Does this one bring a movie title to mind?

Text and photos by Mark Ehlen

Many of our preferences in life are formed when we are just kids, usually because of experiences we have involving family and friends. Our favorite foods, activities, movies, clothes and yes, cars, become so because of enjoyable experiences we had with them when we were young.

Michael Gressman was just 7-years-old when his dad took him to see the movie Smokey and the Bandit. The movie made such an impression on him that he still occasionally watches it to this day. Not that a 7-year-old had much interest in Burt Reynolds, Sally Field or even the general plot of the film. No, Michael’s interest was in the real star of the movie, the 1977 Special Edition Black and Gold Trans Am that was being chased for most of the plot.

Young boys love exciting car chases and Smokey and the Bandit had its share. It was that day that Michael decided that one day he would have a Trans Am just like the one in the movie. Of course that was going to have to wait awhile but that little boy’s dream refused to die.

Of course there was no way that Michael could have imagined that it would take more than 25 years before he could actually start thinking about looking for his dream car. It was not until 2004 that the serious search began for a Bandit Edition Black and Gold Trans Am with the T-Top option. What he found was a surprisingly solid 1978 that had gone through an amateur resto that he called a “20 foot car” meaning it looked great from across the street or if it was in any kind of motion.

Michael enjoyed his Bandit car for a number of years but eventually realized that it was going to need a proper restoration to bring the dream to its full fruition.

Once the car was stripped down to bare metal it was indeed found to be pretty solid. There were a few minor rust areas that needed to be addressed but there was also evidence that it had been in an accident at some point in its past which was going to require some body panels to be replaced.

There were also some gauges that didn’t work and the 400 inch engine was just not cutting it power wise. Not that it ever did with its original 220 HP factory rating. Remember this was in the early days of federally mandated emission controls and everything was detuned to the point that most cars of that time were considered “all show and no go”. Well that’s not how Michael remembered the Bandit car in the movie so a power upgrade was definitely on the list of needed improvements. Another problem area for these cars (actually many from that era) is the plastic bumper covers that were used over the mandated 5 MPH bumpers. They all eventually warped or got wavy and the paint cracked and there really wasn’t anything that could be done to correctly restore them.

So when the time was right, Michael brought his Trans Am to MCR not just for a full restoration but also to solve some of the other issues inherent in these cars.

The result is a little boys dream come true and a car that maybe outperforms the one that inspired the dream in the first place.

The Bandit movie did very well in ’77 and certainly contributed to the success of the Bandit Edition of the Trans Am. Pontiac made a “reverse” version, gold body with dark decals, but most everyone wanted the movie version.
The original 5-MPH bumpers were covered in plastic and tended to warp in the heat and crack the paint. There is no practical way to restore those but MCR has a source for fiberglass replacements that permanently solve the issue.
One benefit of the ’78 model over the ’77 is that they came with larger 8-inch wheels. This was in the time when the factories were switching over from bias ply tires to the new radial tire designs.
The SE package added $1300 to the sticker price. It was cosmetic upgrade only. Michael’s TA did come equipped with the WS6 handling package however
Shaker hood scoops are always cool. This might be the first time that US auto makers designated engine size by liters instead of cubic inches.
The rear bumper is also fiberglass. They do require some tweaking to get them to fit perfectly but that’s not as issue for MCR.
Pontiac took graphics to a whole new level with a hood sized Firebird. These graphics are available and MCR know how to install them correctly
The black and gold theme carries over into the interior. Between the large gauges is a small plaque the reads “Radial Tuned Suspension”.
I suppose it’s fair to say that this is the car that really made T-tops popular from the late 70s into the 80s. Love them or hate them, they make quite a statement. MCR knows how to restore them so they don’t leak.
Yes, it’s hard to even see the engine. These were the days of mechanical pre-computer emissions controls. Unfortunately that meant that a 400 cube Pontiac engine was rated at just 220 HP. The car deserves much better so Michael’s 400 now produces about 350 HP. Drivability is also much aided by a Holley Sniper which directly replaces the carb and provides a modern EFI solution for older vehicles.
Michael has the original window sticker for his Trans Am. The base price was $5799. The final price for this car was $9005. Of course he didn’t know that when he was watching the movie. He only knew he wanted one. MCR is honored to help make this little boys dream come true.

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