VIDEO: Hal Needham Reviews the 1979 Firebird Lineup

If you’re a Firebird fan, chances are, you’ve seen the 1977 film, Smokey and the Bandit. The action/comedy starring Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason, Sally Field and Jerry Reed was a box office success the year it was released, only being surpassed by Star Wars as the highest-grossing film for 1977.

Using nothing more than the freshly redesigned 1977 Pontiac Trans Am SE, a semi, a relentless Texas sheriff in pursuit, 400 cases of then-illegal Coors beer and a very tiny budget, the cast and crew had a blast producing the film all across the Southern states of America. The film was so popular in fact, that after it was released the sales of the Trans Am had risen 600% – even trickling down to its Chevrolet cousin, the Camaro.

You can thank its bold styling, appealing graphics package and a choice of engines that catered to the masses at the time, and the car was a hit. Speaking of those graphics, the Trans Am spawned a host of copy cats by the time ’78 and ’79 rolled around, from Ford, Chevy and HALTA-4even Chrysler.

For ’79, the Firebird line received new front and rear fascias that helped segway the styling of the car into the upcoming 1982 model. It also said farewell to the coveted Pontiac 400ci. engine, sold exclusively with a 4-speed manual transmission bolted to it.

Of course, you were able to spec a Trans Am (and Formula) with that engine, or your choice of an Oldsmobile-sourced 6.6L, 403 ci powerplant or a 4.9L 301 ci Pontiac engine. The 4.9L was available in either 4-speed or automatic varieties, while the 403 was built exclusively with a slushbox.

With nineteen-seventy nine being the tenth-anniversary of the Trans Am, Pontiac introduced a special model to commemorate the occasion; the Pontiac Trans Am 10th-Anniversary Edition. Painted a unique silver hue, with matching silver interior, it featured a much larger hood bird, screaming chicken embroidery all over the interior and the Turbo wheels, which would later be used on all turbocharged Firebirds for 1980 and 1981.


In the attached video above, we see Smokey and the Bandit director, Hal Needham, put a ’79 Trans Am SE and a 10th-Ann. through their paces on a test track. The interesting thing about the latter, is that it must have been a pre-production model, due to the fact that it has snowflakes rather than the turbo wheels, and if you look closely to the headrest while Hal wheels it around the test track, it has screaming chickens embroidered on the headrests, something that was missing from the preproduction versions.

While Pontiac, the Firebird, the Trans Am and Hal Needham are no longer with us, their memories live on inside our hearts and in our favorite film, Smokey and the Bandit. Next time you’re in your musclecar, light ’em up for ol’ Hal and for Pontiac.


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