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A "Brief" History of the "Bandit" Cars

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  • A "Brief" History of the "Bandit" Cars

    A Brief History of the “Bandit” Cars
    (or Pontiac’s Black and Gold Special Editions)

    - written by Jeff Goers for MiFBody.com

    When referring to black and gold Trans Ams, inevitably the term “Bandit” will arise referencing the 1977 movie that started the phenomenon. However, in truth, Pontiac never made a “Bandit” edition Trans Am. They did make a black and gold Special Edition used by the movie, but never was it dubbed anything other than a Special Edition by Pontiac. The movie was just so wildly successful at the time, that the public came to associate any black and gold TA as a “Bandit” edition.

    The “Bandit” SEs evolved from a 1973 Trans Am show car built by Bill Mitchell as a styling exercise, which he used as his personal driver and show usage. This was the first car to use the gold on black theme, with gold headlamp bezels, grilles, and wheels. The car was driven regularly by Mitchell and his design buddies, and was frequently seen cruising (or racing) on Woodward Avenue.

    With the redesign of the 1974 Trans Am to comply with new federal crash standards, Mitchell’s ’73 was updated with ’74 front and rear fascias, and debuted at the 1974 Chicago Auto Show. There was enough positive feedback to update the car again for the 1975 circuit, and this in turn spun off the first black and gold Special Edition.


    1976 50th Anniversary

    In 1976, to commemorate Pontiac’s 50th anniversary, RPO Y82 got you a black and gold SE, complete with Mitchell’s gold headlamp bezels, grilles and wheels. Also included was a gold tinted dash, gold tinted steering wheel spokes, a gold shifter plate (automatics only), and English gothic lettering for the Trans Am decals. Options could include a 455 engine (last year offered) and the first ever Hurst T-tops in a production vehicle. The T-tops were only offered for a portion of the build year as they were shown to easily leak and warranty issues were a concern.

    1976 SE Production Numbers:
    400 engine, no T-tops: 1628
    455 engine, no T-tops: 319
    400 engine, with T-tops: 533
    455 engine, with T-tops: 110
    Total 1976 SE Production: 2590


    1977 “Bandit” Special Edition

    ’77 Trans Am SEs, the first year with the “beaked” front end, came with two designations. RPO Y81 specified a hard top, while RPO Y82 came with the Hurst T-tops. All SEs again came with the gold wheels, headlamp bezels, dash, steering wheel spokes, shifter plate, and gothic lettering. Again, the Hurst tops were showing leakage and warranty issues, and were offered sporadically throughout the model year. This was the first year the Olds 403 (L80) was offered as a motor, along with the base Pontiac 400 (L78 ) and the upgraded T/A 6.6 400 (W72). Only the W72 motor could be ordered with a manual transmission. To a keen eyed spotter, you could tell what motor was there by the shaker hood. If it said “6.6 LITER”, you had either the entry level Pontiac 400 or the Olds 403. If it said “T/A 6.6”, you had the W72.

    1977 “Bandit” SE Production Numbers:
    Y81, 400 (L78 ): 748
    Y81, 403 (L80): 180
    Y81, 400 (W72) automatic: 549
    Y81, 400 (W72) manual: 384
    Total SE Hard Tops: 1861
    Y82, 400 (L78 ): 6030
    Y82, 403 (L80): 1217
    Y82, 400 (W72) automatic: 3760
    Y82, 400 (W72) manual: 2699
    Total SE T-tops: 13,706
    Total 1977 “Bandit” SE Production: 15,576


    1978 “Bandit” Special Edition

    In ’78, nearly everything was carryover for the SEs from 1977. The one notable exception was that all SEs came with T-tops, and this would be the last year the Hurst T-tops would be available. Fisher T-tops replaced the troublesome Hursts early in the model year. The easy way to tell the difference between the two is that the Fishers are much larger and only have about 4 inches of roof span between them, while the smaller Hursts have about 8 inches. Additionally, in a fit of marketing frenzy, GM introduced another Special Edition in ’78 by flip-flopping the “Bandit” paint scheme to create the Gold Special Editions with black trim. Interestingly, GM had to use two different types of Solar Gold paint between the Norwood, Ohio (RPO Y82) and Van Nuys, California (RPO Y84) plants due to stricter California EPA requirements, giving the Van Nuys Gold SE cars a greenish tint. While all three motors returned from ’77, it seems that neither plant tracked which 400 motor went into the cars, leaving us with only a bulk number of total 400s to speculate over. Only Van Nuys used the 403 motor.

