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Jay Leno lives out ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ dreams in ’79 Pontiac Trans Am


Pontiac’s days of building excitement are long gone, though the brand arguably faded into the sunset long before the division was axed in 2009 as part of the fallout of General Motors’ bankruptcy.

Yet old Pontiacs are getting a second life in the world of collector cars as values of many classics, good and bad, continue to soar in value, and for true Pontiac enthusiasts the Firebird is impossible to ignore, especially the Trans Am version made famous in the 1977 hit movie “Smokey and the Bandit” starring Burt Reynolds.

Jay Leno in the latest episode of his online series “Jay Leno’s Garage” took a close look at a near-perfect 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am finished in the same black and gold as the movie car. While he’s no fan of the chicken on the hood, he appreciates the car and the way it drives. He couldn’t drive it too hard, though. This particular example normally resides in a museum, the Audrain Auto Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, to be specific.

This one has the 400-cubic inch V-8 that was offered in 1979, which is good for about 220 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. This example also has a 4-speed manual which, as Leno rightly points out, only adds to the fun.

The 1979 model year was a final holdout for the Firebird Trans Am before new emissions and fuel economy regulations seriously capped performance in the years ahead. But the Firebird Trans Am was never about only going fast; it was about looking and sounding right, something Leno definitely understands.

This article was originally published by Motor Authority, an editorial partner of ClassicCars.com.

Visit past stories from Jay Leno’s Garage on ClassicCars.com


  1. Wrong year, wrong front end for the “Bandit”, but still pretty cool.
    I’ll take exception to the jape about Pontiac’s later “lack of excitement”, as I think the GN Turbo Buick powered Trans Am Indy Pace Car & the GTA, the late Fiero GTs (with the Ferrari-esque buttress rear side glass), the Solstice, and the Bonneville, with either the supercharger on the 3.8 V6 or the late Northstar V8 GXP- and the similarly equipped Grands Prix- must have excited some, considering how they sold, and how hard a gently used version of any of these are to find now (I’m aware of the negatives, btw, and that the same folks inflicted upon us the WTF Aztek; I also run with a guy who put the Northstar and transaxle from a Bonnie GXP in the back of a final year Fiero GT… with a bunch of tweaks and a 200hp progressive hit of nitrous. Picture a blown, big block midmotor Corvair that can handle and stop. Exciting!). And for me, well, I find my badge engineered Holden Monaro based 40th Anniversary GTO, originally a 5.7 LS1 with the no cost six speed Tremec crunch box, and the 6.0 LS2 ’05/’06 follow-ups, as well as the G8 (Commodore)/Chevy SS sedans (big four doors available with the Tremec three pedal- yea-ah!) pretty exciting for a country obsessed with mommyvans/SUVs (with “aero” and “sport” badging!) and droning “R”, “S”, “Z” etc labelled 4 banger econoboxes with ridiculously anime non styling and fake F1 aero on said boxes.
    As the original Pontiac 389/400, the LS1 is simply a blank slate; you believe it’s not just a cammed 5.7, show some $, and find out, hmm? And I still row my own, which I find far more exciting than knobs & paddles, win or lose.
    What irks me ’bout “Smokey…” is the four speed soundtrack put on a clearly auto T/A- the producers of Reynolds’ “White Lightning” and “Gator” did the same thing; maybe Burt couldn’t drive a stick? Dunno. Aggravating.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all, Pontiac fans or not!
    Ryan Corman
    Fargo ND


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