Holy crap it’s the goddamn Bandit. The somewhat harder to come by and in my opinion the better of the ’77 Firebird versions offered by the various model kit companies, lovingly crafted by Revell from a die-cast mold. And everyone knows this car, let’s be totally fair – it’s one of the most recognizable movie cars, ahead of the ’76 Gran Torino from Starsky & Hutch, it might even be ahead the ’69 Charger from the Dukes of Hazzard. Smokey and the Bandit is in all rights not just a solid movie, but also a time capsule of 1970s America.
It quite literally served as an ad for Pontiac(Hal Needham fell in love with the car and Pontiac fortunately obliged his new-found love interests), with the hero’s car being a fresh off the line fully kitted out ’77 Firebird T/A S.E. and the bad guy(as far as a cop can be one) drove a ’77 LeMans. It played heavily on the odd as all hell distribution snafu Coors Brewing Company found itself in(which the short of it is as follows: Coors wasn’t permitted to sell past the Mississippi until it got the rights and permissions to do so in 1986, prior to that it only sold in 11 states in the direction of the West Coast, making it hugely desirable on the East Coast), it had CB radio which kicked off in popularity in the 1970s and to cap it all off, it had the most bankable actor of the late 1970s in there leading the show: Burt Reynolds, who unfortunately passed away in 2018 and the soundtrack was partially made by Jerry Reed, country music-slash-actor extraordinaire. The only thing that could arguably be more 1970s is a field made out of brown, red and yellow striped shag carpet with the Bee Gees doing a concert on top of it.
Hell, the star car in fact is 1970s through and through. While the movie’s popularity made it literally destroy the Camaro’s reputation as a whole, causing the Firebird sales to surge massively and the Camaro sales to tank, part of the iconic look of the new 1977 Firebird at the time was the adjustment of a quite strange U.S. law in 1976. You see, headlights of all things had a odd, hard line restriction to it. Not only were they at first restricted quite literally to size, diameter and… shape, it also took well over thirty years for designers to be allowed to use square shaped headlights. From 1940 through 1957, you could only have one headlight per side, and had to have low and high beam filaments in the same lamp and could only be 7 inches in diameter. Then in 1958, the first drastic change was permitted; twin goddamn headlights, yes baby! And you can tell designers were quite literally waiting for this as damn near every single car from then on would have twin headlights and be permitted to be smaller than the odd 7 inch requirement, but this came again with another weird limit: yes, you can now have smaller headlamps, but they could only be 5 ¾ inch.
So now you have two unique headlight designs, but still they’re all the same size across the board. This is why all European or Asian cars imported to the U.S. had the local headlight swap treatment, but now lets time jump to 1975. Now, it’s more or less a free-for-all, while size restrictions are there, they are loose and quite varied but most importantly; the strange restriction that it had to be circular was lifted, and every Goddamn automotive designer over night made a square-headlight version of their favorite car. You can damn near count American cars that retained round headlights into the 1980s on one hand.
And there’s the oddball history lesson of this particular article, last time it was dealer specific tuners that made some of the most powerful muscle cars and this time its… headlights. Can always count on me derailing my own content into some lesson you didn’t know yet and I’ll bet didn’t feel like learning, but you’re welcome, now you too can tell people about the weird restrictions on car headlights in the US from the fifties through the eighties! Anyway, back to the hero car here. In real life, back in 2018, Burt Reynolds’ estate sold his private Firebird S.E. replica, given the originals were either wrecked or just driven to death this was a replica built to be as faithful as can be, with some modern overhauls such as a better performing custom built transmission, a fully rebuilt 400ci V8 and of course a damn must these days; air conditioning. But literally everything else down to the CB radio was original, also on the chopping block were two other of his private Firebirds, a ’78 Firebird in red, a perfect replica of the Hooper car and a ’84 Firebird in black and gold which he had built to promote his football team, the Tampa Bay Bandits.
This was after his death, can’t imagine he’d ever wanted to part with his precious memories but unfortunately he had to, from 2014 on wards, he was caught up in sales and auctions left, right and center just to keep his estate afloat, selling various movie memorabilia, as well as one of the original Universal Studios Bandit Firebirds that was used as promotional material. Reynolds was a bit of a flamboyant fellow through his years and frankly made some shitty calls on investments quite a few times, as it seems a ton of celebrities are one to do. Either way, it’s really cool and quite interesting to find out just how attached he was to the stuff, his working together with Hal Needham back then really made him exactly who he wanted to be, it seems.