    1978 “Bandit” SE Production Numbers:
    Y82 (Norwood), 400 motor, automatic: 2856
    Y82 (Norwood), 400 motor, manual: 489
    Y84 (Van Nuys), 400 motor, automatic: 68
    Y84 (Van Nuys), 400 motor, manual: 20
    Y84 (Van Nuys), 403 (L80): 210
    Total 1978 “Bandit” SE Production: 3643


    1979 “Bandit” Special Edition

    The ’79 Trans Ams sported another styling upgrade to the fascias, doing away with the “beaked” front fascia and going to the separated, quad headlamps. There were also some drivetrain changes for T/As, adding the Pontiac 301 and the California issued Chevy 305 (L37), and removing the base Pontiac 400 (L78 ). However, the 301 did not make it into a “Bandit”. The W72 400 and the 305 was available with a manual transmissions. Other than that, all gold trim items were carryover in application, and all “Bandit” SEs came with the RPO Y84.

    1979 “Bandit” SE Production Numbers:
    305 (L79), automatic: 573
    305 (L79), manual: 213
    403 (L80), automatic: 9874
    400 (W72), automatic: 1107
    400 (W72), manual: 1107
    Total 1979 “Bandit” SE Production: 12,774


    1980 “Bandit” Special Edition

    While the Trans Am looked very much the same for 1980, there were major changes under the hood. Gone were the 400 and 403 motors, to be replaced by the Pontiac 301 (W72) and 301 Turbo (LU8 ). The new 305 (LG4) remained as the “performance” motor for California. Also new to the SEs were the introduction of the turbo styled wheels, done in gold, derived from the ’79 10th Anniversary Edition T/A. The external and interior appearance was virtually unchanged from ’79, with the notable exception that the Fisher T-tops became optional again. All SEs still carry RPO Y84.

    1980 “Bandit” SE Production Numbers:
    301 (W72), no T-tops: 72
    305 (LG4), no T-tops: 103
    301 Turbo (LU8 ), no T-tops: 12
    Total SE Hardtops: 187
    301 (W72), w/ T-tops: 2084
    305 (LG4), w/ T-tops: 463
    301 Turbo (LU8 ), w/ T-tops: 3444
    Total SE T-tops: 5991
    Total 1980 “Bandit” SE Production: 6176


    1981 “Bandit” Special Edition

    For 1981, there were very few changes for the SEs. All cars now received an in hood turbo boost gauge labeled Low, Medium and High, and all cars received GM’s Computer Command Control, the first computers put in a GM vehicle. The only real change for the T/As was a price increase of $842 over 1980, creating a new price for a base Trans Am to $8322. The Y84 SE coupe added another $779, and the Y84 T-top edition pushed another $1516. This created base prices for the SE coupe at $9101, and $9838 for a T-top version. After a few options, it was not unusual for nicely equipped SEs to be well north of $10,000, or well into Corvette pricing.

    1981 “Bandit” SE Production Numbers:
    301 (W72), no T-tops: 41
    305 (LG4), no T-tops: 15
    301 Turbo (LU8 ), no T-tops: 65
    Total SE Hardtops: 121
    301 (W72), w/ T-tops: 1160
    305 (LG4), w/ T-tops: 932
    301 Turbo (LU8 ), w/ T-tops: 3050
    Total SE T-tops: 5142
    Total 1980 “Bandit” SE Production: 5263


    Post-1981 Special Editions

    1981 represented the last year that Pontiac had a dedicated black and gold “Bandit” Special Edition package. There were black and gold cars to be had, but Pontiac had begun to more emphasis on the Recaro seats that were going into Trans Ams and less on the famous color scheme. You could buy a black and gold T/A, but it would only be technically classified as a Special Edition if you checked off the Recaro interior option. Pontiac would continue to offer these Recaro SEs through 1985.


