For some, the car's the star
To a generation of adolescent boys with Farrah Fawcett posters on their bedroom walls, the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am was every bit as sexy as the buxom blonde, an image burnished by the 1977 film “Smokey and the Bandit.”
For those of you who haven't seen it — and there may be some — the movie concerns a truck driver named Snowman and his efforts to haul an illegal load of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas, to Atlanta. At the time, Coors couldn't legally be sold east of the Mississippi River. Snowman's advance man, Bandit, plays the decoy for police to allow Snowman to slip by undetected.
And while actors Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Reed add much to the proceedings, the picture's greatest star didn't receive any billing: the black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am decorated in gold stripes with a thunder chicken decal on its hood, and driven by Reynolds.
“It came out the same week that ‘Star Wars' was released,” remembers Dave Hall of Lincoln, Neb. “If I wasn't seeing ‘Star Wars,' I was seeing ‘Smokey and the Bandit.' It is definitely one of my favorite movies.”
So much so that in 2006, Hall, the owner of Restore A Muscle Car restoration shop, hatched a plan over dinner with one of his customers, David Hersey. They would re-create the movie's chase from Texas to Georgia in commemoration of the film's 30th anniversary. And so was launched The Bandit Run in 2007.
Now in its eighth year, the event attracts more than 100 cars and their owners on an annual trek somewhere in the United States. This year, the Run finished on Thursday in Myrtle Beach, S.C., having started at the GM Nationals in Carlisle, Pa., on June 20. The tour stopped in Virginia Beach for two days this week.
“You know, it's all about having fun and being on the road,” said Hall, standing near a re-creation of Snowman's tractor-trailer. “I have people here from Florida and Texas who took several days just to get up to our starting point up in Carlisle. And they drove them the whole way.”
For some, such passion is hard to imagine for a movie that was unanimously panned by critics upon its release. So it's worth considering that the public embraced the film, so much so that it earned $126 million and went on to spawn two sequels. Even more remarkably, it was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
But for participants of The Bandit Run, none of that cultural dross matters. For them, the car is the star.
“We have a blast,” said Drew Demarco of Baltimore, standing beside his 1981 Pontiac Trans Am SE. “The cars are quite a show.”
The Bandit Run's price of entry is not steep — participants pay $90 to join the run; hotels, food and fuel are extra.
It's that last part that can get pricey. Given that a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am returns 13 mpg at best, and cars travel as much as 300 miles between stops, a daily fuel bill can easily eat up the best part of $100.
Thankfully, you don't have to own a 1977-81 Trans Am to participate; any car or truck can partake.
And then there are the breakdowns.
“Definitely, we're going to have something, somewhere along the line,” Hall said. “It's a mechanical item that we're driving and you're going to have problems. It's just a part of it.”
Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in Virginia Beach. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.