The 'Smokey and the Bandit' film's star was the black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am with gold stripes and a thunder chicken decal on its hood. (MCT)
Virginia Beach, Va.— To a generation of adolescent boys with Farrah Fawcett posters on their bedroom walls, the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am nature was every bit as sexy as the iconic blonde, an image burnished by the 1977 film “Smokey and the Bandit.”
For those of you who haven’t seen it — and there may be some — the movie concerns a truck driver named Snowman and his efforts to haul an illegal load of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas, to Atlanta. At the time, Coors couldn’t legally be sold east of the Mississippi River. Snowman’s advance man, Bandit, plays the decoy for police to allow Snowman to slip by undetected.
And while actors Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Reed add much to the proceedings, the picture’s greatest star didn’t receive any billing: the black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am decorated in gold stripes with a thunder chicken decal on its hood, and driven by Reynolds.
“It came out the same week that ‘Star Wars’ was released,” remembers Dave Hall of Lincoln, Neb. “If I wasn’t seeing ‘Star Wars,’ I was seeing ‘Smokey and the Bandit.’ It is definitely one of my favorite movies for sure.”
So much so that in 2006, Hall, the owner of Restore A Muscle Car restoration shop hatched a plan over dinner with one of his customers, David Hersey. They would recreate the movie’s chase from Texas to Georgia in commemoration of the film’s 30th anniversary. And so was launched The Bandit Run in 2007.
Now in its eighth year, the event still attracts more than 100 cars and their owners on an annual trek somewhere in the United States. This year, the Run finished Thursday in Myrtle Beach, S.C., having started at the GM Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on June 20. The tour stopped in Virginia Beach for two days earlier this week.
“You know, it’s all about having fun and being on the road,” said Hall, standing near a recreation of Snowman’s tractor-trailer. “I have people here from Florida and Texas who took several days just to get up to our starting point up in Carlisle. And they drove them the whole way.”
For some, such passion is hard to imagine for a movie that was unanimously panned by critics upon its release. So it’s worth considering that the public embraced the film, so much so that it earned $126 million and went on to spawn two sequels. Even more remarkably, it was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
But for participants of The Bandit Run, none of that cultural dross matters; for them, the car is the star.
“We have a blast,” said Drew Demarco of Baltimore, standing beside his 1981 Pontiac Trans Am SE. “The cars are quite a show, but they almost become a by-product because of the friendships you make. It’s a great thing.”
Other drivers agree.
“Car people are good people,” said Larry Smith, a farmer from Franklin, Ill., who owns a 2002 Trans Am, the final year of production. “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.”
Like the movie, The Bandit Run welcomes everyone; the price of entry is not steep. Participants pay $90 to join the run; hotels, food and fuel are extra. And it’s that last part that can get pricey. Given that a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am returns 13 mpg at best, and cars travel as much as 300 miles between stops, a daily fuel bill can easily eat up the best part of $100. Thankfully, you don’t have to own a 1977-81 Trans Am to participate; any car or truck can partake, although 90 percent of the vehicles are Trans Ams, according to Hall.
And then there are the breakdowns.
“Definitely, we’re going to have something, somewhere along the line,” Hall said. “It’s a mechanical item that we’re driving and you’re going to have problems. It’s just a part of it.”
For his part, Hall brings along a chase truck and trailer, although it doesn’t hurt that many driveline parts are easily obtained at any auto parts store. “We’ll try to handle what we can,” he said.
But for these fans, the camaraderie of the event has as much allure as the car or the movies.
“We know people from all over the world now,” Smith said. “It’s a family.”