Today's muscle car is dominated by the Ford Mustang, the Dodge Challenger and the Chevrolet Camaro. But four decades ago, one car – and one film – proved the model to beat. And our deputy editor has been driving it

Were you aware that Smokey and the Bandit was a secret guilty pleasure of Alfred Hitchcock? Or that The Bandit's real name is only uttered once throughout the movie? Or that only Star Wars Episode IV grossed more at the theatres in 1977?Well come on. It's a Pontiac Firebird. Did you really not expect me to make any reference to the Burt Reynolds classic? And yes, I'll give you a second to stick on some Jerry Reed…Much like the DeLorean DMC-12, the Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am holds cult status today thanks largely to one hugely popular movie franchise, when truth be told, there's much more to General Motor's famous pony cars than that. In 1967 for instance, the Firebird made its debut based on the chassis of the first generation Chevrolet Camaro, just one of several affordable, high-performance models – including the Dodge Challenger, the Plymouth Barracuda and AMC Javelin – fascinating American audiences during the late 1960s, thanks largely to their striking, muscular designs and high power output (the original Firebird boasted an engine range encompassing everything from a 165bhp 230cu to a 325bhp 400cu V8). To homologate its entry in the SCCA road racing series, Pontiac also debuted the Firebird Trans-Am in 1969, an altogether flashier model with a dual intake hood scoop, fender vents, larger tyres and lowered suspension for improved handling.

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