Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Burt Reynolds: "The Bandit" lives on in all of us; the man who made the Trans Am famous

Black and gold 1977 Trans Am was used as a promotional car for Smokey and the Bandit.

Ride on, Mr. Bandit. September 6, 2018 was a sad day for many people. With the passing of Burt Reynolds, we all lost a little of The Bandit that lives within us. Especially the Pontiac crowd. We all credit Reynolds and Hal Needham for the massive popularity of one of our favorite cars of all time — the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Adorned in black with miles of gold pin stripes. Pontiac may have built the car, but Burt made it.
  I was but 7 years old when I fell in love. As did the world when the Bandit, Bo Darville, pulled that 1977 Trans Am S.E. out of the back of Snowman’s rig. A collective gasp rang out across the theater as well as the nation in that moment. The world got its first look at the 1977 Trans Am Special Edition that day. The visual impact, the sound and the power hypnotized us for the rest of the movie. Skip the popcorn. The car didn’t just have a hold of us during the movie. I mean it gripped us for the rest of our lives. 

Jackie Gleason, Burt Reynolds and Sally Field with Fred the basset hound.

Popularity contest
  “I will sell more than you can make.” 
  That's what Hal Needham, creator, producer and director of Smokey and the Bandit, told a skeptical Pontiac marketing representative. True to his word, the sales began. How could anyone with a heartbeat see this car and not want it? It should be noted that few people were in the market to buy a car that year. Only now they had to. There was no getting out or around it. 
  “My life simply cannot continue without one of these in my driveway.” 
  His prophetic prediction proved to be very true. People were having their new Trans Ams painted black if a black one could not be located. The movie strengthened America’s obsession with t-tops. They were a “must-have” item. Pontiac called them “Hatch Roofs.” They hatched something alright. Millions of brand new car enthusiast.

Money cannot buy happiness
  Oh yeah? It could buy far more than that for several demographics. It bought you a bit of rebellious expression. It bought you a fun way to do otherwise mundane things such as go to work, school or even the grocery store. It bought you a personal dose of rock and roll and infused it into your life. It bought confidence. It bought you cool. It was Trans Am School and our teacher, Burt, showed us the way. Errands became fun and exciting if your inner Bandit made an appearance.

This 1977 Pontiac Trans Am, used as promotional car for “Smokey and the Bandit,” sold for $550,000 in 2016.

Close as we could
  Thank you Burt. Those of us too young to buy a Trans Am begged our parents to let us pretend, somewhat, with phoenix-adorned jackets and hats. We bought Hot Wheels and even bicycles striped like something Mr. Bandit would ride. We didn’t know what product placement even was, but even if someone told us, it was too late. We were bitten by the Firebird disease and would be affected for life. 
  My parents watched something on Saturday afternoons that was sponsored by Pontiac. My seven-year-old ears could pick up the sounds of the ’77 and ’78 Trans Am commercials even from another room. 
  “Don’t sit too close to the TV!,” my Mom would yell. 
  If I were any closer, I would have been inside the TV. My blue jeans would be scuffed up from my homerun-like slides toward the TV from a running start whenever I heard the sounds.

Jackie Gleason and Reynolds ad-libbed most of the diner scene in "Smokey and the Bandit" – few scenes featured the two stars face to face.

We really didn’t pick our friends that way
  What a blessing it has been though. Through this Pontiac Firebird community we’ve met a lot of great people. Junkyard Life enjoys finding and writing about these special cars. I (Ron) just drove my 1979 WS6 to Ohio for the Trans Am Nationals where the Birds are celebrated to grand extent. Our friend, Greg, hosts a Firebird Bar-B-Q that rivals the Tipp City, Ohio (America’s largest Bird only cruise in). We have completed several Bandit Runs, a Smokey and the Bandit-inspired scenic road trip hosted by Dave Hall’s Restore A Muscle Car. All these enthusiast do a great job of organizing these things so we can enjoy making new friends and spending time with our old one.
  I bought my daughter so many Hot Wheels Hot Birds that she asked me to stop (or buy her something else occasionally). Jody too, has a Firebird-loving daughter who has her own 1978 Formula. It is kind of funny how he seems to still think that his beautiful black and gold 4-speed T/A is safe around her. How  many times do you remember being at a teenage cruise spot and someone pulls up in a hot car you have never seen? “It belongs to my dad. He doesn’t know I have it out.” Only a million times. Sorry, Jody.

