‘The Bandit Run Family’: Annual trek caters to Trans Am owners

It was a movie universally panned by critics, yet it earned $126 million, spawned two sequels, and was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. While it didn’t actually win any awards, the nominations prove how much critics know.

The film in question? “Smokey and the Bandit.”

And while the movie had its share of A-list talent, including Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Reed, the genuine star of the film is a black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am decorated in gold stripes with a thunder chicken decal on its hood. For a generation of adolescent boys with Farah Fawcett posters on their bedroom walls, the film and its four-wheeled star are still favorites.

Just ask Dave Hall, the owner of Restore A Muscle Car, a car restoration business in Lincoln, Neb. “It came out the same week that ‘Star Wars’ was released,” Hall remembers. “If I wasn’t seeing ‘Star Wars,’ I was seeing ‘Smokey and the Bandit.’ ”

How much did Hall like the film? In 2006, Hall decided to stage a rally that would recreate the movie’s chase from Texas to Georgia in commemoration of the film’s 30th anniversary. And so was launched The Bandit Run the following year.

Now in its eighth year, the trek attracts more than 100 cars and their owners on an annual road trip somewhere in the United States. This year, the Run started at the GM Nationals in Carlisle, Pa., on June 20 and ended in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on June 27.

“We make it into a week-long vacation,” Hall said, standing near his shop’s recreation of Snowman’s tractor-trailer. “Nothing’s a race; it’s all about the cruise and the cars that we love. It’s all about having fun and being on the road.”

Nevertheless, stumbling upon the group when it stops at a hotel, restaurant or gas station will have you doing double takes. Looking at the sheer number of black Trans Ams will have you wondering if you had a bit too much to drink the night before. But some Trans Am owners downplay the uniqueness of the event. “We’ve had old cars for the last 35 years,” said Larry Smith, a farmer from Franklin, Ill., who was driving a 2002 Trans Am. “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.”

Well, yes and no.

While most of the vehicles in the run are Trans Ams, you will find other vehicles making the journey. “Perhaps over 90 percent of the cars are going to be Trans Ams,” Hall said. “But we have some Corvettes, some Camaros; we’ve had GTOS, Chargers — a little bit of everything. It’s open to all makes and models of cars. We do not discriminate.”

And its cost of entry is fairly low. Sign up, pay $90 and you’re a part of the run. Hotels and food are extra, but the run does arrange with hotels for discounts and provides goodie bags, stickers and a few extras. The tour also has a chase truck with parts in case of breakdowns. Nevertheless, the biggest expense may be fuel.  Given that a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am returns 13 mpg at best, and the tour travels as much as 300 miles between hotels, a daily fuel bill can easily eat up the best part of $100. But for these drivers, it’s worth it.

“The cars are quite a show, but they almost become a byproduct because of the friendships you make and the camaraderie,” said Drew Demarco of Baltimore, Md., who owns a 1981 Pontiac Trans Am SE. “It’s a great thing.”

“We call ourselves The Bandit Run Family. Even though we have new people joining us every year, it’s a family — a family road trip,” Hall said.

While Hall hasn’t finalized next year’s route, he promises to have news on it in short order. If you want to join next year’s run, check out www.thebanditrun.com.

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