Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit

Burt Reynolds as the Trans Am-driving "Bandit" in Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Burt Reynolds as the Trans Am-driving “Bandit” in Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Vitals

Burt Reynolds as Bo “the Bandit” Darville, daredevil driver

Texarkana to Atlanta, Summer 1976

Film: Smokey and the Bandit
Release Date: May 27, 1977
Director: Hal Needham

Background

♫ You’ve heard about the legend of Jesse James and John Henry just to mention some names,

Well, there’s a truck-drivin’ legend in the South today, a man called Bandit from Atlanta, GA… ♫

After seven years of biannual Car Week features, how did it take me this long get around to what might be the most famous “car movie” of all? On a day commemorating the anniversary of American independence, it feels appropriate to celebrate Burt Reynolds bedecked in red, white, and blue (or at least red and blue) as he speeds across half the country in a muscle car, all in the name of beer… or as the Bandit himself declares:

For the money, for the glory, and for the fun… but mostly for the money.

Happy birthday, America... from Burt Reynolds and BAMF Style.

Happy birthday, America… from Burt Reynolds and BAMF Style.

I’m sure my initial resistance to chronicling the Bandit’s road trip regalia was its relative inaccessibility, as it’s hard to wear a red rayon shirt, tight jeans, and cowboy hat and boots—let alone the mustache—without looking like costume. Of course, it’s a costume that Burt Reynolds inhabits like few others could, perhaps rooted in less authenticity than the Snowman’s trucker uniform of plaid shirt, puffer vest, and CAT hat but consistent with Reynolds’ swaggering screen persona.

Reynolds stars as the eponymous Bandit, a charming anti-authoritarian rogue who swaps out his usual truck for a speedy Trans Am as he and his fellow trucker pal Cledus “Snowman” Snow (Jerry Reed) dodge the police across five states in their mission to haul 400 cases of Coors from Texas to Atlanta in under 28 hours for a $80,000 payday. Their expedition is further complicated when the Bandit picks up a runaway bride, Carrie (Sally Field)—soon to be redubbed “Frog” for the benefit of our heroes’ CB radios—and invites the dogged pursuit of Carrie’s prospective father-in-law, the excessively proud Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), who calls Bandit “the goddamndest pursuee I ever pursued!”

Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham during production of Smokey and the Bandit. The friendship and professional association between the actor and stuntman would inspire the Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth characters and dynamic in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019).

Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham during production of Smokey and the Bandit. The friendship and professional association between the actor and stuntman would inspire the Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth characters and dynamic in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019).

Smokey and the Bandit became the second-highest grossing film in North America in 1977, second only to Star Wars… an impressive performance for a mostly improvised movie that had been outlined on legal pads by a stuntman who was also making his directorial debut.

Indeed, Hal Needham—a Korean War veteran and experienced stuntman—had a particular talent for delivering what audiences would want to see, ignoring the influence of critics or studio heads, ultimately delivering a movie that would gross over $300 million, earn an Academy Award nomination for editors Walter Hannemann and Angelo Ross, and would become a favorite of many… including Alfred Hitchcock.

What’d He Wear?

That day on the Atlanta set of Smokey and the Bandit, Burt Reynolds stretched his lanky legs out in his shag-carpeted trailer and took a little break. In his snug-fitting, bell-bottomed jeans and polished boots, a perfectly creased Stetson resting at his elbow and a massive belt buckle gleaming at his trim waistline, he seemed every bit the movie star.

His tousled bangs and rolled-up shirt sleeves said he was just one of the guys.

So began Burt Reynolds’ obituary by Jennifer Brett for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, capturing the charismatic star’s seemingly contradictory ability to balance his down-to-earth, everyman appeal with a self-deprecating awareness of his own megastardom. Reynolds’ popularity derived not from the quality of his movies—and he would no doubt be the first to admit that few of his output in the 25-year span between Deliverance (1972) and Boogie Nights (1997) could be argued as “great” cinema—but instead from his laidback charm; watching a Burt Reynolds movie often meant an hour and a half with an unpretentious hero who needed not a tailored tuxedo and well-made martini to be happy, just a cowboy hat and a hammock… and that’s exactly how we’re introduced to the Bandit.

