Pontiac's Firebird Trans Am
by Brenda Williams
When Henry Ford first started manufacturing automobiles, the idea was to produce a car that would transport people from one place to another, be easy to maintain and be affordable by working people. Prior to Ford's era, cars were luxury toys for the rich and famous. Such features as style, design, and image had no part in Ford's plant in 1927. Ford's cars were utilitarian.
Fast forward to the 1970's when cars were now designed to project an image. And car manufacturers advertised to the image. Put yourself in the driver's seat of a given car and you were on the road to all your dreams come true, whether it be success in a career or romance.
Trans Am Firebird Decal
America has always been a youth oriented society. And from the days of the frontier, individual freedom has always been prized in America. So the Pontiac Firebird TransAm projected both images - young and free.
The Trans Am was a muscle car. While the definition of muscle car is somewhat ambiguous, it is generally accepted that a muscle car has two basic requirements. It must be a small car with a stylish exterior and a big engine. The Trans Am met both criteria.
The Firebird also flew into the movies. While it has a long cinema career, there are two films that stand out. In 1977, the Trans Am appeared in Smokey and the Bandit. Starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields, and Jackie Gleason, the film centered around Burt Reynolds trying to win a bet by attempting to bootleg a truckload of Coors beer into Georgia from Texas. Burt Reynolds talked a friend into driving the truck. Then, to distract attention from the truck, he drove the Trans Am over the same route. On the way, Reynolds picked up a runaway bride whose intended groom to be was the simple-minded son of local Sheriff Justice. Both the son and the Sheriff started after Reynolds. Keeping Sheriff Justice occupied and distracting his attention away from the truck involved many car chases and mishaps. All of this action together with the comedy resulted in a box office hit.
Five black TransAms were modified to perform the stunt jobs required by the script. Yet, these stunts were so rigorous that all of them were damaged during the shooting of the film.
It is rumored that, prior to the filming, a high level Pontiac executive offered Burt Reynolds a free Pontiac Firebird if the movie was a hit. However, when Reynolds went to collect his prize, the executive had retired and his replacement refused to honor the agreement. But Reynolds did purchase a TransAm.
The Trans AM was featured in another film, Cannonball. Here, David Carradine plays a former stock car driver and ex-con who has just been released from jail and is out on parole. His parole officer also happens to be his current girlfriend. In order to win the prize money, Carradine decides to drive in the Trans-American Grand Prix, a cross-country race that runs from Los Angeles to New York City. Caroline's girlfriend and parole officer tries to dissuade him. But he talks her into accompanying him and they take off in his red Trans Am.
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