How One Florida Restoration Shop Honors Burt Reynolds’ Love of Cars

by TK Sanders

Auto enthusiast Gene Kennedy was supposed to go see Star Wars in 1977 but the line was too long; so he went to see Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit, instead. Little did he know the decision would affect the entire trajectory of his life.

Not only did the black and gold Pontiac Trans Am from the movie inspire a life devoted to restoring cars, but the entire experience would also lead to a friendship with the movie’s star. Kennedy had to wait 35 years to meet Reynolds. But the friendship lasted until Reynolds’ death in 2018.

These days, Kennedy buys and restores Hollywood movie cars that have been on screen. Alternatively, he recreates them from exact models, often for auction or independent clients. It’s a labor of love for Kennedy that also leads to some nice big numbers on the auction block.

Gene Kennedy and Burt Reynolds Go Pro with Their Love of Classic Cars

In 2014, Kennedy and the Bandit, himself, tracked down and restored the Trans Am that was used by Universal Pictures to promote the original film. In January of 2016, they auctioned it off for a staggering $550,000 at the Barrett Jackson Scottsdale Auction. Kennedy also personally owns an autographed (by Reynolds) 1977 Trans Am identical to the ones used in the movie. Although nobody can verify if his car was used in filming due to a fire at Universal Pictures years ago, he and Reynolds liked to think it was, considering they found it in Georgia close to the original set. It is in showroom condition.

But it was the wild 2014 auction that really transformed the business from purely restoration into a venture dedicated to acquiring famous film automobiles.

“[The auction] looked like Woodstock,” Kennedy said, referencing the enormous crowd that showed up to see the famous Pontiac T-top. “[Burt] absolutely got an injection of energy. I had never seen him quite like that after that moment. That really started quite a few more things for us. I’m proud that we got to do that.”

Kennedy’s passion and Reynolds’ support led to Bandit Movie Cars, a business that buys and sells cars with celebrity connections of some sort.

“These movie cars get lost in history,” Kennedy said. “When Hollywood generally gets done with a movie, they will dispose of the cars for liability reasons … so more often than not, Hollywood would destroy the car. It’s unfortunate because some of those would be really iconic to be in a museum. Some of these cars have a lot of value.”

The Enduring Legacy of a Fun Movie and a Beautiful Car

Next year marks the 45th anniversary of Smokey and the Bandit’s release. In celebration, Kennedy and hundreds of Trans Am enthusiasts will take a three-day excursion from Texarcana to Atlanta.

Kennedy said he will take his own personal Trans Am to car shows around the country. He hopes to educate the next generation of car lovers about the lasting impact that Burt Reynolds and his Bandit character had on Kennedy’s generation.

“People want to have that moment where they see something of his,” Kennedy said. “It’s not just a Trans Am. Burt said he was happy to be in the movie, but the star was the car. That car had a personality of its own.”