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One-off brochure-model 1976 Pontiac Trans Am Special Edition resurfaces, heads to first public showing

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Image courtesy OldCarBrochures.

You know how the new-car commercials these days include little disclaimers noting that the pictured car is a prototype and that “some features may not appear in production?” If they had those in 1977, the one-off Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Special Edition that will appear at this weekend’s Bandit Run would have required one in big, bold font plastered over its photo in the 1977 Pontiac brochure.

To begin with, it’s not even a 1977 model year car.

Instead, according to its VIN and Pontiac Historical Services documentation – and despite the 1977 nose on it – the Trans Am dates to March of 1976, making it one of the earliest Special Edition 1976 Trans Ams built to celebrate Pontiac’s 50th anniversary. Because Pontiac intended the Trans Am for its Los Angeles-based press fleet, the company jammed it full of options, including the four-speed-backed 200-hp, V-8, power windows, deluxe interior, air conditioning, and T-tops.

How many West Coast car mag writers got seat time in the Trans Am, nobody knows for sure, but according to an article on the car in the February 2017 issue of the Pontiac Oakland Club International magazine Smoke Signals, a description of the car (not a common one – of the 643 Limited Edition 1976 Trans Ams that received T-tops, 110 were powered by the last-year 455) may have turned up in the April 1977 issue of Car and Driver.

That summer, Pontiac needed to complete its brochure photography for the 1977 model year, but because production of the Limited Edition-equipped 1977 Trans Am wasn’t scheduled to start until sometime the following year, it didn’t have any on hand to shoot. So Pontiac officials decided to send a complete 1977 hood and nose – and a full set of 1977 snowflake wheels – out to special projects engineer John Callies, then based out of the Van Nuys plant, and tasked him with installing the updated sheetmetal on the press fleet Trans Am.

While the Trans Am looked the part in the brochure photographs, Pontiac experts such as those at Smoke Signals can point out some minor non-production details – including the Limited Edition font and the shape of the shaker hood – that give the car away.

After the shoot, the Trans Am had its 1976 sheetmetal re-installed and mostly hung out in Pontiac warehouses until Bryant Pontiac in West Covina, California, searching for a 455-powered Trans Am for a customer, found the car and sold it – technically used – for more than $7,400.

Photo courtesy David Martino.

As the story goes, Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds considered using a Corvette or Dodge Charger as the hero car for their 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit, but ultimately decided on a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am Special Edition after seeing the Trans Am in the 1977 Pontiac brochure. The car, however, remained out of the public eye for nearly 40 years, until a mother-son duo in search of a screen-used Trans Am came across it.

“Mom asked me to track down a real Bandit car from the movie,” David Martino said of his mother, 84-year-old Burt Reynolds fan Renee. “After about six or seven months, I learned there weren’t any left, so we gave up and just decided to get a car that looks like the Bandit car.”

About three years ago, they found the ’76 in Virginia, showing 45,000-some miles on the odometer and still fitted with the snowflake wheels and a few other ’77 items, but were otherwise unaware of the car’s history until they dug into the PHS documentation.

Photo courtesy David Martino.

Since then, they’ve had Florida-based Trans Am specialist Rick Dieters go through the car and, after trying to sell the car at Mecum Kissimmee in 2015, re-install a complete 1977 front end on the car. And while the car did appear at a film festival in Key West late last year (in support of a documentary chronicling the relationship between Reynolds and Needham), it’s scheduled to make its first public show appearance this weekend at the 2017 Bandit Run in Jonesboro, Georgia.

David Martino said he and his mother plan to attend, where she’ll hopefully get to realize her lifelong goal of meeting Reynolds.

For more information about the 2017 Bandit Run, visit