being able to use a 400 cu. in version of the venerable V8 that was first used in 1955, and the 389 cu. in. version had been powering GTOs for a few years with great success.

Categories: Muscle Car Plus