“He Must Have Had A lot of Friends, Daddy”
  So, thank you Burt Reynolds for giving us a persona and an alternate identity we could morph into and all feel better about ourselves. Our inner Bandit will shift just a little harder and push a little further to the red line. You had a long way to go and a short time to get there. You showed us how to do it the fun way! I can imagine Juniper Florida on that historic, somber day. I foresee Highway 1 lined with fans, friends and Firebirds as the funeral procession rolls through. 
  We will miss you, Burt. One iconic man that will not be forgotten as time rolls on. Forever a legend. They call him The Bandit.

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life

Do you have a great classic or muscle car barn find story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Jody Potter at & Ron Kidd at

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Watch: Project Bus Part 2, Building the Ford B600 into custom VW Bus 4X4

Transformation time! We let the clouds of brown rust settle before we started tackling the Junkyard Life Project Bus. Wrenching on daily stuff and enjoying the summer cruise-ins and vacations hindered our work. But we finally have a progress report and detailed plans on the
1964 1961 Ford bus project ready to report in our Part 2 video. 
  We started with the rescue in Part 1 and the intention of creating the ultimate "Remote Vehicle Recovery System" from what was left of the 1961 Ford bus chassis. We wanted to make a 4x4 party bus with a super towing package. Then things got interesting. The three-legged dog that is JYL, Keith, Ron & Jody, put their heads together to develop something wild. A hair-brained scheme of stupid proportions. The lightbulbs began glowing hot after we recently hauled a very rusty 1965 VW Bus out of the woods. 
  VWs are cool and everybody loves them. That got us our minds swimming with possibilities. What could command more attention than a mega-size 1965 VW Bus 4X4 with a Cummins turbo diesel and a 6-speed? Nothing! 

1961 Ford B600 bus will get the updated Cummins 5.9 turbo diesel out of a 1997 Dodge.
2005 F350 Chassis and 6-speed transmission ready to graft into the existing 1961 bus frame. The engine and front wheels will move back several feet from original bus design to mimic VW bus design.

Parts hoard
  We got excited and started gathering parts and hauling in donor vehicles to fund our super-low-budget VW bus. We snagged a 2005 F-350 4x4 chassis and 6-speed manual transmission at auction. The 5.9 Cummings that will power the mega bus is from a 1997 Dodge pickup. A few salvageable parts from the ’65 VW bus may be included in crafting the bumpers. 
  Much of the metal work will be custom built. Fabricating the up-sized parts will be necessary to keep the VW bus proportions true to the original VW design on the Ford B-600 body. We’re planning on scaling up the exterior parts. Lots of cutting and welding to do on this custom project. Cutting wheels and metal-cutting saw blades are getting used up fast!
  Nobody said we make things easy on ourselves.

This is initial placement of 2005 F350 chassis along with drivetrain in Junkyard Life's project bus.
This is initial placement of 2005 Ford F350 chassis, along with drivetrain in Junkyard Life's project bus. Much work to do yet.

  Now that the chassis is taking shape, we need your help. Do you have a name for the bus? More important than that are parts. Do you have some old VW parts to spare? We need a little bit of everything with something this big. We were given an old GMC RV that we will be able to scavenge the A/C units, bed, cabinets, dash parts, and wiring harness. Every little bit helps.
  Drop us a line if you can spare something. We are low budget builders. We want to have way less than $5000 in this by the time we are done. We even started a Go Fund Me just to see if anybody has some spare cash to throw at the bus along with us.

Before photo of 1961 Ford B600 bus.

Keith Lively acting like a hitchhiker beside bus after front end removed.

Front half of bus frame cut away along with much of thick floorpan.

More cutting to do to get correct setback.
2005 Ford F350 chassis stuffed under bus. Door will be added near midpoint on this side. Left rear exit door remains.

Interior of 1961 Ford bus with the 2005 chassis preliminary mocked-up in place. Driver's seat will move back beside second side window of bus.

Big plans
  Follow us, as we try to meet our deadline: The 2019 Hot Rod Power Tour. We plan to take the bus on the entire road trip. Drag racing, auto crossing, and cooking red wienies on the grill for all who gather around at each stop along the way. We plan to have lots of fun with this build – turning a forgotten, old 1961 Ford B600 bus that was a storage shed into a 4-wheel-drive monster VW transport beast. 
  We are no stranger to rescue missions involving vehicles thrown in the trash pile, junkyard, or scrap heap. The entire Junkyard Life team will dig deep.  
  Join us for the fun!

Jody Potter
— Junkyard Life

If you got extra funds, we need your help or just follow along on the channels below... 




Can you help us with a name, parts or cash? Drop us a line! Email details to Jody Potter at