You'd have needed a pretty special co-star to steal the thunder from Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason in Hal Needham's smash-hit comedy Smokey And The Bandit. Well, the producers found one; it was the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am.
Gleason's portrayal as a no-nonsense, Texas sheriff may have had viewers in stitches while Burt, at the top of his game in the late Seventies, undoubtedly wooed the ladies in his charismatic turn as 'Bandit'. But both were outdone by that T/A.
Armed with a 6.6-litre V8 to help it outrun the law, Reynolds clearly had a field day melting the tyres from Atlanta to Texarkana and back. In one of many memorable scenes, it leapt a dismantled bridge -- arguably the greatest car jump in Hollywood history -- without the use of any special effects. "I want to jump something else!" exclaimed Frog (Field). Fans of the movie need no reminding of Burt's hilarious reply, but if you'd forgotten all about those second-generation Firebirds, then here's a welcome reminder.
The T/A proved there was a performance car still available during a decade where the word 'horsepower' was only whispered and emission laws had choked those potent V8s of the Sixties. Buyers of sporty GTs had watched balefully as the Barracuda, Challenger and Javelin were consigned as museum pieces, but the Firebird outlived them all. Though it did have its wings clipped and the '77 T/A with the Pontiac 400 made a modest 220bhp, it was the best you could get. Those with the Oldsmobile 403 had less oomph, but the styling, graphics and overall polish made the Pontiac truly memorable. The movie didn't hurt either as sales soared from 100,000 in '76 to almost double by '78.
The T/A had a hot image, which drove its popularity, while the Special Edition package included Hurst t-tops, gold pinstriping and a formula steering wheel with gold spokes. It was an eye-catcher but the standard goodies such as the front fender air extractors, shaker hood scoop and rear decklid spoiler were already enough to leave many weak at the knees.
'Horsepower' may not have been a popular word in the American car-builders' vocabulary back then but 'handling' sure was. In that respect, it could go, stop and turn with all the alacrity its racing heritage demanded. Pontiac gave it such razor-sharp reflexes and flat cornering that it handled better than the Mustang and Camaro. What's more, the four-passenger sports coupé even put the two-seat Corvette of the same year to shame.
It might be OTT for some, but look past all the tinsel, and the '77 T/A is, and will always be, a beauty. Want to be the 'Bandit' and looking for your own t-top car? You might want one with frame connectors installed to improve rigidity. Also, the doors are huge and will start to sag and these F-bodies tend to rust pretty badly. But, when it comes to restoring these cars, the reproduction parts supply is very good, meaning you can still live the dream. Just leave any broken bridges for Burt...