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As part of our Most Loved Cars competition, the team here at Trusted Dealers are sharing our own most loved cars. Why not tell us about your own most loved car for the chance to win an iPad?
You probably had to be there. In today’s world, with fuel economy and congestion at the forefront of everyone’s mind, the traditional American muscle car makes no sense. And put alongside the incredible dynamics and technology that powers the current European and Japanese supercar, there’s something very meat-and-potatoes about American cars.
They have huge engines, massive wheels and a lot of straight line power and that’s about your lot.
But in the late 70s and early 80s the picture was a little different. America’s standing in the world was still high – the noon-bright, can-do optimism of the Reagan era was just about to begin in earnest – and Americana was just so cool. Sat at home in a Britain still hung over from the brown draylon nightmare of the 1970s, US films and TV were zappy and fun.
While we were churning out earnest, downbeat films like Kes, America was producing cheeseball culture in which vehicles were up-front and centre: The A-Team… Knightrider… The Dukes of Hazzard… Streethawk… Battlestar Galactica. While the vehicles might not have been the stars, they provided the iconic images we would draw in the playground (my K.I.T.T. was widely admired).
And above all? Burt Reynold’s Trans-Am from Smokey and the Bandit.
Where to begin! Regardless of actual performance, the Trans-Am looked fast. Of course in the film it was sliding around corners in a cloud of dust and smoke, but even stood still it looked the business even if it wasn’t as outré as something like a Lamborghini Countach.
Partly it was the paintwork: black and gold was both a very natural combination and one that is rarely seen on cars. But the real touch of brilliance was the firebird decal sprayed across the bonnet. With European cars – then and now – staying away from actual decoration, it was a stunning thing to see a car with things actually painted on it.
Then there was the engine sound. There’s something very primal about being in the presence of power – especially when it fills the senses, something Trans-Am did in spades. Regardless of the car’s actual real world performance (which would have been pretty dismal alongside any Ferrari of the era) its guttural, rumbling exhaust note became the definitive playground carchase sound.
Finally there was the drop-dead cool context in which the car itself was set. Illegal alcohol bootlegging… crossing the county line… Jackie Gleason in hapless pursuit in his bronze squad car… leaping broken wooden bridges. None of that bore any relation to real life in mid-80s Leeds but seemed thrillingly exotic and dangerous even when played for laughs.
So, even today as I schlep around in a tinny little Toyota Yaris, ferrying the kids from school to grandad’s to ASDA Morley, my heart belongs to the Trans-Am Pontiac Firebird.