Prologue: The Out-of-Work Bum

Seems like a legend and an out-of-work bum look a lot alike, Daddy.

Little Enos Burdette (Paul Williams) is hardly impressed by the supposed icon reclining on a zebra-print hammock at the Georgia “Truck Road-eo” state finals, awaiting an absent line of fans eagerly seeking photos at $1.25 75 cents a pop.

Guess which one is Big Enos and which one is Little Enos?

Guess which one is Big Enos and which one is Little Enos?

The Bandit wears his usual skin-tight blue jeans with his personalized belt and the large turquoise-ornamented belt buckle that matches his complement of turquoise-and-silver jewelry. His state of respite also introduces us to his chosen footwear, a pair of black leather cowboy boots with raised heels and square toes, the latter embellished with studs.

Reynolds was an avid boot wearer in real life who owned dozens of cowboy boots and zip-up ankle boots from bootmakers including Di Fabrizio, Manuel, Tony Lama, Ammons, Code West, and Rocketbuster Boots, as seen in the Julien’s Live catalog from a 2019 auction of items from the actor’s estate.

Eyes shaded by the cowboy hat integral to his image, the Bandit wears a light blue chambray cotton work shirt with a large point collar, front placket unbuttoned over the chest, and two flapped chest pockets. In fact, the shirt is a dead ringer for what Reynolds wore across the second half of White Lightning (1973), right down to the copper orange thread on the seams and buttonholes and the narrow, gently scalloped, single-button flaps over the pockets.

The Bandit flashes his turquoise ring and watch as he adjusts his hat to steal an amused peek at the Burdettes.

The Bandit flashes his turquoise ring and watch as he adjusts his hat to steal an amused peek at the Burdettes.

Eastbound and Down

Once the bet begins and the timer starts ticking on Bandit’s bet, he changes into a flashier shirt more befitting the man who claims showing off to be his primary skill. He isn’t dressed in feathers—after all, this isn’t a minister’s funeral—but he does look distinctive in a cherry red rayon shirt, fit to flatter the lean star.

The shirt is uniquely detailed with a large rolling one-piece collar best described as a disco-era evolution of the elegantly sporty “Lido collar” as the shirt tapers to the top of the collar on each side, cut away where the top button would be on a traditional men’s shirt and thus clearly meant to be worn without fastening at the neck.

At the start of their 28-hour journey, Bandit helps dress the drowsy Snowman, choosing a considerably more subdued shirt for his pal.

At the start of their 28-hour journey, Bandit helps dress the drowsy Snowman, choosing a considerably more subdued shirt for his pal.

I’ve read that Niver Western Wear of Fort Worth, Texas, provided much of the Western-themed attire in Smokey and the Bandit, including Jackie Gleason’s sheriff’s uniforms with their 64-inch waistbands, but I haven’t found a confirmed maker for Reynolds’ red shirt. I can confirm that, within a decade of the movie’s release, Reynolds was one of many famous customers at Anto Beverly Hills, and it’s possible that this storied shirtmaker to the stars had even dressed the Bandit back in 1976. Whether they made the Bandit’s original screen-worn shirt or not, the Julien’s Live auction catalog includes a selection of four shirts that Anto made for the star in 1999, detailed almost identically to the Smokey and the Bandit shirt (see lot 785 here.)

The Bandit’s shirt also has epaulettes (shoulder straps), commonly appointed to men’s sportswear in the ’70s in deference to the sweeping safari craze, as well as button cuffs that he wears unfastened and rolled up each forearm throughout the duration of Smokey and the Bandit. The shirt also has two patch pockets on the chest with pointed bottoms and rounded flaps that each close through a single red pearlesque plastic sew-through button that matches those up the plain, placket-less front.

