Everything That Made The Trans Am From Smokey And The Bandit So Special

Launched on the big screen in 1977, Smokey and the Bandit revolves around two bootleggers attempting to illegally transport 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta. The film was a sleeper hit, and following a poor initial performance, it went on to gross $126.7 million in North America, versus a budget of only $4.3 million. It was the second-highest-grossing movie of 1977 after Star Wars.

On top of Burt Reynold’s top-notch acting, Smokey and the Bandit is also famous for the Pontiac Trans Am *that the actor drove throughout the film. If you are a fan of the movie, you already know that there were actually a total of seven movies, three of which were produced for the big screen and four which were created for TV.

With all that in mind, here is everything you should know about one of the most iconic movie cars ever, the Pontiac Trans Am used in the 1977 version of Smoky and the Bandit.

Updated May 7, 2023: Even though Smoky and the Bandit first appeared in movie theatres over 45 years ago, it is still a go-to movie on a rainy day when you are stuck inside with the family. The Trans Am that Reynolds drives is an awesome example of an old-school muscle car that we would all love to get behind the wheel of, which is why we have added a few more entries to this list to get you drooling once again.

RELATED: 10 Things You May Have Forgotten About The Pontiac Firebird/Trans Am

12 What Car Was Used In Smoky And The Bandit?

A parked 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

Front and side view of a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

While the cars in the film look like 1977-model-year Trans Ams, they were actually 1976 models. When filming began, the 1977 model wasn’t out yet, so General Motors provided 1976 cars with front clips from the soon-to-be-released 1977 update. The differences between the two are significant. The 1977 features rectangular quad headlamps instead of only two round lights, a unique slanted and V-shaped nose, and a center-mounted hood scoop. As for what was under the hood, the 400 cid was basically the same from 1976 and 1977, so there was no need to swap out the existing engine for one that would be placed into the upcoming model.

11 The 6.6-Liter Decal Was There For The Appearance Of Power

A parked Pontiac Trans Am 6.6L

Passenger side view of a 6.6L engine in a Pontiac Trans Am 6.6L

As a publicity stunt, the Trans Ams used in the movie had different decals on the hood scoop. The sticker read “T/A 6.6,” which was a reminder of the engine’s 6.6-liter displacement. This slight modification reminded viewers of Trans Am models from 1969, which had over 300 horsepower. Although 1977 models also featured 6.6-liter engines, they were rated at only 200 horses. The change was somewhat strange as most automakers used cubic-inch numerals to advertise engines. Of course, it’s difficult to assess whether these small decals did something to change buyer perception about the Trans Am, but it’s an exciting part of the Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am’s history.

10 How Many Trans Ams Were Used In Smoky And The Bandit?

A parked 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

Front and side view of a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

Pontiac gave Needham a total of four cars, three to use in the movie and one as a promotional vehicle to drive around and advertise Smokey and the Bandit following its release. The three movie cars were destroyed during various stunts, so the promo car is the only surviving Trans Am connected to this film. In addition to the four Trans Ams, Needham also received two Pontiac LeMans models to serve as patrol cars in the movie.

RELATED: Time Travel With Jay Leno’s Garage and Learn About the 1979 Pontiac Trans Am

9 Smoky And The Bandit Helped Pontiac Sell Trans Ams Like Crazy

A parked 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

Front and side view of a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am 

Director Hal Needham intended Smokey and the Bandit to be one of the best product placement films ever. He succeeded as far as the Pontiac Trans Am is concerned because sales of the coupe exploded after the film hit the silver screen, setting unprecedented records for the Pontiac and Firebird nameplates. The Trans Am was already pretty popular in the mid-1970s, with sales hitting 68,745 units in 1977. However, 1978 returned sales of 93,351 examples, a jump of around 25,000 cars. Sales soared even higher in 1979 when Pontiac moved 117,108 Trans Ams.

8 Trans Am Sales Were So Good Pontiac Delayed Production Of The Third-Gen Firebird

A parked 1982 Pontiac Firebird SE

Front and side view of a 1982 Pontiac Firebird SE 

Sales were so high Pontiac decided to delay the third-generation model. The redesign was initially planned for 1980, but 1978 and 1979 became record years for GM’s division, so the new model was pushed back. In 1978, Pontiac delivered 93,351 Trans Ams and 93,944 regular Firebirds for a grand total of 187,295 cars. 1979 was equally successful for the brand, joining 1978 to create Pontiac’s best sales years ever. The third-generation Firebird was introduced in 1982, *a full two years later than planned. And it was worth it for the brand, as the nameplate sales declined following the redesign.