    How to Spot a “Bandit” SE

    All the black and gold SEs produced from 1976 through 1981 shared some noticeable similarities. These can be used as quick visual references to, at a glance, can help us know if it’s a “Bandit” or spotting “Bandit” parts:

    - Starlight black exterior with gold accent stripes
    - Gold wheels (gold wheels could be had on other T/As)
    - Gold colored headlamp bezels and grilles
    - Gold tinted instrument panel
    - Gold steering wheel spokes
    - Gold tinted shifter bezel (for automatics)

    But the real indicator is the data plate under the hood on the driver’s side firewall. If this plate has the RPO code for that year (Y81, Y82, Y84), then the car is likely a “Bandit” Special edition (sadly, they are starting to re-pop these plates or swapping them between cars by unscrupulous people). It should be noted though, that some SE cars ( specifically 1977-78 ) may not have received the designation on the data plate due to a plant oversight at the time. The safest way to verify a car is through Pontiac Historical Services.


    The REAL Bandit Special Editions

    When it was stated above that there are no factory “Bandit” Special Editions, that was true. However, in 1981 that was remedied by Trans Am Specialties in Cherry Hill, NJ, who created approximately 200 Bandit Trans Ams under license of Universal Studios to use the name. Modifications were extensive, and included the following:
    - 455 motor bored 0.30 over; final displacement of 462 cubic inches
    - 9.0 to 1 compression
    - 380 hp at 4800 rpms, 430 lb. ft. of torque at 2800 rpms (estimated)
    - Doug Nash 5-speed manual transmission
    - 3.08 rear gear
    - 3900 lb curb weight (estimated)
    - 21 gallon fuel tank
    - 11.0 vented front disc brakes, 11.1 vented rear discs
    - Pontiac’s WS6 handling option
    - 255/60R15 Goodyear tires
    - Recaro seats
    - Blauplunkt four speaker stereo
    - Escort radar detector
    - Motion sensitive theft alarm
    - CB radio (of course)

    Zero to sixty times were measured in 6.0 seconds, and it ran a traction-challenged 14.3 quarter mile at 97 miles an hour (with a 3.08 rear gear).

    What did it cost?

    A cool $30,000 in 1981. That was $4000 more than an ’81 DeLorean and moving towards entry level Ferrari territory. But if you wanted one of the fastest cars made in 1981, and wanted to be Burt Reynolds, the Bandit was your car.

    In closing, a total of some 47,000 “Bandit” Special Editions were built over the period of seven years, or an average of a scant 6700 (give or take) a year. Given the reputation of these vehicles, it’s safe to say that only a percentage of that number survived to this day. How many? Who knows. But a safe guess would say half that figure (or less). Even a smaller percentage in decent condition. Definitely a rare breed.

    In closing, yeah, I kind of went through this quickly in the effort to simplify things, and I apologize if I was too brief. If anyone has any questions or would like additional information, please do not hesitate to ask. Below are a couple of links if you’re looking for more information:

    http://www.78ta.com/banditedition.htm

    http://www.bandittransamclub.com/The%20prototype.htm
    Last edited by meissen; November 8th, 2006, 11:44 AM.
    Originally posted by Redd8407
    I WANT NOISE! SPEED! AN ENGINE THAT SHAKES MY INTERNAL ORGANS LIKE THEY GOT PARKINSON'S! I DONT WANT AN ENGINE THAT IS PARTIALLY POWERED BY MY LAPTOP BATTERY!
    Originally posted by Z28ISGR8
    WHY THE F*CK IS THERE A GOAT ON A FERRARI?
    Originally posted by Darren
    I think it is because I take it in and out all the time, the rubber has just stretched out, especially at the bottom where it is really thin. It annoys me more then anything.