At the end of their journey, the Bandit, Snowman, and Fred have acquired a new traveling companion in Frog, who enthusiastically agrees to take on the Burdettes' "double or nothing" bet to bring back clam chowder from Boston in Big Enos' Cadillac within the next 18 hours.

At the end of their journey, the Bandit, Snowman, and Fred have acquired a new traveling companion in Frog, who enthusiastically agrees to take on the Burdettes’ “double or nothing” bet to bring back clam chowder from Boston in Big Enos’ Cadillac within the next 18 hours.

Perhaps my least favorite aspect of the Bandit’s distinctive wardrobe is his choice of jeans. Rather than opting for the classic all-American denim offerings of Levi’s, Lee (as he wore in White Lightning), and Wrangler, Reynolds takes the tragically trendy route of sporting a pair of blue denim bell-bottoms, so tight through the hips that they almost leave as little to the imagination as the star’s infamous Cosmopolitan spread earlier in the decade.

This revealing effect is amplified by the lack of visible pockets on the jeans, detailed only with a seam across the top of the seat. Befitting their name, the Bandit’s jean legs flare out dramatically below the knees.

Each clad in their respective bellbottoms, the Bandit and Snowman try to gain access to the Coors storage facility.

Each clad in their respective bellbottoms, the Bandit and Snowman try to gain access to the Coors storage facility.

The lack of pockets on Reynolds’ jeans place quite a burden on his shirt pockets, leaving questions about where the Bandit keeps essential items for a road trip such as wallet or keys. Almost by magic, pockets appear on Reynolds’ jeans for a brief scene when he and Frog are back on the road following a rest stop that sees even more intimacy than their attempt to switch seats mid-drive. (This could leave one to theorize that Bandit had changed into new jeans after taking off his old ones during his carnal break with Frog… though he’s back in his pocketless bell-bottoms by the time they reach Atlanta!)

Of course, even the addition of pockets don’t make these jeans any more typical, as they appear to be patch pockets on the front with slanted side openings and a smaller inset pocket on top of this with a small, rivet-button flap. Jeans like this may have been fashionable among men in the ’70s, but the last place I remember seeing this style was worn by girls in my 8th grade class.

Resting her head on the Bandit's hand (which is gripping the gearshift), Frog recalls her one-time romance with an acid rock singer. In a car with a manual transmission, this would be a very uncomfortable position for both parties, but the gearshift clearly indicates an automatic transmission.

Resting her head on the Bandit’s hand (which is gripping the gearshift), Frog recalls her one-time romance with an acid rock singer. In a car with a manual transmission, this would be a very uncomfortable position for both parties, but the gearshift clearly indicates an automatic transmission.

“I think I’m in love with your belt buckle!” Frog exclaims when Bandit tries to slide under her to retake control of the Trans Am, verbally illustrating the intimacy of their attempt. Worn on a black edge-stitched leather belt personalized with “BANDIT” stenciled across a copper-colored patch on the back, this large silver ovular buckle is textured with black-oxidized tooling and detailed with a turquoise nugget mounted in the center.

You can try the look for yourself with low-cost turquoise belt buckles like this, but I highly recommend anyone committing to the look peruse the stunning array of authentic Southwestern turquoise belt buckles offered from merchants like Eagle Rock Trading Post and Alltribes, featuring primarily items produced by Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, and other Pueblo Native American artists.

An additional costume-related continuity error inside the Trans Am curiously focuses on the Bandit’s boots. Our protagonist’s black studded-toe cowboy boots are established during his on-screen introduction, and long shots of him outside the car during the Texas-to-Atlanta journey depict the same unique boots.

Yet, there are at least two close-up shots of the Bandit’s feet as he drives, rapidly braking or accelerating as needed, that clearly show a pair of more practical russet brown cowboy boots with a worn leather patina, lower flat heels, and less ornamental steel toecaps.

The song may advise Bandit to "keep your foot hard on the pedal, son never mind them brakes," but that just wouldn't be a practical way to cross the country.

