Still on The Run: It’s Smokey and the Bandits — a bunch of them

The Bandits arrive with a convoy of Trans Ams | Larry Printz photos

Imagine a day at the beach, followed by a night on the town. You’re tired and ready for a peaceful night’s sleep. You pull into the parking lot of your hotel only to find that most parking spaces have been taken by black 1977-78 Pontiac Trans Ams. Another handful are consumed by Snowman’s tractor-trailer. Have you stepped onto a movie set? Did you imbibe too much?

No. You’ve stumbled onto The Bandit Run.

“It’s fun because we take over hotels, restaurants, and gas stations,” said Dave Hall, creator of the event and owner of Restore A Muscle Car, a car restoration business in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Dave Hall organizes The Bandit Run
Dave Hall organizes The Bandit Run

Hall and shop customer David Hersey created The Bandit Run in 2006 as a way to commemorate the following year the 30th anniversary of the film “Smokey and the Bandit.”

Hall had the group traverse the same route as the movie, driving from Texarkana, Texas, to Atlanta. That that initial run attracted more than 100 car owners speaks to the film’s enduring appeal. A similar number joined the run this year.

And while the film’s stars Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Reed brought charisma to the big screen, there’s no denying that the picture’s greatest star didn’t receive any billing at all: the black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am accented in gold pinstripes with a screaming chicken decal on its hood and driven by Reynolds.

For a generation of adolescent boys with Farah Fawcett posters on their bedroom walls, the Pontiac’s brash nature was the height of high school cool. Every boy wanted one. Now, those who have them pay a $90 entry fee to run them in the annual event.

For that amount, the drivers get hotel discounts, vehicle decals, a grab bag of goodies and a support truck, not to mention a week of driving through the United States.

But you don’t have to be a disco-decade aficionado to participate; any make or model of car can partake in the event.

“We do not discriminate by any means,” said Hall. “Perhaps over 90 percent of the cars are going to be Trans Ams, but we have some Corvettes, some Camaros, we’ve had GTOS, Chargers, a little bit of everything. We even have a couple pickups.”

This year’s run started at the GM Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and finished in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We checked in with the group as it arrived in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Hall already is working on next year’s route.

Unlike the film that it commemorates, the Run’s speeds are mild not wild; it’s a cruise, not a race. Think of it as a vacation built around the love of a car and a film.

“I like the people. I like the camaraderie,” said Roy Smith of Williamsburg, Virginia. Smith drove his 1996 Pontiac Trans Am Comp T/A in the 2014 run.

“We all have this in common and it’s really interesting to get to know people from all over the country.”
No doubt. Let’s sample some of them:

“When I was younger I had GTOs. But the Trans Am was always that car I always wanted but for some reason or another never bought. It is a car I’ve always wanted that I just never got until seven years ago.”

Drew Demarco, Baltimore, Maryland, 1981 Pontiac Trans Am SE

 

 

Bandit2
“I’ve been a big Trans Am fan for 25 years.”

Sash Popovic, Kitchener, Ontario, 1976 and 2002 Pontiac Trans Ams

No kidding. Popovic owns a 2002 Collector’s Edition with 11,000 miles as well as a 1976 Trans Am he bought about 26 years ago. “I guess it’s a car thing,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Bandit3“We’ve had a couple of these cars in the family. It’s a car I always wanted, not so much because of the movie, but because I graduated in 1979.”

Joe Talotta, Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania, 1979 Pontiac Trans Am (also a 1980 Firebird and 1981 Firebird Formula)
Bandit4“Car people are good people. Any car event that we’ve ever been involved in is just like this. It’s not different; it’s just unique because it’s one car. The first year you’re nervous because you don’t know anybody. We know people from all over the world now.”

Larry Smith, with his wife, Susan, Franklin, Illinois, 2002 Pontiac Trans Am

 

For more information, visit www.thebanditrun.com.

My Classic Car: Mike’s 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

This Trans Am is just like the one Mike wanted back when both were younger | Mike Hill photo
This Trans Am is just like the one Mike wanted back when both were younger | Mike Hill photo

This car still evokes the same rush of emotion that it did when I was a young man.

I promised myself that someday I would have to own one. It took many years but I found her online at the end of 2013 and I finally am living my dream with this numbers matching 1979 Anniversary edition Pontiac Trans Am.

Equipped with the 400-ci V8 and 4-speed transmission, she is everything I dreamed about. I now pretty much live in my garage. It’s just hard to be away from her. I could not be happier.

