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