  • #2
    Very nice article!
    - Brian Meissen
    Owner, MiFBody.com
    Administrator, LTxTech.com


    1994 Camaro LT1 Transplant - 357ci LT1, cammed, stalled, and driven.


    2014 Camaro LFX M6 - Cherry Bomb
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    • #3
      Originally posted by 81DaytonaPaceCar
      But the real indicator is the data plate under the hood on the driver’s side firewall. If this plate has the RPO code for that year (Y81, Y82, Y84), then the car is likely a “Bandit” Special edition (sadly, they are starting to re-pop these plates or swapping them between cars by unscrupulous people).
      The funny thing about it is "Y84" is the RPO code for the 87-92 GTA.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by MattODoom
        The funny thing about it is "Y84" is the RPO code for the 87-92 GTA.
        At some point GM must have made the Y84 the "code du jour" for any post 81 SE. It's used for every (I think) Firebird SE from '78 on.
        Originally posted by Redd8407
        I WANT NOISE! SPEED! AN ENGINE THAT SHAKES MY INTERNAL ORGANS LIKE THEY GOT PARKINSON'S! I DONT WANT AN ENGINE THAT IS PARTIALLY POWERED BY MY LAPTOP BATTERY!
        Originally posted by Z28ISGR8
        WHY THE F*CK IS THERE A GOAT ON A FERRARI?
        Originally posted by Darren
        I think it is because I take it in and out all the time, the rubber has just stretched out, especially at the bottom where it is really thin. It annoys me more then anything.

        Comment


        • #5
          Good job on mentioning the Real bandit cars. Nice article!

          1978 Pontiac Firebird Formula W66
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          • #6
            Super article, but I almost fell asleep reading it..........L o n g .........................

            **** FEAR THIS ! ***

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            • #7
              Originally posted by micamaro92
              Super article, but I almost fell asleep reading it..........L o n g .........................
              That's what I thought. Good thing I chopped 2 pages off it.

              (it could have been worse)
              Originally posted by Redd8407
              I WANT NOISE! SPEED! AN ENGINE THAT SHAKES MY INTERNAL ORGANS LIKE THEY GOT PARKINSON'S! I DONT WANT AN ENGINE THAT IS PARTIALLY POWERED BY MY LAPTOP BATTERY!
              Originally posted by Z28ISGR8
              WHY THE F*CK IS THERE A GOAT ON A FERRARI?
              Originally posted by Darren
              I think it is because I take it in and out all the time, the rubber has just stretched out, especially at the bottom where it is really thin. It annoys me more then anything.

              Comment


              • #8
                Definetly a good read for the Trans Am Enthusisat.

                But it was my Understanding that Bill Mitchell Hated the Hood Bird and that was why it wasn't on the `70 Model. In `73 The Idea was resurected and Bill was given that Black and Gold SD 455 (1 of 1) He had a thing for the Player race cars of the era and they were Black and Gold. And thats how the Hood Bird was OK'd as an Option.

                Also Gold was the original and primary color for the SE cars in `78 When Van Nuys had their Gold paint problem the rest of the run was done in Black.
                Craig
                Semi Retired Street Racer
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                GONE BUT NOT FORGOTEN
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                "For you who believe all you read, I caution you - you are daily being brainwashed for profit by extremely effective psychology with very little regard to factual accuracy. In short, you're at the mercy of the world's greatest bullshit artists with the morals of a stray tomcat."
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                • #9
                  AWESOME POST - Thanks for the info

                  13th!!! Annual Michigan FBody Meet & Greet Car Show 2017
                  June 10th, 2017 - 9am to 3pm!!!
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                  Classics only cost alot if you add up what you spend!

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                  • #10
                    Nicely done! TWO Thumbs up!
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