Hollywood has always had fun with cars. After all, the car culture was started in America and Hollywood has largely created the visual history of America. Car chases, races, and crashes spice up a movie. But long before the animated film Cars hit the screen, there was a car used in a film that became just as popular if not more than the very popular human star of the movie. The film, as most High Performance Pontiac readers know, was Smokey and The Bandit, starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, Pat McCormick, Paul Williams, and Mike Henry. Let's not forget a stunning '76 Trans Am, dressed up to look like a '77 Special Edition Trans Am.
While there had been other cars as stars in movies—the '59 Stingray racer in Elvis Presley's 1967 movie Clambake; the '68 Mustang GT in Steve McQueen's 1968 movie Bullitt; the '70 440 R/T Challenger in Barry Newman's 1971 movie Vanishing Point; and a few others—no other movie car had the impact on its production counterpart like the black-and-gold Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit.
By the mid '70s, the Firebird was doing great thanks to a steady sales growth from '73 forward. By '75, even though it was the most expensive model in Pontiac's F-body line, the Trans Am was the most popular of all four Firebird models. And in '76, of the 110,779 Firebirds sold, 46,701 were Trans Ams. Meanwhile over at Chevrolet, there was no Z28 from the end of '74 to mid-'77, and the Corvette sold a total of 46,558 units in '76. There was a market for a reasonably priced, great-looking, and good-handling American muscle car. Guess what? The Pontiac Trans Am had the market all to itself.
Director Hal Needham cast country singer/songwriter Jerry Reed to be Smokey and the Bandit's original star, but when Needham's pal Burt Reynolds read the script, he wanted it. Reed became Cledus "Snowman" Snow, the big-rig driver. With Burt as The Bandit, Sally Field as the runaway bride, and Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice, filming began in 1976. Despite all the star power, the Bandit Trans Am stole the show.
Smokey and the Bandit was slated for a 1977 first-run, and Needham and Pontiac wanted the Trans Am to look like the '77 model. The four Trans Ams specially built for the movie were '76 Limited Editions restyled with the '77 front grille, four rectangular headlights, and bumper cover.
America was not in a good mood by 1977. There was a serious hangover from the Vietnam War, people were grumpy about Watergate and Nixon, the economy was in a slump, and serious muscle cars were dead. America was in the mood for some fun. Smokey and The Bandit fit the bill. By the end of 1977, it raked in $300 million in worldwide ticket sales, at an average ticket price of $2.25. (Star Wars was No. 1 with $460,998,007 in gross ticket sales.) Smokey and The Bandit was the year's feel-good movie.
Arguably, no other car ever benefitted more from a movie like the '77 Trans Am. With sales on a steady increase, Pontiac sold 155,736 Firebirds for the year, with 68,745 optioned as Trans Ams—that's 44.1 percent. Of the total Trans Ams sold, 15,567 were Special Edition optioned cars. Meanwhile at Chevrolet, the Z28 was reintroduced and sold only 14,349 units.
The Trans Am was GM's new halo car. While the Special Edition accounted for only 22.6 percent of all Trans Ams, Smokey and The Bandit drew attention to Firebirds and especially the Trans Am. For a few years, it seemed like Trans Ams were everywhere!
The Trans Am was already a premium automobile with a starting price of $5,456. (The Z28 started at $5,170; the Corvette at $8,647.) Like the '76 50th Anniversary Edition, the '77 Special Edition option was available in two flavors. Without the Hurst Hatch T-top option, the package cost $556, bringing the total to $6,012. With the Hurst Hatch, the package cost $1,141, bringing the total to $6,597.
As with all Pontiac cars, there was a slew of creature comfort and convenience options that could be added on top of the Special Edition package.
The basic Trans Am package came with a 400ci engine with 180hp and a choice of the three-speed Turbo 350 or four-speed manual transmission. The body kit was the standard Trans Am fair—a deep front spoiler with front spats, reverse-facing Shaker scoop, front fender vents, rear wheel spats, big flipper rear spoiler, dual sport side-view mirrors with driver-side remote control, and graphics.
The 15x8-inch steel rally wheels were shod with GR70-15 steel-belted radial tires and the brakes were discs up front and drums out back. The suspension was Radial Tuned and included quick-ratio power steering, oversized front and rear anti-sway bars, heavy-duty shocks, and a Safe-T-Track limited-slip rear.
Interior goodies included a machine-turned instrument panel, rally gauges with a tachometer and clock, a console, and a Formula steering wheel. The optional W72 400ci engine was rated at 200 hp and had chrome valve covers. Even a regular Trans Am was special in 1977.
The black-and-gold Special Edition visually took the Trans Am to the next level. The extensive gold pinstriping accentuated the Trans Am's bodylines. The gold Snowflake wheels and Trans Am decals added bling to the overall look. The interior featured a gold anodized, machine-turned instrument panel; the Formula steering wheel had gold spokes; and the console and door handles had gold trim. Inside and out, the '77 S/E Trans Am Firebird was very rich looking.
Not to sound like a '70s infomercial, but wait—there's more! Other available options included air conditioning for $478, an AM/FM stereo radio for $233, a CB radio for $195 (on top of the regular or stereo-radio option), an 8-Track tape player for $134, and the tilt-steering wheel for $57. There were also stacks of niceties options to customize the car.
Hollywood will always find reasons to turn cars into stars in made-for-fun films. But arguably, none had the impact on the sales of special-edition production cars like the stunning, black-and-gold '77 Special Edition Trans Am.
"That's a big 10-4, good buddy! What's your handle?"