The song may advise Bandit to “keep your foot hard on the pedal, son never mind them brakes,” but that just wouldn’t be a practical way to cross the country.

“Why do you wear that cowboy hat?” Frog asks, adding before he has time to answer: “I know, because you think it looks dazzling on you.”

The Bandit’s signature cattleman’s hat in khaki beaver felt has been referred to as a Stetson, though I believe that’s more colloquial shortcut than a confirmed ID; instead, I believe the hatmaker was Manny Gammage, whose custom company Texas Hatters dressed the heads of celebrities from Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, and Dolly Parton to members of the British royal family, according to the Austin Statesman. Texas Hatters continues to offer the “Bandit”, inspired by the hat created for Reynolds.

The hat is finished with an oxidized sterling silver metal band, marked at regular intervals around the band.

“Don’t you ever take that hat off for anything?” Frog later asks. “Sure! I take it off for one thing… and one thing only,” the Bandit responds, prompting Frog to join him in proceeding to do that very thing.

Frog and the Bandit consider how to spend a few minutes of respite in the woods before she decides: "Take your hat off."

Frog and the Bandit consider how to spend a few minutes of respite in the woods before she decides: “Take your hat off.”

The Bandit likes his jewelry and accessories with a Southwestern flair, wearing a wide double-banded silver ring with an elongated oval turquoise stone on the third finger of his left hand, neatly coordinating with both belt buckle and the Bandit’s watch band.

The Bandit’s watch has been tentatively identified as a stainless steel Timex diver from the era with a slim black rotating bezel. The “tuxedo”-style dial has a white ring around the edges with silver non-numeric hour markers, a black center circle, white hands, and a white date window at 3:00. The watch is mounted in an oxidized silver Navajo cuff with two pear-shaped turquoise stones mounted on each side of the watch in twist wire-accented bezels that match the twist wire detailing along the inside of the cuff’s chiseled edges.

The Bandit enlists the help of fellow truckers who've "got them ears on", soliciting a smokey report and finding solace in their "rocking chair" to evade the Alabama Highway Patrol.

The Bandit enlists the help of fellow truckers who’ve “got them ears on”, soliciting a smokey report and finding solace in their “rocking chair” to evade the Alabama Highway Patrol.

This distinctive watch cuff has been faithfully reproduced by Native American artists and is available for sale via AllTribes and Under One Nation Tribe Trading Post.

The Sequel

While Smokey and the Bandit was second only to Star Wars as far as 1977 North American box office gross, it did not have the same luck in replicating a formula for a successful trilogy; while Smokey and the Bandit II may be watchable at best (and is certainly no Empire Strikes Back), the same can not be said for the third installment, which was made without Needham’s essential involvement, relegated Reynolds to a cameo appearance, and was re-cut prior to its release to put a newly mustached Jerry Reed in the cockpit of the Bandit’s Trans Am when Jackie Gleason’s dual role (to be promoted as “Smokey IS the Bandit”) fell flat with test audiences.

The less said about Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 the better, and I’d be inclined to avoid discussion of both sequels as well if not for the flashy red jacket that Reynolds wears for his return in Smokey and the Bandit II.

Burt Reynolds, clad in the Bandit's personalized jacket for Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)

Burt Reynolds, clad in the Bandit’s personalized jacket for Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)

By this film, Reynolds had been launched beyond superstardom; it was as though a new level of Hollywood royalty was invented in the late ’70s solely for Reynolds. This trait was passed on to his characters, including the already cocky Bandit, whose self-branding developed from a comparatively subtle belt in the first film to a personalized nylon jacket as he squires a quarantined elephant from Miami to Dallas for the GOP national convention.

