Hal Needham passed away on October 25, 2013 at age 82.
If you’ve been a Pontiac fan for any length of time, but in particular, one who fancies Firebirds, you’ve no doubt screened Smokey and the Bandit. Not only was it the last movie Alfred Hitchcock viewed in his private in-home theater before his passing, the film remains a part of modern pop culture.
For decades it has fueled the dreams of millions of red-blooded American kids who someday yearn to own and drive a black-and-gold Trans Am like that wheeled by the rebellious Bandit.
The story plot is rather simple. A legendary trucker known as The Bandit and his partner, Cledus Snow, aka Snowman, are challenged to travel from Atlanta, Georgia, to Texarkana, Texas, and back to bootleg 400 cases of Coors beer in 28 hours. The Bandit seemingly wheels a ’77 Special Edition Trans Am through high-speed twists and turns in an attempt to divert law-enforcement attention away from the speeding big rig, which is always within earshot on the C.B. radio. Sheriff Buford T. Justice, who happens to drive a Pontiac LeMans equipped with a Police Enforcer package, is hot on the trail, seeking to recapture some other precious cargo, which The Bandit picked up along the way.
Each year since 2007, Dave and Michelle Hall and their team at Restore A Muscle Car (RAMC) in Lincoln, Nebraska, plan and host an event called the Bandit Run. It’s a week-long Smokey and The Bandit-themed cruise that travels across several states with stops in attractive locations, whether scenic or hobby related, and gives Trans Am owners and enthusiasts a chance to caravan together on the open road.
Bandit Run 2013 started at RAMC’s Nebraska-based facility and ended in Golden, Colorado. But it offered a different twist. Smokey and The Bandit director Hal Needham enjoyed the festivities of the Bandit Run 2013 kickoff party and HPP was there to catch the action.
I called Pontiac and requested a few cars, and they finally agreed to send some. I ended up selling more Trans Ams for Pontiac than any dealer could!
Smokey and The Bandit Basics
Smokey and The Bandit was Hal Needham’s first attempt at directing. Longtime HPP readers may recall that former Editor Tom DeMauro interviewed Needham about the details surrounding the making of the movie and the article that followed appeared in the Dec. ’07 issue. (A digital version of the article is available on our website at http://goo.gl/p5psQw.)
Needham briefly explained the movie’s history to HPP in a recent interview. “Making beer runs to smuggle in Coors was popular in the South at the time,” he says. “I thought being chased by the cops during a run might make a good movie plot. I wrote the script and planned to have Jerry Reed play The Bandit because he was cheap and I didn’t have much budget. I let my pal, Burt Reynolds, read the script and he offered to play The Bandit. That really got it going.” Needham moved Jerry Reed to a supporting role and secured Sally Field for the love interest, and The Great One, Jackie Gleason, as the ensuing sheriff.
Hal Needham comes face-to-face with Buford T. Justice (played by David Betz) for the first
Hal Needham spent several hours walking the show field and visiting with Firebird owners a
When it came to equipping The Bandit with a vehicle, Needham visited Universal Studio’s Transportation Department to view the available movie cars. “I saw Ferraris and Lamborghinis, but nothing looked like what I pictured Burt driving. I wanted something that fit the image of a Southern rebel. I got back to the office, opened a new car magazine, and saw the black-and-gold Trans Am. I said, ‘That’s it!’ I called Pontiac and requested a few cars, and they finally agreed to send some. I ended up selling more Trans Ams for Pontiac than any dealer could!”
Of working with the actors, Needham says he enjoyed them all. “They were all great. I was a fan of Jackie Gleason and had watched every episode of The Honeymooners. Working with him on Smokey and The Bandit was an honor. He would look at his page of dialog, toss it away, and say, ‘I’m ready.’ He ad-libbed most of his dialogue and it went great. He was such a natural that his lines were better than anything we wrote.”
The Bandit Run
Needham tells HPP that he’s been aware of the Bandit Run since its inception. “I have been invited to attend every year since it started but couldn’t fit it into my schedule. It’s always an honor to be asked and I made it a point to make it to this year’s event.” It was Needham’s first trip to Nebraska, and while Lincoln is the state capital, RAMC’s facility is located on the outskirts near the city of Waverly. “Nebraska seemed like home to this ol’ country boy who grew up in Arkansas,” he says.
… and at least two replicas of the ’77 LeMans that Buford T. Justice drove, complete with
While Jackie Gleason played Buford T. Justice in the movie, James Colburn was one of two B
The kickoff party took place at RAMC on July 13, and attendees were treated to a barbecue, a show-and-shine, and a private screening of Smokey and The Bandit at a local theater. Needham spent the entire day meeting fans, signing autographs, and answering questions. Of the event, he says, “I was really surprised to see people go that crazy for the movie. They even dressed up in character and quoted dialog and had replicas of the movie cars there. I really enjoyed every minute of it.”
He continues, “The entire event was pretty darn spectacular. Dave and Michelle put on a heck of a bash. The people were great and I couldn’t believe how many cars were there. I never knew Pontiac made so many Trans Ams! One guy even asked me to sign the underside of his trunk lid, so I crawled into the trunk to do it.”
After a screening of Smokey and The Bandit at the Rococo Theater in downtown Lincoln, Nebr
Needham spent time autographing movie memorabilia and his new book Stuntman! The number of
To cap the evening, a private screening of Smokey and The Bandit was held at the Ricoco Theater in downtown Lincoln. “Because of vintage equipment, the screen was a bit dimmer than what we’re used to seeing today, but the fans could have cared less. They knew every word of dialogue without having to see the movie. I think it went great,” Hal says. He then ended the evening fielding questions from attendees, regarding the Smokey and the Bandit movies.
While Bandit Run 2013 was comprised of attendees from more than a dozen states, Canada, an
The next morning, 225 attendees from as far away as Germany and Australia packed into 140 cars and set out for the first stop, Valentine, Nebraska. Over the course of the next few days, planned stops included the Black Hills of South Dakota, and Laramie, Wyoming, before arriving and wrapping up in Golden, Colorado, where a tour of the Coors Brewery and an after-party and car show took place. The scenic route was touted by many as the best Bandit Run experience to date.
While the dates and details for Bandit Run 2014 haven’t been finalized, it’ll be tough to top the 2013 event. You can rest assured that Dave and his team will be hard at work to make that happen.
When asked about the possibility of a remake of the movie, Needham remarks, “If they have it in mind, they have to come through me for approval and I’m not aware of it.” It’s highly unlikely any remake could ever generate the type of following that decades later can sustain an event as large as Bandit Run 2013!
For updates on Bandit Run 2014, check www.thebanditrun.com.