By Larry Printz
Imagine a day at the beach, followed by a night on the town. You’re tired and ready for a peaceful night’s sleep. You pull into the parking lot of your hotel only to find that most parking spaces have been taken by black 1977-78 Pontiac Trans Ams. Another handful are consumed by Snowman’s tractor-trailer. Have you stepped onto a movie set? Did you imbibe too much?
No. You’ve stumbled onto The Bandit Run.
“It’s fun because we take over hotels, restaurants, and gas stations,” said Dave Hall, creator of the event and owner of Restore A Muscle Car, a car restoration business in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Hall and shop customer David Hersey created The Bandit Run in 2006 as a way to commemorate the following year the 30th anniversary of the film “Smokey and the Bandit.”
Hall had the group traverse the same route as the movie, driving from Texarkana, Texas, to Atlanta. That that initial run attracted more than 100 car owners speaks to the film’s enduring appeal. A similar number joined the run this year.
And while the film’s stars Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Reed brought charisma to the big screen, there’s no denying that the picture’s greatest star didn’t receive any billing at all: the black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am accented in gold pinstripes with a screaming chicken decal on its hood and driven by Reynolds.
For a generation of adolescent boys with Farah Fawcett posters on their bedroom walls, the Pontiac’s brash nature was the height of high school cool. Every boy wanted one. Now, those who have them pay a $90 entry fee to run them in the annual event.
For that amount, the drivers get hotel discounts, vehicle decals, a grab bag of goodies and a support truck, not to mention a week of driving through the United States.
But you don’t have to be a disco-decade aficionado to participate; any make or model of car can partake in the event.
“We do not discriminate by any means,” said Hall. “Perhaps over 90 percent of the cars are going to be Trans Ams, but we have some Corvettes, some Camaros, we’ve had GTOS, Chargers, a little bit of everything. We even have a couple pickups.”
This year’s run started at the GM Nationals in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and finished in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We checked in with the group as it arrived in Portsmouth, Virginia.
Hall already is working on next year’s route.
Unlike the film that it commemorates, the Run’s speeds are mild not wild; it’s a cruise, not a race. Think of it as a vacation built around the love of a car and a film.
“I like the people. I like the camaraderie,” said Roy Smith of Williamsburg, Virginia. Smith drove his 1996 Pontiac Trans Am Comp T/A in the 2014 run.
“We all have this in common and it’s really interesting to get to know people from all over the country.”
No doubt. Let’s sample some of them:
“When I was younger I had GTOs. But the Trans Am was always that car I always wanted but for some reason or another never bought. It is a car I’ve always wanted that I just never got until seven years ago.”
Drew Demarco, Baltimore, Maryland, 1981 Pontiac Trans Am SE
Sash Popovic, Kitchener, Ontario, 1976 and 2002 Pontiac Trans Ams
No kidding. Popovic owns a 2002 Collector’s Edition with 11,000 miles as well as a 1976 Trans Am he bought about 26 years ago. “I guess it’s a car thing,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
“We’ve had a couple of these cars in the family. It’s a car I always wanted, not so much because of the movie, but because I graduated in 1979.”
Joe Talotta, Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania, 1979 Pontiac Trans Am (also a 1980 Firebird and 1981 Firebird Formula)
“Car people are good people. Any car event that we’ve ever been involved in is just like this. It’s not different; it’s just unique because it’s one car. The first year you’re nervous because you don’t know anybody. We know people from all over the world now.”
Larry Smith, with his wife, Susan, Franklin, Illinois, 2002 Pontiac Trans Am