Once he’s back in a Trans Am and not performing in floral-detailed Western wear, the rest of the Bandit’s gear is consistent with what we saw in the first film: his favorite hat, a Western-styled shirt (now a sky blue chambray snap-down), and tight blue jeans with that turquoise-detailed belt buckle. An extremely visible addition to his wardrobe that bright red nylon jacket, emblazoned on the raglan sleeves with “TRANS AM” over the right and “BANDIT” over the left, both embroidered in light yellow on black vertical strips that run down to a black ring around each upper arm that is echoed by the black ribbing over the cuffs.

The racer-style jacket zips up the front to a standing collar and has a hand pocket on each side. On the right breast of the jacket is the distinctive “Screaming Chicken” logo that Pontiac had introduced for the Firebird in 1973 and which decorated the hood of the Bandit’s trio of Trans Ams in all three films… though relegated to a much smaller decal on the grille by the time Jerry Reed took the wheel in 1983.

The jacket echoes a similar silver jacket that Reynolds’ stuntman character had worn in Hooper (1978), which also found him sporting a cowboy hat in the cockpit of an airborne Firebird.

Made by Watkins, the original screen-worn jacket was auctioned by Julien’s Live in December 2014, sold to the winning bidder for more than $35,000. Plenty of replicas abound in varying quality and faithfulness, including a jacket by FaddyRox available via Amazon in faux leather and real leather.

What to Imbibe

“The problem is that, Coors beer… you take that east of Texas and that’s uh, that’s bootleggin’,” the Bandit responds to his challenge from Big and Little Enos, later asking “why do you want that beer so bad?”

“Because he’s thirsty… dummy!” responds Little Enos.

“In the 1970s, you couldn’t buy Coors beer east of the Mississippi. It didn’t have preservatives, so it had to be kept cold all the way from the brewery to the customer. It cost too much to ship it refrigerated across the continent, so the company sold it only in the West, and people were smuggling it in their suitcases, which was technically bootlegging,” explained Burt Reynolds and Jon Winokur in Reynolds’ 2015 memoir But Enough About Me.

Evidently, the mystique and demand growing around this additive-free beer that could only be sold in the west made a bootlegger out of almost everyone, from Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford to Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox, all of whom found innovative ways to bring the brew back east as detailed in a 1974 article in Time magazine.

Reynolds elaborates in his memoir that there likely wouldn’t have been a Smokey and the Bandit without Coors beer and their own personal experiences with people coveting the brew:

When Hal and I were getting ready to shoot Gator (1976) in Georgia, the traffic captain put a bunch of Coors on the truck in t L.A. and took it down there. He gave Hal a couple of cases for his condo. Hal put a few bottles in the refrigerator, but the next time he looked, they were gone. He put a few more in and they disappeared, too. He figured it was an inside job and he was right. It was the maid. He caught her red-handed with two bottles in her cart. He asked her why she was stealing Coors beer and she said, “You can’t get it around here and my husband loves it.”

In Hal’s mind, smuggling Coors became the MacGuffin for a movie, the thread that would tie the action together. He loved that it wasn’t about killing or hurting people, but that it was still illegal.

"Redneck heaven," the Bandit quips at the sight of 400 cases of Coors.

“Redneck heaven,” the Bandit quips at the sight of 400 cases of Coors.

Looking for a spicy complement to your refreshing Coors? Try a hand at the Diablo Sandwich that Sheriff Justice orders (albeit with a Dr Pepper) at an Arkansas barbecue joint. According to the Smokey and the Bandit Wikipedia page, there are multiple options for what this delicacy could entail. Consensus seems to agree on some variation of a sloppy joe served on a hamburger bun but made spicier with the addition of hot sauce. The base protein is typically suggested to be seasoned ground beef with alternatives including pulled pork and Pittsburg Hot Links; in the case of the latter, the hamburger bun would be swapped out for Texas toast. For added flavor, typically canned corn and potentially diced tomato and, depending on preferred spice, either jalapeño peppers or sour cream.

The Car

“New car, gotta have a new car to block for the truck, you know,” the Bandit explains when requesting his expenses from Big and Little Enos. “Speedy car,” Bandit clarifies, then after seeing that Little Enos isn’t peeling off enough hundreds, “speedier than that.”

