As film plots go, Smokey And The Bandit is particularly flimsy.
Bo ‘Bandit’ Darville (Burt Reynolds), is a hot-shoe truck rodeo driver approached by a wealthy, and extremely thirsty, businessman looking to throw a party in the dry state of Georgia. He offers the Bandit $80,000 if he can drive from Atlanta, GA to Texarkana, TX and return within 28 hours, bringing back with him a truck-load of bootleg Coors beer.
Being the world-class opportunist he is, Bo insists on an advance to buy a brand-new 1977 Pontiac Trans Am to act as an
Punch the route into Google Maps, and you’ll notice it’s a fairly casual 19-hour round trip. Problem is,
Now, decades after Smokey And The Bandit cemented the Trans Am into muscle-car folklore, the screaming chicken has been reborn. Pontiac is no longer with us, but the team at Trans Am Worldwide (TAW), new owners of the Trans Am name, have done a remarkable job of converting a Chevrolet Camaro SS into the authentic tribute you see here.
This is the range-topping Bandit Edition, complete with removable T-top panels, black and gold in all the right places, and a 7.4-liter V8 with a 2.9-liter twin-screw supercharger producing 717hp and 1,132Nm—that’s more twist than the twin-turbo V12 in a Mercedes-AMG SL65. Yikes. And before you ask, yes, it comes with a Stetson as standard.
Our mission is simple: To take the ’77 Trans Am’s spiritual successor and follow in its father’s tracks. We have 28 hours to buy some beer in Texas and get back to our starting point—the very Lakewood Fairgrounds in Atlanta where Bandit once plied his trade. Sounds easy? In the movies, perhaps, but in the real world, eating, sleeping, refueling
00:00 I’ve massively underestimated the time and care it takes to cultivate facial hair anywhere close to Burt’s glossy ’tache. I gave myself a week and now look like a 15-year-old who’s shaded his upper lip with a pencil in a sorry attempt to get served his first beer. No matter, this is America, and there are all sorts of strange-looking people here. Maybe I’ll blend in.
We grab the keys to our Trans Am in the Lakewood Fairgrounds. Within minutes a policeman pulls up and tells us to “unleash those hungry horses, boys”. I eye him and his enthusiasm suspiciously—he’s clearly lulling us into a false sense of security before warning his radar-wielding Smokey buddies up ahead that a fast-moving Trans Am is on its way. Then again, he could just be friendly.
01:15 Disaster narrowly averted. With the T-roof open and the panels stored in the boot, the wind whips off my Stetson and snapper Webb Bland takes a glorious overhead catch. Burt’s must have been glued on.
03:05 First fuel stop in Holly Pond, Alabama, 265km into the trip. That sort of range doesn’t bode well for a schedule with less wiggle room than Coulthard’s tighty whities. There’s no such thing as a
After giving a third stranger the full tour—this includes pointing out Burt Reynold’s endorsement signature on the dash, the buxom lady on the aircon graphics, and original ’77 Trans Am font on the dials—we make our excuses and run. But here’s the thing; to some this car will be the tackiest thing on four wheels, but here in the Deep South, it’s the second coming. We feel safe and accepted. Actually, scratch that, we feel like royalty—something exotic and Italian wouldn’t get this much attention.
03:55 We’ve found a hairpin in Alabama. Wasn’t expecting that. My explosion of excitement is diffused immediately when I can’t find a way to turn the traction control off. We decide to run the corner a few times anyway, to get a feel for the car, and there are some, erm, issues.
The first is the six-speed auto gearbox. It’s a proper old-school
It can go around corners, it just doesn’t really want to. But then, like the new Mustang, this isn’t a sports coupe in the European sense—it’s much lardier than that. You feel that weight in the turns, but
Then it catches, unleashing a war cry through the quad
04:20 Damn it. Have just discovered the traction control off button. Would dearly like to head back to the hairpin and see how it behaves fully lit, but the clock is ticking.
04:45 It’s raining. No matter, because even with the roof panels off, the drops fly straight over the top of us. Neat trick. This is a long, straight road, the cruise control is on, the engine is settled and we’re eating the miles—feels like the road trip has found its rhythm. Quite literally, in fact—we have country music on the radio and the interstate to ourselves. We’re going to Graceland, sort of, and I can’t stop smiling. It may have something to do with the four liters of sugary drink I’ve just ingested.
08:00 Beale Street in Memphis is an explosion of color and music courtesy of the back-to-back blues bars. We’re playing something a little more heavy metal out of our exhausts. It’s a hit—love for the Tranny is strong. Soon there’s a crowd firing questions at me: “How much power?”, “Is that a Pontiac?”, “How much does it cost?”, “What’s that on your lip?”. We humor them for a minute, but I wish I’d printed handouts for any curious bystanders, rather than repeating myself until blue in the face.
09:04 Pit stop at a Peterbilt truck dealer just outside Memphis, the same make as Cledus’s in the film. They haven’t changed much in the intervening 39 years—still perfectly bluff and unfeasibly shiny—the quintessential American big rig. I want one immediately and start weighing up parking options in central London.