So here we are, seven paragraphs or so down and we’ve hardly even began to discuss the model kit this article should be about. It’s not my first rodeo with this kit, in fact, I’ve built a regular, still quite Trans Am-ey Firebird two and a half years ago and it disappointed me to no end that the legendary car, as it was, couldn’t be truly turned into the screaming chicken Trans Am without aftermarket aid. So I made it a plain jane on the outside with a nice shiny coat of red and just used the Firebird for the hood and called it a day. It’s very apparent Revell USA couldn’t nail down the Trans Am license, which I’ve found out is owned by a tuning company that visually upgraded a handful of Camaros to look like what might’ve been a modern day Pontiac Firebird if, you know, Pontiac wasn’t bust. The name itself hangs for the automotive category, at least, between Trans Am Specialties and the SCCA(the original Trans-Am name owners, as in the race), and I can imagine it’s kind of shitty to have to chalk up a stupid amount of money for what amounts to two words. Suppose they could’ve always done the old MPC trick by shuffling the letters on the decal sheet, but I reckon Revell was/is above doing this.
The kit itself is absolutely excellent, it has a few quirks and problems but it makes up for it ten-fold by actually doing things other kit designs should just brazenly rip off. One thing, namely, is a separate dash insert which on the Firebird is a given since its either metal on normal Firebird T/A’s and proper brash gold on T/A S.E.’s, but it makes detailing it so much easier. Secondly is, again, a simple thing: clear plastic tail lights. Yes I appreciate the pre-painted transparent red but let’s be honest here, you can’t undo the red for the reverse lights. Third is the one thing I wish they’d steal the most; screw bottom chassis. Never once has a chassis clicking into the body felt as satisfying as it does on this kit, cause it doesn’t require a stupid amount of force, it doesn’t require bending the body to the point of having to worry that it cracks in half, its a neat slide in the finished body and gripping while you screw the thing tightly together and it’s so Goddamn fuss-free that it feels gratifying as all hell and it removes the one thing I always encounter with AMT Ertl kits especially, the firewall, the interior or the wheel wells getting caught on something in the body and just deciding there and then that it will never sit properly.
One of the downsides however is the decal sheet, which is undeniably fleshed out as hell. The problem is that the gold(or rather dull yellow on the sheet) stripes are outlined with a thick black, which just doesn’t come out right with any paint. So I remedied this by simply copying the whole decal sheet and actually completing it, the thin bumper stripes, the mirror stripes, the air intake stripes, so forth, they’re all there, and of course all the necessary extras. I opted for the Protrac Radial R/P tires cause they’re not only perfectly age appropriate(Protrac really tried to cash in on Pontiac’s Firebird line) and they’re also something I reckon Burt Reynolds would’ve been all about: every single fucking ad that Protrac put out in magazines or on papers was some half naked woman with clearly no bra and in a stupendously cold room straddling the tires, it was such abrasive sexism and trying to pander to men that I can’t even feel disappointed at it. Like they went for it, they gave zero damns. The second downside of this kit is that the tires are so thin and small that it’s like they’re made for a Beetle, but alas, such is life.
The origins of the kit apparently is a die-cast Revell made and just like 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T kit which wasn’t at all related to the old Monogram one, it has particular build quality improvements here and there and it’s jarring how well they pan out. The whole body assembly is clear and cohesive and goes together so unbelievably smoothly, damn near as smoothly as the chassis screws. Like I know people aren’t too big a fan of this kit, for all its plusses it does look… slightly off. Maybe it’s something with the scale, maybe the proportions here and there but something about it doesn’t… look right. I’ll say though, one thing that definitely doesn’t look right is me horribly dicking up the rear end and putting the stripe that’s meant to go on the taillight at the top of the wing, but you know me – dumbnuts numbero uno, learn from me by not repeating my mistakes I suppose.
Either way, given I made the absolutely humongous decal sheet for it, I figured just like the ’70 Camaro Baldwin Motion, I’d try to go all in. I got all the gold stripes and placed ’em one by one like a patient model aircraft builder, plumbed the entirety of the engine, down to the pre-molded A/C system. Got a can of smoke tint paint to do the T-tops with to make them more authentic, got some seatbelts and tried to accurately put them in there which was far more difficult than I thought and of course the aformentioned Protrac Radial R/P white letter tire decals. I had like four different tints of metallic gold from three different brands just to see which ended up being the closest to legit, which was actually a mix of Tamiya’s Leaf Gold and Titanium Gold along with the Vallejo Metal Color Gold, and as you can see on the wheels, kind of worked to a realistic deal.
Genuinely, this is one of those kits that comes out once and never shows itself again, just like the die-cast heritage Challenger and Mustang before, so I’d say, if you’re on the fence, that ’78 Firebird from Monogram’s coming back like every six years and by God skip that goddamn MPC shambles, get this one and maybe if you’re unlucky; get the Monogram one. But seriously, try and search for this one while it’s still remotely available for normal prices.
’77 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Special Edition specifications:
Skill Level: 2
Molded in: White