Hours later, the Bandit is proudly deplaning his speedy new car, a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, from the back of his truck onto Snowman’s driveway. (What happened to the ramp he drove down? Movie magic allowed it to disappear without Bandit or Snowman reloading it into the truck or even discarding it before both men tear out of the driveway.)

Outfitted in Pontiac’s ominously eye-catching black-and-gold color scheme and Screaming Eagle hood decal, rigged with a Pace CB radio, and dressed with our hero’s vanity BAN-ONE Georgia license plates, the Bandit’s Trans Am sped up that street in Jonesboro, Georgia, and into the top echelon of the most iconic movie cars of all time, alongside James Bond’s weaponized Aston Martin DB5, Marty McFly’s time-traveling DeLorean, Herbie the Love Bug, Steve McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang, and the Batmobile.

Frog picks up the Bandit in his own Trans Am outside the "choke and puke" where Sheriff Justice is wolfing down his diablo sandwich.

Frog picks up the Bandit in his own Trans Am outside the “choke and puke” where Sheriff Justice is wolfing down his diablo sandwich.

“Among muscle cars born of the muscle age, only Trans Am would continue in uninterrupted production,” wrote the auto editors of Consumer Guide for Kings of the Street. Indeed, by the mid-1970s, the American street kings and pony cars that had once reigned supreme with names like Charger, Challenger, Chevelle, Cougar, and ‘Cuda had all but disappeared or been so defanged by emissions regulations that whatever marques remained tended to be clunky, downsized eyesores with little to show of their high-horsepower heritage.

Only General Motors seemed to scoff in the face of these new regulations, with the 1976 Cadillac expanding its luxurious “land yacht” lineup to almost exaggerated dimensions, powered by the obscenely large-block 500 cubic-inch V8; on the performance side of the house, pony car cousins Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird continued to rule the roads.

“Why Pontiac chose to keep the Trans Am around in the face of the retreating competition is of little interest here, other than to note the irony that of all the machines of the species there is little debating the fact that the best of the lot was preserved,” Don Sherman wrote for Car & Driver in 1977, adding the parenthetical, “(Automotive Darwinism is alive and well)!”

A 50th anniversary Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Note the difference in the 1976 grille from the 1977 facade in the below screenshot from Smokey and the Bandit.

A 50th anniversary Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Note the difference in the 1976 grille from the 1977 facade in the below screenshot from Smokey and the Bandit. (Source: Pontiac Trans Am Forum)

Had Hal Needham conceptualized Smokey and the Bandit five years earlier than he did, he would have had a wider array of American muscle to choose for the Bandit’s journey, but process of elimination in the era of emissions standards essentially left only the Camaro and the Firebird, the latter having an edge at the time for its Trans Am performance package that offered greater power and speed (the Camaro’s legendary Z28 wouldn’t be reintroduced until 1977 when Chevy saw the Smokey effect driving Trans Am sales.) While these may have contributed to Needham’s enthusiasm for featuring the car so prominently, Burt Reynolds’ memoir suggests that the reasoning may have been more derived from aesthetics:

Hal saw a picture in a magazine of a 1976 Pontiac Trans Am, the model with the T-top and the gold Thunder Chicken decal on the hood. He thought I’d look cool in one, and that it might make a good product placement, so we went to Pontiac and they gave us four Trans Ams for me and two LeManses for Jackie’s cruiser. We wrecked ’em all. When a car couldn’t run anymore, we kept it handy to scavenge parts. For the last scene we filmed, the one Trans Am we had left wouldn’t start and we had to push it into the shot.

The timing was fortuitous as 1976 was a banner year for the Firebird. As it was Pontiac’s 50th anniversary, the company introduced its elaborate black-and-gold color scheme (Y82) designed by John Schinella, revealed at the Chicago Auto Show that February. According to Scott Oldham for Hagerty, Pontiac had also planned that all of these black-and-gold Limited Edition Firebirds produced in 1976 would be rigged with the newly introduced open T-top roof by Hurst, though only 643 of the 2,590 Limited Edition cars produced had them. The “Screaming Chicken” hood decal, added in 1973, provided an additional touch of iconic menace.