09:10 Fuel stop number two: 690km covered. A dash light tells me we also require oil—worrying, as fluids were topped off when we set off this morning. Without a funnel to hand, an enthusiastic truck driver shows me how half a plastic bottle works just as well.
09:50 Sneaky. We slide between two lorries in the slow lane and allow a third to pass on the outside. For a few
11:38 Full disclosure: I’m feeling a bit tired now. I have horribly dry eyeballs. Want some genuine travel advice? The road from Memphis to Texarkana is seriously boring—avoid it at all costs. I find myself favoring binary throttle inputs to try to burn fuel quicker, so we can put the roof on and stretch our legs.
12:00 For no reason other than extreme boredom, we pull off the interstate and find a gravel road the Bandit would be proud of. Conclusion: 717hp and dirt
13:00 Fuel stop three: 999km. Putting the roof on takes 20 mins and requires biceps like Burt in his prime, but more important leaves Webb and I sweating profusely. This is much to the amusement of a group of schoolgirls who want to get a picture in front of the car. “Do you guys Snapchat?” one of them asks. We back away slowly, not entirely sure what this means.
13:02 An old-timer flags us down before we leave and regales us with the story of his ’66 Pontiac
13:21 A man in a Porsche 911 tries to race us at the lights, I let him go and luxuriate on the moral high ground. I don’t blame him for having a pop, though. Even idling at the lights the lumpy cams shake the entire car on its springs, while the shaker hood wobbles in front of us. This car is a weapon of mass antagonism.
14:13 Thirteen minutes behind schedule, we hit our halfway point. Texarkana, a town straddling the Texas/Arkansas border, isn’t somewhere worth hanging around for long, so we head straight for Chubby Cheeks Liquor—the finest, and quite possibly the only, drive-thru booze vendor in town.
14:46 We have the beer. Euphoria is quickly followed by melancholy, as we punch in our next stop. The Montgomery drag strip in Alabama is 901km back where we came
17:16 Fuel stop four: 1,384km driven. Our chosen gas station has a permanent cop assigned to it, sitting on the forecourt in his patrol car. This doesn’t fill me with confidence. How many murders does a gas station need before you get a permanent
17:45 It was inevitable I suppose, but as the trooper approaches my window, flashlight in hand, I can’t help but fear the worst. Webb isn’t helping: “Turn the engine off, hands on the wheel, window down and don’t get out, he’ll shoot your ass,” he tells me with the wide eyes of a man who has
18:59 Bedtime. I pull up at the welcome center, brush my teeth in a toilet that looks like bad things have happened in it, and pass out in the car with a hat over my face. Thank you, Americans, and your sizable behinds—these soft seats are mercifully accommodating.
20:34 There’s the alarm—sweet Jesus, that’s harsh. I am so sweaty. I’m sweating in places I have never sweated in before. And what the hell is that smell? It’s a cross between a farmyard and a gym sock. Oh, it’s us: The stench of two tired, clammy men.
22:36 It’s impossible to underestimate the restorative effects of a sunrise. It resets your body clock and offers new hope. I feel my brain forgetting the lost night’s sleep and steeling itself against the day ahead. And my goodness, Mississippi in the morning is worth getting up for—pink clouds above, a fine mist at ground level—the eyelids of the south are opening.
23:15 Fuel stop five: 1,816km covered. Another quart of oil. Chips for breakfast. Living the dream.
26:30 Right. Decision time. If we make a beeline for Atlanta we might just scrape 28 hours, but how many times will I find myself in a 717bhp muscle car with an entire drag strip at our disposal? It’s a no-brainer, we sacrifice the grand prize for adventure along the way.
26:36 Arriving at Montgomery Motorsports Park, we’re greeted by Robert Griffin, a one-legged man in a wheelchair who’s delighted to see us, but has a southern accent so thick I can’t understand a word he’s saying. Turns out he’s the cherry picker operator. Webb shoots me a terrified look. I’m introduced to Slick Jim, the boss, and given the world’s briefest safety briefing. The look on their faces when it turns out a Brit knows how to do a burnout is priceless.
26:58 Lights out and I’m off the line, slewing sideways, going nowhere fast with the rear wheels spinning hopelessly in first, second, third, fourth. Frankly, I’m an embarrassment. The key I discover is
27:15 This place has everything, even a dirt road where Slick Jim lets me uncork my inner Bandit and crash through puddles (sorry, Webb—send the cleaning bill to the editor), confirming that with the traction control off, the Trans Am’s natural angle is very sideways indeed.
28:00 There goes the deadline.
30:56 We stop by Mulberry Bridge, or what’s left of it, where the Bandit’s monumentally silly jump took place. The cops pull
31:47 Stop the clock—we’re done and back at Lakewood. The car is intact (the
I hope you appreciate, dear readers, that I could have lied to you. I could have fudged the result and claimed a spectacular victory against the clock, but I didn’t. I wanted to tell the truth… and make excuses instead. The fact is the Bandit didn’t have to take pictures, he had a CB radio and a lorry to work with to avoid cops, and he had a much smaller excess on his insurance policy. But 2,334km in a little under 32 hours? I’ll take that.
Some will say driving across seven states to get
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.