Homemade KITT: ‘Knight Rider’ replica car

Chris Palmer needed five Pontiac Trans Ams, numerous visits to eBay, countless hours of work and the generosity of several friends to recreate the car that starred in the hit 1980s television show “Knight Rider.” And he wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again.

“It was totally worth it – more than worth it,” Palmer said of his KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) lookalike. “I love this car. Everybody seems to love this car.”

Palmer started with a 1991 Pontiac Trans Am, which had a better drivetrain but was nine years newer than the car used in the show. That decision necessitated the purchase of four more Trans Am models – two each from 1982 and 1983 – so he could swap out the panels and parts required to make it look like KITT. The ’91 also has a five-speed manual transmission, unlike KITT’s automatic, so Palmer chopped the gear shift and swapped out the knob to make it look authentic.

Palmer found KITT’s unique dash (complete with two video screens) and the car’s trademark front bumper on eBay, and everything operates and sounds as it did on the show. KITT’s Michigan vanity license plate reads KNI6HT.

The Detroit-area resident said his 3½-year project would not have been possible without the help of Sled Alley Hot Rods owner Matt Gurjack and co-worker Steve Jay; Lafata Auto Body owner Eric Lafata, who did the paint; and H&E Overlays owner Eric Thompson, who assisted with the dash installation and also made the gauge overlays. Palmer, president of the newly created Great Lakes Knights Car Club, which he and Thompson co-founded, hopes to build show-quality movie-replica cars for other fans. For now, he’s enjoying all the attention he’s getting from the ultimate KITT car.

Future classic: Pontiac Firebird’s final years

The 2002 Trans Am Collector Edition has shown rising values at auction. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)
The 2002 Trans Am Collector Edition has shown rising values at auction. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

 

The final four years of the Pontiac Firebird also marked the last gasp of the classic muscle-car era that started in the 1960s. Like its corporate cousin of Chevy Camaro, the Firebird rode the ups and downs of the horsepower wars with boundless enthusiasm.

The last of the fourth generation of Firebirds that were introduced in 1993, the 1998 models received an expressive front-end restyling and honeycomb taillights that continued through the end of the line. A bit over the top for some, but spot on for others.

The 1998-2002 Firebirds managed to up the ante in performance despite strangling environmental restrictions and a young driving public whose attention was turning elsewhere. Formula and Trans Am models were treated to the latest Corvette LS1 small-block V8 along with an aluminum driveshaft and dual-piston front-brake calipers.

A menacing black 2001 Trans Am with the WS6 package. (Photo: General Motors)
A menacing black 2001 Trans Am WS6. (Photo: General Motors)

In standard trim, the V8 package cranked out 310 horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque. But those in the know ordered their Firebirds with the high-performance WS6 Ram Air option that boosted horsepower to 325 and torque to 350 pound-feet. Plus, it added the most audacious quartet of hood scoops ever seen on a production car

In glossy black and with its massive rear spoiler that looked like the turned-up collar of an automotive Dracula, they have a bulging presence that’s hard to ignore.

The Trans Am WS6 cars from 1998-2002 already have shown strength at collector-car auctions, and their values should rise as overall interest in Detroit muscle comes roaring back after the market collapse of 2008. Witness the recent gains of Trans Ams from the “Smokey and the Bandit” days.

Non-WS6 Firebirds from the final years have languished, most becoming just used-up old cars or falling prey to extreme customizing efforts. In great original condition, they should see some upside in the future. Those equipped with the Hurst-shifter six-speed manuals are favored over the automatic versions.

High-quality Trans Ams in standard trim could see rising values. (Photo: General Motors)
High-quality Trans Ams in standard trim could see future gains. (Photo: General Motors)

A 205-horsepower V6 was also available for lesser Firebirds, but those values are expected to lag accordingly.

The last hurrah for the Pontiac Firebird was the 2002 Collector Edition Trans Am – known as CETA to their fans – with all of the coupes and convertibles equipped with the WS6 package and painted an aggressive shade of bright yellow. A relatively toned-down rendition of the emblematic “screaming chicken” motif from earlier years flows over the hood and onto the flanks. These attention grabbers have done fairly well at auction, with sales reaching the mid-30s at Barrett-Jackson sales.

For the final 2002 model year, all WS6-equipped Firebirds were produced in fairly high numbers, which does affect their values. Many of them were squirreled away with low miles by those expecting a big return in the future for the last-year performance Firebirds.

In terms of rarity, only a limited number of WS6 coupes and convertibles – something in the order of around 250 – were produced during the 1998 model year, and these are becoming noticed by collectors.

