Ask a random sample of Special Edition Trans Am owners why they own one and many will tell you they had to have one after seeing Smokey and the Bandit.
Clarence Cordell, a retired United States Air Force tech sergeant, who lives in Tavares, Florida, knew he had to have one, too, but buying a Trans Am wasn’t an option for him in 1977 as there was already a new Grand Prix in his driveway.
The final Second-Gen Firebird facelift appeared for ’79, lasted three model years, and was
Three years later, Clarence, who was then working for Lockheed in Saudi Arabia, saw Smokey and the Bandit II and decided he had waited long enough. As an Air Force retiree, he was able to order a new car through the military exchange from anywhere overseas, and in January 1981 he paid a visit to the GM sales representative on the Rhein-Main Air Force Base in Germany to spec out his dream Trans Am.
He specified the Y84 Special Edition package, whose T-tops, gold pinstriping, gold decals, and gold cast- aluminum wheels instantly turned the Starlight Black T/A into the iconic machine driven by the Bandit himself. Regular production options C60 Air Conditioning and B18 Custom Trim in Camel Tan (also called Doeskin) would ensure him cool comfort in the hot Florida sun, while K35 Cruise Control and UN3 AM/FM with (cassette) tape would serve to reduce driver fatigue.
One option Clarence specifically did not want was Pontiac’s Turbo 301. “The salesman asked me if I wanted the engine with the turbo,” Clarence recalls. “I heard they were having problems with it, and, after thinking about it for a few minutes, decided not to order it.”
After four months of anxiously waiting overseas, Clarence received word that his Bandit T/A was waiting for him at Colonial Pontiac in Miami. He booked vacation time, flew back to Florida, took delivery of his brand-new Pontiac, and drove it home to Orlando. He put fewer than 200 miles on it and returned to work.
Two hoods were available on Trans Ams in 1981. Turbo cars received a left-of-center bulge
The numbers-matching 4.9L 301 was rebuilt with a 0.030-inch overbore, which pushes displac
Bandit graphics were applied to this Special Edition to mimic the Trans Am in Smokey and t
Back overseas, Clarence encountered a circumstance that forced the sale of his prized Bandit to a racing enthusiast back in Florida. Unlike Clarence, the T/A’s second owner didn’t baby the fine ride. After one too many hole-shots, the 301 mill let go and he parked it behind his house.
Enter Clarence’s son, Billy, who worked for an auto-body shop and knew the second owner. Whenever their paths would cross, he inquired about buying the Trans Am back. It took years, but eventually Billy’s persistence paid off, and in 1995, the T/A came home to the Cordell family. Kind of.
Billy trailered the car to a friend’s property and stored it behind a pole barn until “someday” when he could rebuild the 301. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into 15 years. “I was visiting my son and he asked if I wanted to restore my old Trans Am,” Clarence says. “I said I would love to. The next week we went to his friend’s house and discovered the TA’s windows had been left down and scrub oaks had grown up all around it.”
Determined to get his Bandit back, Clarence rented a chainsaw and, with Billy’s help, slowly dug his S/E T/A out of what could have been its final resting spot. “There was no way I was going to lose it a second time,” Clarence says.
The years of sun, rain, and coastal salt-air had taken their toll on the Trans Am. Nonetheless, once it was safely back in Billy’s garage, the father/son team set out to bring it back to life, no matter what it took—a project that would take them five years to complete.
“There was rust in the floors, quarter-panels, trunk, cowl, and even around the T-tops,” Clarence says. “There were many times I questioned the logic of repairing a car with so much rust.”
This T/A’s owner found his vehicle’s assembly-line buildsheet nestled between the springs
Gold cast-aluminum wheels, aka Snowflakes, came standard with the Y84 Special Edition pack
Clarence says it was Billy’s tenacity, dedication, and body-shop experience that ultimately saved the low-mileage Trans Am from a premature fate. Extracting rust-free metal from a donor ’79 Firebird, Billy welded in new metal panel by panel; had the body media-blasted; and prepped, primed, sanded, and sealed the metal. Then Orlando’s Bruce Bennett Auto Body applied two-stage Starlight Black/clear, followed by wet-sanding with 600- to 3,000-grit sandpaper, followed by final polishing with 3M Perfect-It polish.
It turns out that Billy’s talents extend beyond bodywork. He installed Dynamat on the floors, roof, doors, and rear section to silence road noise; as well as reproduction upholstery, carpet, and other interior trim, which he sourced from Classic Industries.
With the aesthetics wrapped up, the two men pulled the wounded 301 and sent it to Clarence’s son-in-law, Jimmy Berube of Valdosta, Georgia, where the original code-WBJ block was found to be perfectly serviceable after it was cleaned up with a 0.030-inch overbore.
Oversize cast pistons were fitted to stock rods that swing on the throws of the original crank; a high- performance Melling oil pump was installed to ensure plenty of 10W30 stays between all of the moving parts; and a Milodon windage tray was enlisted to keep excessive oil off the crank and in the chromed oil pan.
The original heads and intake were retained, and the computer-controlled Quadrajet—which was restricted to 650 cfm—was replaced with a non-computerized equivalent, sending fuel and air into the combustion chambers to be ignited by AC R45TSX plugs, triggered by a Pertronix HEI unit firing through a set of Moroso Blue Max ignition wires. Total centrifugal timing is set at 26 degrees, all in by 2,600 rpm.
The interior features original-style Camel Tan seat covers and dash, but thanks to Auto Ad
… and a Kenwood GPS/DVD head unit mounted in a custom enclosure. Smokey and the Bandit II
In contrast, the mild 274-degree factory cam was swapped for a Comp hydraulic flat-tappet cam, featuring 264-degrees advertised duration. With the stock 1.5-ratio rocker arms in place, the lift checks out at 0.454 inch on both intake and exhaust as opposed to 0.350 inch with the stocker.
Stock Pontiac exhaust manifolds herd the spent gasses into a Pypes 2.5-inch polished-stainless exhaust system, featuring a 2.5-inch Tunnel X-pipe that balances the exhaust pulses for maximum scavenging and Street Pro mufflers.
The fuel and brake lines are polished stainless, as are all of the fasteners in and around the engine bay. Clarence and Billy spent a great deal of time polishing underhood factory aluminum pieces, while others were chromed to provide some eye-candy at shows.
The original Turbo 350 auto trans is stock, except for a finned aluminum pan installed to keep things cool. Out back, the factory 3.08 gears were replaced with steeper 3.23 cogs for a bit more grunt off the line. The original Safe-T-Track carrier ensures both rear wheels get equal treatment.
The suspension was upgraded with BMR polyurethane bushings throughout to reduce play between the major components; and Bilstein gas shocks, which plant the 225/70R15 BFG Radial T/As to the asphalt. Gold 15x7-inch Snowflake wheels frame stock brakes to slow the low-flying Bird.
Clarence’s desire to own a Trans Am may have begun with Smokey and the Bandit, but it was the sequel that actually inspired the purchase. Likewise, his original ownership experience of the car turned out to be far less meaningful than the second go-round.
Looking back at the five years they spent restoring the Trans Am together, Clarence and Billy say the most valuable gain from the project was the bond they had formed. “With me working abroad for more than six years of his life, and then the death of his mother in 2002, my son needed his father,” Clarence says. “We each restored ourselves.”