With the General Motors announcement that it's ending the Pontiac brand, here's a story about an encounter with what might be the most famous Pontiac of all. It was a black Trans-Am, used as the car in the 1977 movie "Smokey and the Bandit." The Bandit, played by Burt Reynolds, was running some Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas, where it was legal to purchase it, to Georgia, where it was not. It was all about a bet. The Bandit was quite the rascal and had in his company Sally Field, who was Reynolds' real-life girlfriend and has picked herself up two Oscars in a long career. (No, she didn't win for the "Bandit" role.) Jackie Gleason starred as the profane sheriff in "hot purrrr-soot."
The movie had about a $4 million budget, and it was directed by former stuntman Hal Needham. Reynolds, a friend of Needham's, was not a big movie star at the time. "Bandit" made him the biggest one in the world. And it made Universal Studios gazillions in profits.
The film was brought together by a young Universal guy, Thom Mount, who later became a vice president and then president of Universal Pictures. Mount, a Durham native, is still running a studio and making movies. He was a boyhood chum of mine, and thus made it possible for me, a couple of years after the first "Bandit," to go to Miami for the shooting of the sequel. The trip included many adventures, including meetings with Gleason, lunch with Sally Field and dinner with Reynolds.
A publicist took me around the set. Then we came upon one of the Trans-Ams driven by Reynolds in the movie. "We'd better be carefu," the publicist said. "Some of these are fixed for stunts..." It was too late. I got in it and fired it up. Very loud. I didn't try to move it, however, as even in my 20s, which I was then, I was not a daredevil kind of guy.
Later, the Trans Am was indeed used in a stunt. I stood on top of a trailer with Reynolds while the driver brought it up a ramp, jumped some cars and then brought it to a stop precisely where he had planned to do so. Reynolds, who'd been a stunt man himself, led the cast in applause.
Now that was a muscle car, only one for which Pontiac was famous.