Burt Reynolds' top 5 automotive moments
As the world mourns the loss of Hollywood’s easy-going cannonball, we look back at Burt Reynolds' finest automotive moments
A true legend and icon: Burt Reynolds
Film fans and petrolheads lost an icon yesterday, as wisecracking 1970s Oscar nominee Burt Reynolds passed away at the age of 82.
Hollywood’s easy-going cannonball reportedly passed away at the Jupiter Medical Centre in Florida following a heart attack. His family was by his side.
Always laced with humour, Reynolds told The Associated Press in 2001 that ‘My career is not like a regular chart, mine looks like a heart attack.’
‘I’ve done over 100 films, and I’m the only actor who has been canned by all three networks. I epitomise longevity.’
Regardless of how critics perceived Reynolds' vocation and the trajectory of later-career box office figures, an entire generation idolised Burt and all he represented; the American dream, freedom and automotive nirvana.
Picking only five moments from over 50 years of work on screen is hard going. AutoClassics could easily fill a book, but here are our favourite Burt Reynolds automotive moments. We hope he’s pedal to the metal up there…
5. Citroën madness – The Longest Yard
If you thought Burt’s vehicular occupation related purely to American muscle cars, you need to watch 1974’s The Longest Yard. Reynolds does all the driving, expertly choreographed by stuntman extraordinaire Hal Needham.
The premise of the film sees a disgraced American footballer wind up behind bars for lurid behaviour, finished off by stealing his lover’s Citroën SM – referred to as a Maserati by the American market.
The car chase mayhem makes Ronin look like childs’ play, featuring J-turns and carnage before the SM takes an unjust plunge into the sea. Reynolds nailed piloting the Citroën with such profound perfection that he makes the driving look easy. Hydropneumatic suspension remains an unforgiving mistress, and to couple that with front-wheel drive makes for a difficult beast come Hollywood filming.
Don’t panic about the car, however. It was fished out the marina and sold the very same day. It’s apparently still out there somewhere…
4. Driving the Ford Bronco – Deliverance
Deliverance proved to be Reynolds' breakthrough role, and while the film makes for uncomfortable watching, there is at least some car action for the petrolhead. The scene itself is short lived but packs a punch.
Before everything goes horribly wrong, Burt Reynolds and Jon Voigt traverse through the dense swamplands of the Deep South in their 1970 International Harvester Scout. Unlike most films from the early era of flared jeans and afro perms, there’s no back projection. The driving is real, and you feel as though you are in the cabin with them.
Apparently, the Scout driven in the movie is the very vehicle Reynolds used to travel back and forth from Oconee County airport to the Chattoga river during filming. It was reportedly left at the airport and removed some 35 years later by a local resident.
3. Saving a stuntman from death – White Lightning
This 1973 gem was slated to be Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical feature and he spent months on pre-production before Joseph Sargent later took on directorial duties.
Based around an ex-con teaming up with federal agents to assist breaking up a moonshine ring, the film packed in more car action than had ever previously made it to the big screen. But filming didn’t go smoothly.
Reynolds' car for the movie was a 1971 Ford LTD Galaxie 500 with a 4-speed manual gearbox rigged for speed. Filming required two cars, the other of which was an automatic. The vehicle is almost like a main character in the motion picture, climaxing with a chase sequence that ends with Reynolds' car sailing from a river bank onto a barge. The stunt went terribly wrong.
Driven by stuntman and future director of Smokey and the Bandit Hal Needham, the Galaxie was supposed to land squarely on a soft mound of earth within a barge. However, the car fell short and crashed into the rear of the barge before starting to slide off and into the water. Needham was injured and Reynolds dived in to his aid. He swam the current and pulled Needham out of the car.
2. The entire film – The Cannonball Run
We don’t have to tell you much about this one. Burt’s last true box office hit to trumpet his billing above all else, the film was actually lined up for Steve McQueen. The race movie was to be gritty and realistic, but upon McQueen’s death the entire premise was changed.
Once Burt was on board, the script was rewritten to become a comedy, with Reynolds earning $5 million for four weeks work; this made him the best paid actor in the business.
It’s impossible to pick Reynolds' best moment from the film, so we’ve gone for a quote that sums up Burt’s dry sense of humour.
Trying to figure out which car to take on the Cannonball rally, he quips: ‘We could get a black Trans Am’, before answering his own question with ‘Nah. That’s been done.’
Chattooga isn’t the only reference to Smokey and the Bandit. Check out the final scene where everyone legs it to the finish…
1. The Bridge Jump – Smokey and the Bandit
To sum up Smokey and the Bandit’s success, only Star Wars trumped the Hal Needham/Burt Reynolds offering at the 1977 box office.
This was Reynolds' finest onscreen vehicular partnership. Pontiac were so delighted with the publicity their Trans Am received throughout the film that Burt received a brand new model every year.
Arguably the finest stunt, and Reynolds' finest automotive moment, came in the form of a jump. But it wasn’t just any jump. The Trans-Am had to fly over a ruined bridge straddling the Flint River.
The Trans-Am employed for the iconic airborne exploit was totally destroyed partaking in such a feat. According to the director, the Pontiac housed a Chevrolet engine under the bonnet to provide the power required to clear such a distance. Well, they had learned that lesson while filming White Lightning…
More Hollywood greats!
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