The four Trans Ams that Pontiac provided for the production were a mix of new 1977 cars and 1976 cars converted to resemble the newer ’77 by swapping out the front with its dual round headlights for four square headlights and replacing the cubic inch measurement on the hood scoop with “6.6 LITRE” decals. We also know that both manual and automatic transmission cars were used, with some driving scenes indicating that Reynolds was controlling a manual gearbox while interior shots clearly display the three-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission and no clutch pedal. Since at least one ’77 Trans Am was used for the production, and Bandit is clearly meant to be driving a ’77, we’ll focus on that as the official BAN-ONE Pontiac, powered by with the Pontiac 400 T/A 6.6 V8 which was only mated to the four-speed manual transmission; the Hydramatic Trans Ams were powered by the somewhat more anemic Oldsmobile 403 V8 rated at 185 horsepower.

The Bandit's front license plate was the Georgia state flag from 1956 to 2001.

1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

Body Style: 2-door T-top fastback

Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)

Engine: 400 cu. in. (6.6 L) Pontiac 400 T/A 6.6 (W72) with single Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel carburetor

Power: 200 bhp (149 kW; 203 PS) @ 3600 RPM

Torque: 325 lb·ft (441 N·m) @ 2400 RPM

Transmission: 4-speed manual

Wheelbase: 108.1 inches (2746 mm)

Length: 196.8 inches (4999 mm)

Width: 73 inches (1854 mm)

Height: 49.6 inches (1260 mm)

Burt Reynolds wasn’t the only star showing audiences how well a Pontiac could perform on screen as James Garner had been executing J-turns in a gold Firebird Esprit on The Rockford Files since 1974, upgrading to the latest model at the start of each season. However, it was Smokey and the Bandit that catapulted its popularity, and the now-demanded Firebird Trans Am saw a sales increase from 68,745 in 1977 to 93,341 in 1978, outselling its Camaro counterpart for the first time in the decade that both models had co-existed. Trans Am sales hit an all-time high in 1979 with more than 117,000 sold, nearly double the amount from two years earlier as Pontiac continued to ride the Smokey high.

With some hyperbolic exaggeration of the Smokey impact on sales, Reynolds’ memoir reflects on how the grateful company promised to gift him a new Trans Am each year, including a 1977 Special Edition that he sold for $450,000 in a 2014 auction, as he was assured by then-president Alex Mair:

After Smokey came out, Trans Am sales went up 700 percent, and the president of Pontiac promised me a new one every year for life. A few years later a car didn’t come. I didn’t want to complain, but I thought something might have happened in delivery, so I called Pontiac and spoke to a very businesslike lady.

“Excuse me,” I said, “this is Burt Reynolds. I guess there’s been a mix-up. The Trans Am didn’t arrive. Maybe it went to the wrong place.”

“No,” she said, “we didn’t send one.”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t mean to be pushy, bu the president of the company said I’d get one every year.”

“We have a new president now,” she said. “It was our former president who made the promise, the one who likes your movies.”

Frog flips a highway patrolman the bird from the passenger seat of what she had earlier "that faktaka car". Burt Reynolds no doubt felt he was on the receiving end of a similar gesture after that fateful call with the executive from Pontiac.

Frog flips a highway patrolman the bird from the passenger seat of what she had earlier “that faktaka car”. Burt Reynolds no doubt felt he was on the receiving end of a similar gesture after that fateful call with the executive from Pontiac.

The Bandit’s influence finally met its match in 1980 when increased emissions regulations forced Pontiac to drop any of its high displacement engines, including both 400 and 403 cubic-inch V8 options, leaving a Chevrolet 305 V8 and a problematic turbocharged 301 V8 that was hampered by its aging Rochester Quadrajet carburetor as the two available engines for the Trans Am. Reynolds drove a turbocharged 1980 Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit II, but the cars still required nitrous oxide tanks to perform as needed on screen.

