Forty years ago today on this date, 26 August 1977 one of the greatest films ever to be shown on the silver screen was realsed to the public in the UK. No, not Star Wars, because that wasn't released until 27 December 1977. I am of course talking about Smokey And The Bandit! Don't get me wrong, Star Wars was big too, but as a child with an ever growing Hotwheels and Matchbox car collection, Smokey And The Bandit was bigger! Sadly, my folks weren't too big on going to the cinema, and as an eight year old, I couldn't go alone. I had to wait two years or so until my Dad came home with a bootleg copy on Betamax! We settled down one evening to watch it. I had seen American cars before this, as I said, my HotWheels collection was very extensive. I was even developing a taste for them, my very first HotWheels car being King Kuda, which had me hankering after a 1969 Plymouth Barracuda from the age of four. But as I sat there on that hot and sultry summer evening watching Smokey And The Bandit for the first time two things happened to me. Firstly, this scene...
As Burt Reynolds piloted that black Trans Am out of the back of that trailer the ten year old me knew that I had to have one someday. Not, I would like one someday, I HAD to have one someday. I had seen a Firebird before, I was familier with Jim Rockfords gold Firebird on The Rockford Files, and I liked that one, but it wasn't anything like this one! This one was subtly different, it was black, and it had a big bird on the bonnet! I needed it! The other thing that changed in me was due to this scene...
Yep, Sally Fields bum! I'd never seen a bum like it, and to a ten year old boy, this was fantastic! It really was the first time I had looked at a woman and thought, damn, I've got to get me one like that one! In essence I needed to get two things, a black Trans Am, and a Sally Field! Both completely out of the reach of a ten year old boy! The years passed and I continued to absorb everything Firebird and Trans Am related, I watched Smokey And The Bandit over and over again until the Bootleg Betamax tape was worn out, and I could recite the dialogue word perfect, a feat I can still do to this day! I built countless plastic models, and bought every little Firebird that Matchbox, HotWheels, and anyone else who was making toy cars made. I bought magazines and books which had Firebirds and Trans Ams in. In short, I fed my ever growing desire to own one whilst waiting slowly to be old enough to drive. The day would surely come when I would be the Bandit. The day came eventually that I would learn to drive. I went to the BSM office to sign up for lessons, I filled in the form, and one of the questions on it read, what car would you like to own? Ha, easy, a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am. Back in 1987 when the guy took the form back off me he read it and chuckled, he said to me, you'll never own one of them unless you become some sort of rock star! I thought to myself, well, if thats what it takes! Well the years rolled by, and it was pretty soon fairly evident that I was not going to be a rock star. I'd bought a guitar, and tried to learn to play it, but to this day I still can't play it good enough to be a rock star, erm, or even a drunken busker! Various cars had come and gone, but still no Trans Am. Various girlfriends had come and gone too, but still no Sally Field, although to be fair to me their was a Dolly Parton, a Heather Locklear, and even a Cathrine Bach, so I wasn't complaining! But I'm getting away from the story, and away from the point! There was a time when even I started to doubt that I would ever get myself a Pontiac Firebird. But then something called the Internet happened. I started to browse the internet looking mostly at pictures of all sorts of wierd and wonderful things, and before long I discovered something called Ebay! Suddenly buying a car thousands of miles away in America would be no more difficult than buying one just around the corner. What I now needed to find was someone who could ship it across for me. I now had a purpose for browsing the internet, and it wasn't just to kill time! A flurry of activity took place and before long I had found several companies who could help me ship a car from America to England, better yet, they would pick up the car wherever it was in America, and ship it to a port just 16 miles from my home! All I had to do was roll up, and collect my car! Awesome! I tested the water, and bought myself a brand new Ford Mustang! I loved it, I still love it to this day, and although not a Firebird, it was to be a daily driver so I figured the newer the better! I had saved like crazy to buy that car, and infact, I'd saved too much, I had some money left over! Right then, armed with my new found knowledge of how to buy a car in America and ship it home, I hit Ebay again, this time for a second generation Pontiac Firebird. I had soon found one...
