QOTD: It's 1977 and You're The Bandit. Do You Buy a Trans Am... or Something Else?

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

We had a 1970s movie-car QOTD last week, and that was so much fun we’re doing it again! So, here we go: in the beginning of Smokey and the Bandit, when Big Enos challenges The Bandit to fetch 400 cases of that Colorado Kool-Aid, a wad of cash of unspecified thickness gets handed over for expenses, including a “speedy car.” As we all know, The Bandit headed straight to the nearest Pontiac showroom and bought himself a brand-new 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. In the film, that car seemed to be the fastest imaginable motor vehicle (thanks to the magic of engine swaps, stunt drivers, and special effects). In reality, however, the ’77 Trans Am was kind of a bloated Malaise Era slug, and The Bandit probably had a lot of better escape-the-smokeys car choices available.

So, in his shoes and with a ’77 Trans Am-sized stack of C-notes, what car would you have bought for that run to Texarkana and back?

Now, the list price of a 1977 Firebird Trans Am was $5,456, but the Bandit’s car had the $556 Hurst Hatch option, the $1,143 Y82 Special Edition option package, the $195 factory CB radio (which itself required one of a number of costly factory sound-system options), and no doubt lots of other price-inflating extras (you think The Bandit and his perfectly groomed mustache would have gone without air conditioning – 442 bucks – in that climate?) we must assume would come in any fully loaded 1977 Detroit car. It’s safe to say you’d be looking at something around $8,000 by the time the dust settled. That gives us a baseline to work with. For the purposes of this exercise we’ll toss in an extra thousand dollars and say you can pick any brand-new, 1977 model-year, street-legal-in-the-United-States car or truck that costs under $9000 (about 35 grand in 2015 bucks). If you don’t have the Standard Catalog or equivalent, you’ll need to at least make an effort to look up ’77 MSRPs online, or just make quasi-plausible guesses. Obviously, the best choice would be to buy something like a cheap used 240Z or Corvette and then spend all the leftover money on aftermarket hop-up goodies, but this option is not allowed here. Likewise, there will be no dealer-installed NASCAR race motors, “brand-new” rally-prepped cars, or other loophole-exploiting workarounds. Available-to-the-general-public, right-off-the-showroom floor, bone-stock 1977 four-wheeled vehicles only!

If the film had been made in 1978, I’d probably go for the Dodge Lil’ Red Express pickup, which was the fastest Detroit production vehicle that year and fully loaded with genuine Burt Reynolds-grade redneck badassness. However, we’re stuck in 1977, which means you could still get the nearly-a-Lil’-Red-Express ’77 Warlock pickup. I’m not sure what the list price for the Warlock package was, but the ’77 D100 Sweptline half-ton started at a mere $4,737, which means you’d have plenty of money left over to get the 170-horsepower four-barrel 360 (sorry, no factory big-block in the D100 that year), floor-shift four-speed transmission, heavy-duty everything, and a CB radio.

Of course, The Bandit would have been pretty quick (by 1977 standards) in a cop-grade Dodge Aspen with 4-speed and every available performance option, and the ’77 Chevy Nova with a similar setup would have been decent in a car chase. But Burt Reynolds was known to drive fast in imports in his films, so we shouldn’t overlook such options. Sadly, the Citroën SM he drove in The Longest Yard was a $13,500 car and not even available in 1977… but what about something like the Mazda RX-4? Imagine The Bandit with Wankel power! The ’77 Datsun 280Z had great handling, proper disco styling, and a not-too-shabby-in-1977 149 horses. Or the Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider Veloce, with 110 Italian ponies in a 2,455-pound package and an $8,795 price tag? Il Bandito in an Alfa would have driven circles around those ponderous Pontiac cop cars! The Porsche 911 was, of course, way out of Der Bandit’s price range, but the nimble BMW 320i could be had for a hair under 8 grand.

So many sub-$9,000 cars to choose from in 1977! So, what’s your choice?

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Ogre Backwash Ogre Backwash on Jun 19, 2015

    Ha! I came within a heartbeat of buying one exactly like this in 1977. It may have been the last one on the lot. I was driving a very nice low milage 71 340 Duster (with 4-speed, Hurst Competition Plus shifter, dual plane Edelbrock and 650 Holley, dual point Mallory ignition, Schiefer clutch and McCleod flywheel,Sure-Grip, Shelby 500 slot-mags with Goodyear Poly-Glas GTs. Original Sherwwod Green metallic and full length flat black 340 stripes and two-tone green vinyl interior with front bench seat and optional fold down center armrest.) I was 19, I had cash, a trade-in, a new pair of Fry boots and a why the hell not attitude. Fortunately I had the world's most jaded, low energy, beat down salesman. It was Abe Vigoda in a yellow cardigan and Italian loafers. He psyched himself out, so sure that I was wasting his time. No eye contact, mumbled, bad body language. If he had made the slightest effort to sell I would have laid down. I drove it, said I wanted to think about it and left. Five minutes later I broke into a cold sweat realizing how close I had come to screwing up my life for 3 or 4 years with car payments I could not afford and falling into a spiral of poverty, despair and perhaps a Mullet! 6 months later I sold the Duster and used the money to finish my Bachelors degree.

  • "scarey" "scarey" on May 10, 2018

    No cheating. So let me tell you what I DID buy in 1977. A Ford 4WD F-150 short wheelbase short flareside box in red with the white pinstripe package. 400 cubic inch V-8, and automatic transmission. That sucker was Fast ! And I mean FAST ! But it got 6 miles per gallon. I traded it for a 6 cylinder Ford van in less than a year. So sad.

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