We all know about a certain black and gold Trans Am ...
You actually hear it before you see it. For a beat the roar of the Pontiac’s 400 cubic inches reverberates within the tight confines of the trailer before the Bandit drives the black and gold beauty out of the truck, screaming chicken first, and into pop culture history. The moment is just 11 minutes into the 1977 blockbuster Smokey and the Bandit. It’s the moment the audience sees the 1977 Trans Am Special Edition for the very first time. The moment, 40 years ago this summer, that would forever link the actor Burt Reynolds and Pontiac’s festooned muscle car. Like Fred and Ginger and Lester and Earl. And it’s the moment sales of Pontiac’s Trans Am began to skyrocket.
Four decades later, the man, the mustache and the car continue to matter. Although he would go on the drive another black and gold Trans Am in the Smokey sequel, a 1981 Turbo model, contrary to popular belief, Burt Reynolds did not drive black and gold Firebirds in all of his films. Reynolds made over 60 movies in his long career. Some before the character Bo Darville, aka The Bandit, made him a box office superstar, and many after. He drove some pretty sweet machines in some of those films too. And not one of them is black and gold. One is even French. Although there is another Trans Am to be found.
1975 Porsche 935 replica (The Cannonball Run, 1981)
A few years after Smokey, Reynolds and Smokey director and former stuntman Hal Needham teamed up again for The Cannonball Run. The film’s best known car is the black Lamborghini Countach driven by spandex-wearing babes Adrian Barbeau and Tara Buckman. But Reynolds drives two other notable cars in the film. First is this primered (said to be anti-radar paint) 1969 Porsche 911 dressed as a 935 Turbo. The car isn’t in the film long, as it’s destroyed before the big cross country race even begins, but it sounds great at full song just before Reynolds crashes it through a fence and into a ditch avoiding a police road block.
Research the Porsche 911
1971 International Scout 800B (Deliverance, 1972)
Five years before Smokey and the Bandit, Ned Beatty was squealing like a pig and Burt Reynolds was driving this first-generation International Scout in the adventure drama Deliverance. The 800B was the last of the Series I Scouts as the Scout II replaced it the following year. Still new during the making of the movie, the Scout appears factory fresh, from its factory hardtop right down to its chrome hubcaps. And without a V badge high on the fender as found on V8 equipped Scouts, Burt’s SUV is likely powered by a four- or six-cylinder engine.
1974 Citroen SM (Longest Yard, 1974)
This car only appears in the movie’s opening sequence when a drunk Reynolds takes it from his angry lover as she screams, “Don’t take my Maserati.” She was partially correct as Citroen had purchased a controlling interest in Maserati in 1968 and the SM was powered by the Italian automaker’s DOHC V6 which was also used in its Merak sports car. Anyway, she quickly reports the car stolen, and the cops are quickly on Burt’s butt. The three-minute car chase shows Reynolds making the most of the French coupe’s 170 horsepower, front wheel drive, 5-speed manual and hydro suspension, which is at times hiked way up. Then he pushes it off a dock and watches it sink.
1968 Chevrolet Camaro SS (Cop and a Half, 1993)
Sixteen years after the original Smokey and the Bandit, Burt Reynolds was back behind the wheel of an American muscle car, this time a blue 1968 Chevrolet Camaro SS in the cop comedy Cop and a Half. Although it was probably an SS clone since it didn’t wear an SS hood, the movie Camaro was attractive with rally wheels and big-block 396 badges, but the fact that it has four-point racing seat belts in an otherwise stock interior is baffling. At least Burt drives it through a fence in one scene and spins it around on some dirt, but director Henry Winkler of Happy Days Fonzy fame failed to exploit the possibilities.
Research the Chevrolet Camaro
1979 Dodge Sportsman (The Cannonball Run, 1981)
Usually an ambulance van doesn’t make such a list. But this is no ordinary van. In the movie The Cannonball Run, Burt Reynolds drives the actual ambulance van that Car and Driver Editor Brock Yates and the film’s director Hal Needham drove in the real 1979 running of the Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, the true-life cross-country race Yates invented and the movie exploits. During filming the van even retained its Dick Landy-built big-block 440 cube Mopar and 130-mph cruising capability. In the real race the Dodge DNF’d due to transmission problems, and Yates, who wrote the film, worked that into the script too.
Research the Dodge
1978 GMC K10 Stepside (Hooper, 1978)
Fresh off of Smokey’s success Reynolds and Director Needham got right back on the job, making Hooper, a semi-autobiographical film about an aging stuntman, much like Needham. Reynolds drives two notable cars in this film. For the first half of the movie he drives this modified 1978 GMC K10 Stepside, a rare squarebody truck today. It was modified for the movie with KC lights, a bed cover, custom pinstriping and parts from Dick Cepek, including a chrome roll bar. The truck’s most memorable scene is when Reynolds spins it around in the middle of California’s Pacific Coast Highway and then drives it backwards at 55 mph until a motorcycle cop pulls him over and cites him for “unsafe backing”.
Research the GMC
1971 Ford 500 429 4-speed (White Lightening, 1973)
White Lightening is Burt Reynolds’ first “car” movie. He plays Gator McKlusky, a moonshiner recruited by the feds to take down the corrupt county sheriff that killed his brother. To do the job, the law gives him a brown 1971 Ford 500 sedan powered by a big 429 cubic inch big-block V8 and 4-speed with a T-handle Hurst shifter. It’s the perfect whiskey runner, it looks slow, but hauls ass. It also sounds fantastic. And don’t miss the car jump onto the moving barge, a stunt performed by Hal Needham, the stuntman that would later go on to direct Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper and The Cannonball Run.
Research the Ford
1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (Hooper, 1978)
In the second half of Hooper, and the film’s final climatic action sequence, Reynolds is back in a Pontiac Trans Am, only this time it’s Mayan Red and its backseat has been replaced by a rocket booster designed to propel the car over a 325 ft. gorge. The twist here is that Sonny Hooper, played by Reynolds, never actually drives this car in the film. He rides shotgun as another stuntman played by Jan Michael Vincent does the driving. The final 15-minute sequence of stunts is epic as they avoid explosions, other crashing cars, falling smoke stacks and eventually have to jump the gorge to safety. The whereabouts of the actual Firebird used in the film are unknown. After the car was shown in Pontiac’s display at the Chicago and Miami auto shows in 1978 to promote the movie it disappeared.