Smokey and the Bandit is one of the greatest car movies ever made. Let’s take a look at that Firebird Trans Am that Burt Reynolds drove.
Every time I hear that Jerry Reed song, I picture that sleek black muscle car with that golden bird across the hood speeding down highways with Burt Reynolds behind the wheel. Watching “ol’ Bandit run” between state lines with Snowman and his big rig makes for an entertaining show. Smokey and the Bandit came out back in 1977 and went on to have three cult classic movies in the series featuring the duo as they bested different law enforcement officers in comedic and action-packed ways.
While it has been well over 40 years since Smokey started messing with Sheriff Buford T. Justice, the movies and the car that sped throughout them are still considered a pop culture phenomenon today. Let’s get “loaded up and truckin’” as we check out the Smokey and the Bandit car and a couple other vehicles from one of our favorite car movies.
The Smokey and the Bandit car changes through all three movies, but they’re all a version of the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. The first movie, and the most iconic, features a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in that black and gold paint scheme with Pontiac “Snowflake” wheels and that classic T-top roof. Only three Trans Ams were used for the first movie (one of them being a ‘76 with the front bumper swapped) and the only changes they made to the cars were some additional safety equipment.
That is, except for one version that received a manual transmission and a 750 horsepower NASCAR engine for the famous bridge jump. Sadly, all of these cars were scrapped when production ended, but they were basically already dead by the end of the movie. The stunt crew beat on the Trans Ams so hard that the film crew had to push the remaining car into place to finish some of the closing shots for the movie.
Following Smokey and the Bandit’s success in theaters, the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am was flying off dealership lots. And good luck trying to get a black one back then, you’d have been put on a long waiting list to snag a Bandit lookalike. Even the Bandit himself, Burt Reynolds, had to wait to get his hand on one after he was promised one if the movie succeeded.
Burt finally got a 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that came stock with a 220-horsepower engine, but he ramped it up to over 600 horsepower with performance parts and tuning in true Bandit fashion. Burt Reynolds went on to purchase and mold multiple different Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams into movie replicas for his own personal collection over the years.
The next movie, Smokey and the Bandit II, featured the same cast and an updated version of the Trans Am. The second version of the Smokey and the Bandit car was a 1980 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that had a similar paint job, the updated front end, and gold “Turbine” style wheels. The 1980 models featured a turbocharged 4.9L Pontiac V8, but that still wasn’t enough power for the stunt personnel.
The production team mounted a nitrous oxide system (NOS) to two of the three models used for filming. This allowed them to pump up the cars performance when needed for a boost of speed when preforming a jump or to really kick out the tires for a burnout. All three of Bandit’s Trans Ams for this movie were destroyed in similar fashion to the previous movie.
Pontiac once again saw decent sales numbers for their Trans Am following the second movie. Burt Reynolds was promptly given a 1980 movie replica Trans Am this time around, but he decided to hand it off to his co-star, Jerry Reed, since Reynolds was promised the newer 1981 model (the same car that he was featured in an advertisement for).
The third and final movie, Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, didn’t feature Burt Reynolds behind the wheel. Instead, Jerry Reed got his time as the “Bandit” after having been the trucking sidekick, Cledus “Snowman” Snow, for the past two movies. The actor wore a mustache and complete getup similar to Burt’s from the previous films and was seated behind the wheel of a third generation 1983 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.
While Reed’s version of the car still had the T-top and iconic paint scheme (albeit, toned down significantly), that’s about where the similarities end. Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 was considered a flop at the box office, but Pontiac’s sales numbers still saw a boost thanks to another famous Trans Am featured in the Knight Rider television show.
Now, that slick looking Trans Am wasn’t the only vehicle prominently featured in the Smokey and the Bandit movies, it had some vehicular co-stars too. The first couple of examples were driven by Snowman. In the first movie, Snowman pilots a 1974 Kenworth W-900 A that’s similarly painted to the Bandit’s Trans Am in black and gold. Attached to it was a trailer that featured an intricate mural along both sides (plus a couple hundred cases of Coors inside).
Snowman got his next semi-truck by accomplishing the double or nothing bet between movies that was set at the end of the first movie. In Smokey and the Bandit II, Snowman can be found driving a 1980 GMC General with a silver and blue paint scheme. The trailer changed, but the mural found its way on to the updated trailer still. That semi-truck had the pleasure of hauling Charlotte the elephant, definitely some interesting cargo in comparison to cases of beer.
Throughout all of the movies, Big and Little Enos Burdette are the big gamblers that get all the movies put into action. We only see their car in the first and last movie, but it has as pompous of a personality as they do. A bright red 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado convertible that has whitewall tires, matching red interior, and big bull horns on the hood.
Then there’s the “smokies” themselves, Sheriff Buford T. Justice and his son Junior. The law enforcement duo went through a couple different cars, but so did all the other officers throughout the series. The original car we found them in was a brown 1977 Pontiac LeMans that was suited up as a Sheriff’s cruiser featuring the big star badge on the doors and some roof lighting. That’d be the car that turned into a convertible real quick when Buford drove under a metal beam. “Daddy, the top come off.” Thanks Junior…
The next movie put the Sheriffs into 1980 Pontiac Bonneville that was dressed up in similar country Sheriff fashion. That car took a pretty good beating, as it was ran into by a semi-truck, stuck and fell off a drawbridge, and was even flipped onto its roof by the Steelers own Mean Joe Greene. Then in the final movie, when Buford took on the challenge to get a stuffed shark from Miami to Texas, he drove a blue 1983 Pontiac Bonneville, again with the lights and big ol’ Sheriff sticker. The Bonneville ended up as a bare bones chassis with wheels by the end.
No other movie has captured the raw thrill of speeding down highways and being chased by the law in as thrilling and comedic a way as the Smokey and the Bandit movies have. Burt Reynolds speeding down roads in a black and gold Trans Am has, and will live on as an icon for film buffs and car enthusiasts alike for a long while. This movie set out to “do what they say can’t be done”, and they succeeded in spectacular fashion.