7 The Engine Noise In The Movie Is From A 1955 Chevy Custom

A parked Pontiac Trans Am 6.6L
Mr. choppers via Wikimedia Commons

Front view of a 6.6L engine in a Pontiac Trans Am

Regular film-goers might not pay much attention to the car’s engine sound, but gearheads will quickly notice that something is off. That’s because the Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit didn’t sound like a Trans Am. The sound came from a 1955 Chevrolet Custom, the same car used in Two-Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti, films launched in 1971 and 1973, respectively. So why did they go with sound effects instead of the Trans Am’s actual exhaust noise? They simply considered that the Trans Am didn’t sound intimidating enough.

RELATED: 10 Incredible Movie Cars That You Might Have Forgotten About

6 The Pontiac Trans Am Almost Wasn’t Used In Smoky And The Bandit

A parked 1977 Pontiac Trans Am SE

Front and side view of a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am SE

The muscle car market peaked in the late 1960s, as the car was becoming larger, more powerful, and more aggressive by looks. However, the U.S. government introduced new emission controls in 1972, and automakers had to step back. Many nameplates lost their performance credentials, and some of them, like the Ford Mustang, were redesigned without a V-8 engine. Some weren’t that lucky and were discontinued altogether. A strike at General Motors in 1972 limited the production of the Trans Am to less than 1,300 units that year, and Pontiac almost canceled the nameplate. Chevy almost did the same with its counterpart, the Camaro. Luckily, both cars survived, and the Trans Am became famous only five years later.

5 Trans Am Was Not Going As Fast As Most Viewers Thought

A parked 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

Interior view of the gauges in a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

Numerous scenes throughout the movie flash a vision of the speedometer. For most viewers, the speed picked up is the one with the needle pointing at 100+. As Sally Fields so nicely pointed out in one scene, screaming out that they were going 110. The truth is that at that moment, and in most of the other scenes, the car was actually only traveling around 70 miles per hour because the speedometer was also showing the speed in kilometers per hour, which is the speed that most of the viewers were looking at when the camera focused on the gauges.

4 All Four Trans Ams In Smoky In The Bandit Were Destroyed

A parked 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

Side and partial front view of a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

As mentioned, there were four initial Trans Ams given to the producers of Smoky and the Bandit by GM to use throughout the movie. It is well documented that all of these cars (that’s right, all four Trans Ams) were destroyed in the making of the film. If you watch the movie, you can see some of the stunts in which the damage would have been done. As a true gearhead, you know that no matter how fun those stunts look, few cars on the market could hold up to the abuse it causes.

RELATED: Top 10 Most Iconic Cars in Movie History

3 Burt Reynolds Never Received The 1977 Trans Am He Was Promised

A parked 1978 Pontiac Trans Am

Side view of a 1978 Pontiac Trans Am 

Like many of the hot stars in the movies, they not only get a massive amount of cash to portray one of the main characters, but they also get a car in thanks for giving the brand free advertising. GM, after they were convinced to use the Trans Am in the Smoky and the Bandit movie, decided to offer Burt Reynolds a 1977 Trans Am after the film had been produced and the cars were rolling off the assembly lines. That never happened in 1977. In fact, Burt Reynolds never saw a car from GM until 1978, *when he received a 220-hp version of the vehicle he had used throughout the first movie.

2 1977 Pontiac LeMans Police Car Would Have Outperformed The 1976 Trans Am

A parked 1977 Pontiac LeMans
Mecum Auctions

Side and front view of a 1977 Pontiac LeMans

The car that most classic car lovers focus on, even today, is the Trans Am that Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields consistently drove away from the police in, especially Sheriff Buford T. Justice. The thing is, though, Buford was given a 1977 Pontiac LeMans to drive around in. *A LeMans that had a 400 cid Police Interceptor under the hood. Now you all know that the basic 6.6L in the Trans Am only pushed out 200 horses and 320 pound-feet of torque. On the other hand, the 6.6L Police Interceptor has a horsepower rating of 200 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque without the extra boost given by adding the police package.

1 The Final Car Was A Prop That Had To Be Pushed

A parked 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

If you have ever been to a movie filming, it is evident that not everything you see on the big screen is as it actually appears. That can definitely be said about the final scene with the Trans Am because by then, all three of the cars to be used in the movie were destroyed, leaving the prop car. A prop that was not all it was cracked up to be, so it had to be pushed into position to even be able to be filmed in the correct locations. Even though it looked great on film, it was almost a time in history when GM had to fork over another car simply to finish off the film.


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