Vehicle Profile: Pontiac Firebird

1967PontiacFirebird

The first generation Pontiac Firebird (1967 to 1969) offered two different design options to consumers: a 2-door hardtop coupe and a convertible model. This new vehicle made by Pontiac, shared the new General Motors “F-Body” chassis with its also new for 1967 sibling, the Chevrolet Camaro. The debut of the Firebird marked Pontiac’s entry into the popular Pony Car arena.

The new Pontiac Firebird had a 108.1-inch wheelbase, weighed in the area of 3,000 pounds and showed up on the scene some five months after the Camaro made its debut. This short delay helped John DeLorean (who was, at the time, the youngest head of a division in GM’s long history) and his team of Pontiac designers and engineers, put some distinguishing touches on a vehicle who’s design closely mirrored that of the Chevrolet Camaro.

Apparently, John DeLorean was somewhat annoyed that the Camaro was released first, because the new Firebird was one of his pet projects that he hoped would be as popular as the 1964 Pontiac GTO that he also engineered, which is often referred to as the first Muscle Car.

There were five different engines available (engine displacement also identified each model) for 1967 Firebirds, which Pontiac referred to as their “Magnificent 5″.  You could start with the base model which had an innovative “overhead cam” (or “OHC”) 230-cid, in-line 6-cylinder, with a 1-barrel carburetor that produced about 165 hp.  The next step up was the “Sprint” model that offered a 230-cid, in-line 6-cylinder, with a 4-barrel carburetor that produced about 215 hp. Both 6-cylinder models were available with a 3 or 4-speed manual transmission or a 2-speed, automatic transmission.

The 326-cid V8 model with a two-barrel carburetor capable of producing about 250 hp, was also an option. Next in line was the Firebird V8-H.O. (High Output) model which also featured a 326-cid V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor rated at 285 hp.  At the top of the heap was the 400-cid V8 (borrowed from the GTO) with a 4-barrel carburetor that was capable of producing at least 325 hp.  Another option was the 400-cid, “Ram Air” engine which contained a tuned camshaft with heavier valve springs, making the otherwise non-functional hood scoops, functional. This engine design modification was not reflective of any additional horsepower output in any of the marketing brochures for the Firebird at the time. Subsequently, this option was rarely ordered, also making it an ultra rare option to find in today’s classic car buyer’s market. Ultimately, all V8’s came standard with the heavy-duty 3-speed manual transmission, with an optional 4-speed manual transmission and 2 or 3-speed automatic transmission.

The unique and definitive Pontiac styling on the Pontiac Firebird included a split chrome grille with embedded quad-headlamps, “beaked” hood, rear quarter panel “split-gills” and slotted , “slit-style” tail lights (also borrowed from the GTO). All of these details made the Firebird stand-out in a crowd of new Pony Cars. Many performance options and creature comforts were also available including several different rear axle ratios, front disc brakes, power steering, full gages, floor consoles and the first-ever, hood-mounted tachometer.

The 1968 Pontiac Firebirds saw little change from the 1967 models. Some noticeable differences were the loss of door vent-windows and some minor interior revisions that were made. Pontiac “Arrowhead” side-marker lights were added to the rear 1/4 panels and the front turn signal/parking lamps were revised to curve around to the sides of the vehicle for the 1968 Pontiac Firebird, new federal vehicle laws that were implemented in 1968.  The rear shocks were also staggered  on the 1968 Pontiac Firebird, with one mounted to the front side of the axle and the other to the rear side of the axle, in an effort to increase ride quality.  The rear leaf-springs were also changed to the “multi-leaf” design, in order to reduce annoying “wheel-hop” upon quick acceleration. Most of the other changes, were in the available drivetrains, such as the “OHC” 6-cylinder, that grew from 230 to 250-cid and the 326-cid V8 that grew to 350-cid, both producing increases in horsepower production.

The Pontiac Firebird had a major facelift in 1969 (similar to the new GTO), with a new front end design. The rear-end area was changed slightly, while the interior was again revised and an exciting new Trans Am performance and appearance package was introduced in March of 1969. The Trans Am name, which was borrowed from the SCCA racing series, also meant that Pontiac had to pay the SCCA a license fee of $5.00 for every car sold, in order to use the Trans Am name. All the Trans Am optioned vehicles produced in 1969 (only some 689 coupes and only 8 convertibles, again super rare) were polar white with blue racing stripes. A 5 foot long trunk-lid mounted low-profile spoiler, special decals and the exclusive hood with driver operated, functional intake scoops, were included in the package. Also exclusive to the Trans Am, were the front fender scoops or vents, which were intended to help evacuate captured, engine-bay air.