RAMC- Lincoln Journal Star

Where Trans Ams get new life

BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Wednesday, July 4, 2007 7:00 pm

Cledus Snow:Atlanta to Texarkana and back in 28 hours? That ain’t never been done before.

Bandit:That’s ’cause we ain’t never done it.

Cledus Snow:Suppose we don’t make it?

Bandit:Hey, we ain’t never not made it before, have we?

— “Smokey and the Bandit”

You can build a beast in two weeks.

It takes six men, consistent shots of caffeine and daily work shifts that go 18 hours … but you can build a beast in two weeks.

“Do you wanna hear it?” Dave Hall asks.

Such a question comes with only one proper answer.

The ignition turns. There was ’70s rock music providing noise to his Lincoln garage, but now it goes unheard beneath the rumble of what the boys call The Platinum Bandit.

Hall puts foot to pedal. A rumble turns to roar. In this garage, the Pontiac Trans Am is king.

Funny. All this noise has you thinking about a guy with a mustache, the great gum chewer himself, Burt Reynolds.

It was 30 years ago when “Smokey and the Bandit” made a beer run across the silver screen.

You remember the plot: Bandit (Reynolds) and his buddy Cledus accept a dare to pick up a truckload of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas, and return it to Georgia in 28 hours. (It was illegal to ship Coors east of Texas back then due to state liquor taxes.) To make it back in time and also outrun the chasing Sheriff Buford T. Justice, Bandit  needed a fast car. Enter the ’77 Pontiac Trans Am.

If the movie inspired more mustaches, it also did plenty for the popularity of the Trans Am.

It was 1989 when Hall bought his first Trans Am. He was 18 and fresh out of Lincoln East High School. Cars were a hobby.

Little did he know he’d one day make a fine career out of restoring Trans Ams, producing finished products so beautiful, they’d show up in magazines, win car shows, even star in M&M ads.

He shows you a magazine. There’s a red M&M with a cowboy hat and mustache like Burt Reynolds, standing in front of a Bandit car his shop helped restore.

The shop’s name is Restore A Muscle Car. It started 2½ years ago when Hall teamed up with Todd Otto.

Previously, Hall worked in the computer software industry. He wasn’t in need of a day job, but cars call some guys like The Sirens.

“I was thinking I’ll work on a couple of cars in the evening and we’ll see what happens.”

Within two or thee months, it was evident Restore A Muscle Car could do some serious business. Jon Novak was added to the team. Trans Ams kept coming.

Now the company has five full-time technicians, is lauded by car gurus as a Trans Am savior, and is booked into the later part of 2008.

Cars come from Florida, Montana, Canada, Wisconsin, New York, Tennessee, West Virginia … 

A man in Washington just sent a 1980 Trans Am Hall’s way. His wife has cancer. They just wanted to see somebody restore the car. Just send me pictures when it’s done, the man said.

Hall and crew don’t entirely car discriminate. A Mustang hangs from one of the shop’s lifts. But he estimates about 95 percent of the rides they restore are Trans Ams.

As you walk outside Hall’s garage, you see a mess of worn, rusted, dented cars that seem closer to a junkyard burial than outrunning Sheriff Buford.

“To most guys, and if you’re not a car guy, or don’t restore cars, or don’t have a care to, you’d think they’re just junk,” Hall says.

It typically costs the people who send their cars to Restore A Muscle Car between $50,000 and $100,000. Such a price must be expected considering Hall and crew usually spend at least 1,000 hours of manpower on a car.

It is a common request from owners that the car be painted black, sometimes even with that  familiar gold eagle logo on the hood — just like Bandit’s.

“People who have seen that movie can just put themselves in the shoes of Burt Reynolds and be that person speeding around the corners, outrunning the cops, whatever,” Hall says.

With that, he pulls the cover off a car and unveils a true beauty, a Bandit lookalike owned by a Texan named David Hershey. It is a ’77 Trans Am and looks like it’s ready for Hollywood filming.

It is the winner of many awards, not the least of which is a first-place finish at a Worlds of Wheels event in February. Fittingly, a Bandit-like cowboy hat sits in the backseat.

With the “Smokey and the Bandit” so much the focus of what Hall and his crew do, he thought a celebration marking the 30th-year anniversary was in order.

An idea began to float around: What if we drove from Texarkana to Atlanta?

On May 15, The Bandit Run began. There were more than 200 people, many of them driving Trans Ams, but also GTOs, Mustangs, and one brave soul who made the trek in a Ford Explorer.

Making most of the trip in an enclosed trailer was the beast — The Platinum Bandit.

Built from the ground up on hardly any sleep, Hall’s crew gave the car a new headlight design (HID 8K lights), a 4-link Triangular Suspension system, QA1 Coil Over Shocks, custom BonSpeed wheels, 4-wheel disc brakes, a 5-speed manual transmission, and a custom silver and charcoal decal design by Phoenix Graphix.

It was the kind of car suited for a guy with a cowboy hat and a mustache. The kind of guy who doesn’t know slow.