Yep, a barn find before the term was even coined and over-used! A one owner from new car that had been bought brand new in 1977, driven until 1982 then with just 28,000 odd miles on it, she parked in a her barn, and with the likes of David Hasselhoff strutting his stuff as Micheal Knight in Knight Rider she bought herself a new Trans Am. Leaving the 6.6 litre Firebird Formula to gather dust for almost thirty years! I watched as the Firebird slowly crept up in value until finally the last day of the auction was here. As the seconds counted down I got ready to pounce with my best bid, I had everything crossed, and with just seven seconds to go I hit 'confirm'. As the page refreshed, it came up that I had won the auction! Whoopeee! I contacted the seller straight away, arranged to pay her via a bank transfer, arranged the shipping, and just over a month later I was stood at the docks in Southampton to collect it.
It was dusty, both inside and out, but it was in fantastic condition. A good wash and a thorough polishing inside and out and I was looking at one very shiny Pontiac Firebird Formula.
But better than how great it looked, was how great it drove. It was almost like driving a new car.
With just over 28,000 miles on it I guess it pretty much was a new car, it even smelled like I thought a new car would smell like in the late seventies!
The best thing of all was that it wasn't actually a Trans Am, through the years of looking at Pontiac Firebirds in all their guises I had come to realise that the one for me was not actualy a Trans Am, but a Formula. I just preffered the cleaner lines of it, the lack of bodykit, but most of all, I liked the bonnet, and the fact that there was no screamin' chicken on it!
It was, in my mind. AWESOME! To this day this is one of the prettiest cars that I have ever owned, maybe even the prettiest. The funny thing was everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY told me that I'd bought the wrong one! Apparently the right one is black, and with the screamin' chicken on the bonnet. But for me, parked in a sea of black Trans Ams at a car show, mine stood out the most, mine was unique, I am an individual! But it mattered not to the officiandos who thought that if you were to have a second generation Firebird, then it must be black, like Burt Reynolds had in Smokey and the Bandit. I was not Burt! Except I was! Just not in Smokey and the Bandit, I was Burt in Hooper, where Burt drove a red Trans Am! But there was just one problem, I didn't want to be Burt at all, I was happy being me in my red Firebird, and this was great, as it was a great car, but like all good things it soon came to an end, and about a year after driving it for the first time I sold it. Why? Well, I thought I'd scratched that itch, but about a year and a bit later I realised that I hadn't! Back to the bay of E, and search for another one, but this wouldn't be like my first foray into Firebird ownership, this time I had specifics to meet. This time it would either need to be gold and have the earlier nose like Jim Rockfords car in The Rockford Files, or it needed to be black and have the later nose like in Smokey and the Bandit 2! Before too long I was sitting there waiting to pounce and put in my best bid on a black one. The seconds counted down and at the very last minute I stabbed in my best bid and waited for the screen to refresh. The screen refreshed and for the second time in my car owning history I became the owner of a second generation Firebird!
This one! It hs to be said that this one was not quite as good as the first, and this is often the way with sequels I have found! Have you seen Smokey And The Bandit 2... Have you seen Smokey And The Bandit 3?! Each one slightly worse than the previous one.
This one has had a few owners over the years, and my feeling is that they haven't all loved it as they should've.
Bodily it is pretty good, the paint is ok, the panels are pretty good, and there is no rust to speak of. The purist might not like the Camaro wheels, however they are from the same generation Camaro, and to my mind suit the look of the car very well.
Although it has a whole lot more miles on it than my frist one, it still drives very nicely, and is actually very good to drive.
The only thing that really lets it down is that the interior is a little bit scruffy, but it is a good solid car, that really could be made into a very nice Trans Am with a little bit of effort! Finally with my black Trans Am (yes it is a Trans Am despite not having the bodykit) I am the Bandit, I'm drunken Bandit in Smokey and the Bandit 2, but never-the-less I AM THE BANDIT, and lets not forget, that although he's a drunken mess, he still manages to get Frog!
There is just one small problem, as cool as this car is, I just don't love it. It drives well, and is fun to drive, and it looks nice too, but to my mind it doesn't look quite as good as my first one. I don't kow what its missing, but it's missing something that my first one had... Perhaps in reality, I don't want to be the Bandit?! Or perhaps its that the final facelift of the second generation Firebird wears my least favourite nose, and my first one wore my most favourite nose. But I shall cruise on in it for a while, enjoying being Burt for the second time, until such a time that I decided its time to let it go, and sell it on. Then, once it is gone, about a year or so later I'll get that familier itch to scratch, and once more the search will commence, and I will be...