What Year Is The Smokey And The Bandit Trans Am?

smokey and the bandit car

There are few cars as iconic as the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am featured in the classic road action comedy franchise ‘Smokey and the Bandit.’ The midnight black pony car with gold highlights and a phoenix decal on the hood is every bit as big a movie star as Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields, and Jackie Gleason. To this day, people are still willing to pay considerable amounts of cash for a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am.

The ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ Trans Am Wasn’t The 1977 Model

‘Smokey and the Bandit’ was released in Los Angeles on July 29, 1977, so it’s understandable that viewers thought the Pontiac Trans Am featured in the film was the model released that year.

Depending on who you ask, either lead actor Burt Reynolds or director Hal Needham chose the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am as the film’s feature car after seeing an advertisement for it. They approached Pontiac and asked for permission to feature the company’s new vehicle.

smokey and the bandit trans am
Pontiac gave modified examples of the 1976 Firebird Trans Am Special Edition to the ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ filmmakers.

This was in 1976. At that time, Pontiac was still working on the 1977 Trans Am. They could not spare one unit, much less several. And given what happened to the cars they eventually gave to the filmmakers, their reluctance was a good thing for the unfinished model.

What Model Year Is The Pontiac Trans Am In ‘Smokey and the Bandit’?

If there were no 1977 Pontiac Trans Am units available, then what was in the film? And why did it look exactly like the 1977 model?

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Well, Pontiac gave modified examples of the 1976 Firebird Trans Am Special Edition to the ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ filmmakers.

There were four modified 1976 Pontiac Trans Ams provided for the movie. By the time filming ended, three had been wrecked and the last could barely run.

The famous bridge jumping scene required the installation of a rocket to help boost the Trans Am into the air, and the landing totaled it. It and the other wrecked cars became spare parts sources for the vehicles that still ran. No one knows where the final survivor went after filming wrapped up.

Differentiating Between The 1976 and 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

One of the best ways to tell the two Pontiac Trans Am model years apart is to check their headlights. The 1976 Trans Am used two large round headlights, a feature that it shared with the Chevrolet Camaro.

In comparison, the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am ditched those headlights for quad rectangular assemblies. Later Trans Ams would keep the new headlights while the old design would continue to see use on the Chevrolet Camaro.

Other changes included a revised hood and shaker scoop. The first batch of 1977 Pontiac Trans Am units featured a scoop that was positioned off center. Both the scoop and the hood were reduced in profile compared to the earlier second-generation Trans Am model years.

1976 pontiac trans am
The 1976 Trans Am used two large round headlights, a feature that it shared with the Chevrolet Camaro.

How Did Pontiac Make the 1976 Trans Am Look Like The 1977 Trans Am?

So what did Pontiac do to make the 1976 Firebird Trans Am look like the upcoming 1977 model? It replaced the bumper of the 1976 model with the more aggressive-looking one from the 1977 model. It also replaced the 1976 Trans Am’s round headlights with the 1977’s distinct quad.

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There were other changes, too. The 1976 Firebird Trans Am used cubic inches to measure the engine size callouts on its hood scoop. The 1977 model switched to liters as its unit of measurement. Pontiac altered the measurements on the 1976 Trans Am units that it gave to the ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ filmmakers. Instead of cubic inches, they now used liters.

Pontiac Promised To Give Burt Reynolds A Free 1977 Trans Am

Today, the Pontiac Trans Am owes much of its iconic popularity to ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’ so it might come as a surprise that Pontiac didn’t want to lend its name or its car to the film at first.

Pontiac’s reluctance was understandable. ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ was an action comedy. It didn’t promise to tell a dramatic tale. It also lacked star power. Burt Reynolds was good, but he wasn’t considered on the same level as Charlton Heston or Marlon Brando at the time.

Eventually, Pontiac agreed to let its Trans Am grace the big screen. It also promised to give Burt Reynolds a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am for free if ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ made it big at the box office.

‘Smokey and the Bandit’ became 1977’s second best grossing film, only losing out to Star Wars. It also made the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am an American icon.

Drivers dressed up like Bandit and wanted to drive the same car. The movie increased sales of the Trans Am for two years and kept the production line for second-generation units alive longer.

Pontiac, however, took years to deliver on its promise to Reynolds. When it did, the company gave the actor a 1978 Trans Am instead of a 1977 model. Reynolds accepted the late, not exactly accurate car and customized it to better resemble the one that his character Bandit drove in the classic movie. He later sold it during an auction.

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About the Pontiac Trans Am

The 1976 and 1977 Pontiac Trans Am both belonged to the second generation of the Pontiac Firebird. A pony car intended to compete with the Ford Mustang, the Firebird shared the F-body chassis with the Chevrolet Camaro. GM owned both Chevrolet and Pontiac, and the approach of shared body platforms helped save development and production costs.

Trans Am was a specialty package for the Pontiac Firebird that upgraded its performance and altered its appearance. It’s technically a Firebird variant and not a different model, but most people call it the Pontiac Trans Am rather than the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.

FAQs

  • What year was ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ released?
    ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ was released in 1977.

  • How did Pontiac make the 1976 Trans Am look like the 1977 Trans Am?
    Pontiac modified the 1976 Trans Am by replacing the bumper, headlights, and engine size callouts to resemble the 1977 Trans Am.

  • Did Pontiac give Burt Reynolds a free 1977 Trans Am?
    Yes, Pontiac promised to give Burt Reynolds a free 1977 Trans Am if ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ became successful, although he received a 1978 Trans Am instead.

Conclusion

The Pontiac Trans Am featured in ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ may have looked like a 1977 model, but it was actually a modified 1976 Firebird Trans Am. Pontiac made several changes to give it the appearance of the upcoming model year. The film’s success boosted the popularity of the Trans Am and made it an American icon. Despite the delays, Pontiac eventually fulfilled its promise to Burt Reynolds, solidifying the connection between the car and the movie. The Pontiac Trans Am remains a beloved classic among car enthusiasts to this day.

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