Why do they have to bootleg Coors?

Saturday, July 22nd, 2023

I have seen the number one movie of 1977, Star Wars, multiple times, but I somehow never caught the number two movie of 1977, Smokey and the Bandit, until recently.

The film stars Burt Reynolds, as Bo “Bandit” Darville, and four 1976-model cars, as his 1977 Pontiac Trans Am:

Hal Needham saw an advertisement for the soon-to-be-released 1977 Pontiac Trans Am and knew right away that it would be the Bandit’s car, or, as Needham referred to it, a character in the movie. He contacted Pontiac and an agreement was made that four 1977 Trans Ams and two Pontiac LeMans four-door sedans would be provided for the movie. The Trans Ams were actually 1976-model cars with 1977 front ends (from 1970 to 1976, both the Firebird/Trans Am and Chevrolet Camaro have two round headlights and in 1977, the Firebird/Trans Am was changed to four rectangular headlights, and the Camaro remained unchanged). The decals were changed to 1977-style units, as evidenced by the engine size callouts on the hood scoop being in liters rather than cubic inches, as had been the case in 1976. The hood scoop on these cars says “6.6 LITRE”, which, in 1977, would have denoted an Oldsmobile 403-equipped car or a non-W-72, 180 hp version of the 400 Pontiac engine.

The cars were 1976 models, the engines fitted to them were 455ci power plants, the last year these engines were offered for sale before withdrawal. All four of the cars were badly damaged during production, one of which was all but destroyed during the jump over the dismantled Mulberry bridge. The Trans Am used for said jump was equipped with a booster rocket, the same type that was used by Evel Knievel during his failed Snake River Canyon jump. Needham served as the driver for the stunt (in place of Reynolds), while Lada St. Edmund was in the same car (in place of Field). By the film’s ending, the final surviving Trans Am and LeMans were both barely running and the other cars had become parts donors to keep them running. This gives rise to various continuity errors with Justice’s patrol car, which during some chase sequences is shown with a black rear fender, which then reverts to the car’s bronze color again in later scenes. When it is finally torn off along with the car’s roof in the impact with the girder, the missing fender still reappears later on in the film.


After the debut of the film, the Pontiac Trans Am became wildly popular, with sales almost doubling within two years of the film’s release. It outsold its Chevrolet Camaro counterpart for the first time.

The premise of the film is that wealthy Texan Big Enos Burdette and his son Little Enos have sponsored a racer in Atlanta’s Southern Classic and want to celebrate in style when they win, so they bet Bandit and his truck-driving partner Snowman $80,000 that they can’t bootleg 400 cases of Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta in 28 hours.

Wait, why do they have to bootleg Coors? Beer’s not illegal in Atlanta:

In 1977, Coors was unavailable for sale east of Oklahoma. Its lack of additives and preservatives meant that Coors could spoil in one week without refrigeration, explaining the film’s 28-hour deadline. A 1974 Time magazine article explains that Coors was so coveted for its lack of stabilizers and preservatives, and Coors Banquet Beer had a brief renaissance. Future President Gerald Ford, after a trip to Colorado, hid it in his luggage to take it back to Washington, D.C. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a steady supply airlifted by the Air Force to Washington. Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox would bring several cases after playing on the West Coast, by stashing them in the equipment trunks on the team’s plane. Frederick Amon smuggled it from Colorado to North Carolina and sold it for four times the retail price.

Coors is still brewed just outside Denver, Colorado. It is now sold in all states as Coors ships it in refrigerated train cars and bottled locally and sold in different parts of the country including the eastern US states.

During their run, Bandit annd Snowman are pursued by Texas county sheriff Buford T. Justice, played by Jackie Gleason:

“Buford T. Justice” was the name of a real Florida Highway Patrolman known to Reynolds’ father, who was once Police Chief of Riviera Beach, Florida. His father was also the inspiration for the word “sumbitch” used in the film, a variation of the phrase “son-of-a-bitch” that, according to Reynolds, he uttered quite often. Gleason was given free rein to ad-lib dialogue and make suggestions. It was his idea to have Junior alongside him throughout the film. In particular, the scene where Sheriff Justice unknowingly encounters the Bandit in a roadside diner (a “choke and puke” in CB lingo) was not in the original story but was rather Gleason’s idea.

Gleason’s Buford T. Justice follows quite clearly in the footsteps of Clifton JamesSheriff J.W. Pepper, from Live and Let Die (1973):

When asked about the Blaxploitation element of the film, screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz said he invented Sheriff J.W. Pepper as a racist small-town southern sheriff, setting him up for mockery as a foolish pompous figure that the audience is meant to side against.

This reminds me that Bandit and Snowman are conspicuously non-racist, in contrast to Justice.

Anyway, Clifton James’ sheriff also falls in the footsteps of another:

Actor Joe Higgins, who was born in Louisiana in 1925, landed the role of Sheriff J.W. (and added his real name Higgins) for a series of Dodge commercials starting in 1969. He was prolific on American television for guest roles in many series including ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Hill Street Blues,’ ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ and ‘The Twilight Zone.’

Over the course of the TV campaign for the new Dodge Challenger, Sheriff J.W. evolves from pulling over drivers for having a “racing vee-hickle” in the city limits, learning of how affordable the new car is, to later schooling his younger deputies in slapstick fashion. The last spot from 1972 ends in his humiliation when flying chickens escape the trunk of a car and would have been a comedic moment right at home in the Roger Moore era.

Seeing success with the spots, Dodge anointed Higgins as the “Safety Sheriff” and Higgins would tour the country at motor shows and conventions, as well as speaking to high-school kids about driving and promoting the use of seat belts.

At the peak of his popularity, Higgins filmed a PSA for the Office of Traffic Safety with then-Governor Ronald Reagan.


  1. Jim says:

    This commercial is highly unrealistic for how it depicts the coppers as casual, relaxed, and not an unstable heartbeat hair-trigger away from pulling their piece and blowing you away.

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