The second generation of Firebirds and Camaros hobbled through the end of the 1981 model year, when GM realized it would need a significant redesign to keep its sporty pony cars competitive in a marketplace besot by gas crises where consumers valued fuel efficiency over raw power and iconic design. Aerodynamics were prioritized for the Firebird across the last two decades of its production timeline, during which the Firebird would remain visible in pop culture thanks to KITT on Knight Rider, even when engine output reached all-time lows with four-cylinder base models beginning with the launch of the third generation in 1982.

Unfortunately, the Trans Am was an early casualty of Pontiac’s financial struggles in the 2000s and 2002 marked the final year of the Firebird.

The Bandit jumps his Trans Am over Flint River to evade police. Like many other Smokey and the Bandit locations, this scene was filmed in Georgia despite being set in Arkansas.

The Bandit jumps his Trans Am over Flint River to evade police. Like many other Smokey and the Bandit locations, this scene was filmed in Georgia despite being set in Arkansas.

Interestingly, the Bandit abandons the Trans Am when making his final getaway from his police pursuers with Frog and Snowman. After they are chased in the Road-eo fairgrounds, Big Enos tosses over the keys to one of his Cadillacs, a red 1974 Fleetwood Eldorado convertible, leaving the rotund gambler with “an even dozen”.

This generation of the Eldorado boasted Cadillac’s mammoth 500 cubic-inch (8.2-liter) V8 engine, offering 210 horsepower that propelled the nearly 5,200 pound car to 60 mph in less than 11 seconds… but also offered a typical fuel economy of less than 11 miles per gallon. Our trio would have likely needed to refuel at least nine times during their impossible task of bringing the Burdettes authentic New England clam chowder from Boston within the next 18 hours.

From their perch in Big Enos Burdette's Cadillac, the Bandit, Frog, and Snowman observe the blustering Buford T. Justice in what's left of his police cruiser.

From their perch in Big Enos Burdette’s Cadillac, the Bandit, Frog, and Snowman observe the blustering Buford T. Justice in what’s left of his police cruiser.

How to Get the Look

Burt Reynolds as the Trans Am-driving "Bandit" in Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Burt Reynolds as the Trans Am-driving “Bandit” in Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

A superstar at the time Smokey and the Bandit was released, Burt Reynolds took the wheel of that iconic black Trans Am dressed not in the more authentic everyday workwear seen in his earlier movies like White Lightning but instead a “Hollywoodized” approach to Western-adjacent styles, echoing patriotic themes with his bright red shirt and tight blue jeans with an added cowboy flair by way of hat, boots, and buckle.

  • Red rayon long-sleeved shirt with long-pointed Lido collar, shoulder straps/epaulettes, plain front, two button-flapped chest pockets, and button cuffs
  • Blue denim “fashion” jeans with belt loops, no pockets, and flared bellbottoms
  • Black edge-stitched leather personalized belt
    • Large oval silver belt buckle with center-mounted turquoise nugget
  • Black leather cowboy boots with studded squared toes and raised heels
  • Khaki beaver felt cattleman-style cowboy hat with oxidized silver band
  • Turquoise-mounted silver double ring
  • Vintage stainless Timex Date dive watch with “tuxedo” dial on turquoise-on-silver Navajo cuff

Just to remember to take your hat off before you… you know…

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

Let’s haul ass.

One comment

  1. Gary Wells

    Good read, as usual, and I love this movie. It has such an “American South” feel to it; as does “Gator”, another film I love. I love both also because I’m a huge Jerry Reed fan; I love that guy. Oddly, I’ve found “Bandit 3” much more enjoyable than “Bandit 2”; 2 is terrible though it made something of an effort. 3 seems to know it’s junk and therefore has fun with it. I found it funnier than 2 but both are not repeat watchers.

    Like

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