Run, Bandits, Run

The view over the long hood, punctuated by the center scoop with "T/A 6.6" on the side, is every bit as cool as I imagined it would be back when I stared at the picture of a Trans Am on my wall and built my model Trans Am--both '79s, as it happens. The worn-slick, leather-wrapped steering wheel feels great, and the burnished-metal dash is fun to look at--despite the fact that the tach doesn't work and the see-no-evil speedometer reads at least 10 mph slow.

Hershey's black '77 is leading the group, his wife Lori's wedding veil trailing out the T-top, Sally Field-style. The '77 and '78 black-and-gold Special Edition ("Bandit") cars are the obvious stars of our traveling road show, but participants' rides run the gamut and include Trans Ams from the early 1970s to the early 2000s, plus a GTO, a '68 Catalina, and a General Lee Dodge Charger (apparently one southern hero car deserves another). Hall's Restore a Muscle Car pickup and box trailer full of tools ride toward the rear.

Somehow we end up behind them, however, which proves to be a bummer when a burning smell prompts a stop on the side of the road. We pop the giant hood and see wisps of smoke curling up from the air-conditioning compressor. After cutting the belt to the compressor Kinney had just spent $600 to have fixed, I console him by pointing out that A/C is for wimps. This makes him feel much better.

Soon a downpour arrives and knocks all the heat out of the air anyway, but not before the T/A starts squealing like a pig (which brings to mind an entirely different Burt Reynolds movie). At lunch, the Restore a Muscle Car guys swarm under the hood and tighten the power steering and alternator belts. They also notice that the T/A has the wrong fan clutch; no problem, we'll pick up a new one when we get to Tupelo, Mississippi.

But shortly after crossing into Mississippi, a sudden severe shuddering sends us diving into a gas station. Expecting to find a flat tire--a potential problem, since we have no spare--we instead see the left rear snowflake mag hanging on by just one lug nut. Removing the wheel reveals that there are two missing studs. Not good. Just then, the Restore a Muscle Car rig bounds into the station. With the speed of a NASCAR pit crew, the guys set to work borrowing one stud from the other side to give us four lugs for each wheel, enough to get us to Tupelo.

The next morning starts with the Bandit Runners, whose numbers have increased, showing their cars outside the Tupelo Automobile Museum. The downtime gives the guys from Restore a Muscle Car--which we've renamed Restore Dave's Muscle Car--a chance to install the wheel studs and the new fan clutch Kinney purchased. Others use the time more wisely by doing smoky burnouts in the empty parking lot next door.

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