The True Coors Bootlegging Story Behind Smokey And The Bandit


3 minute Read

The True Coors Bootlegging Story Behind Smokey And The Bandit

It’s spring. Just about that time. Not time to plant seeds, though probably that, too. Not even time to clean your closets, Eminem style. It’s time for the next generation to fall in deep, mustachioed love with Burt Reynolds. And in the many wonderful ways to do that (here’s a suggestion), the best recommendation is probably by watching Smokey and the Bandit.

If you’ve never seen it, and you love cars, a warning: a lot of cars get the sh*t kicked out of them in this movie. But if you can stomach some serious front-end damage, you should cue this one up on Netflix. And then buy a bunch of Coors.

OK, fair question—that was you, right?—why are we recommending you buy one of the more two dimensional adjunct macro beers out there? As with any potentially hypocritical situation, we insist it’s for artistic reasons. It’s the only sensible thing to drink while watching this movie, and not just because it’s basically a protracted car chase between mustaches with cowboy hats and a portly cop named Buford T. Justice. (Really, that’s his name.)

Turns out the plot of Smokey and the Bandit is centered on one lovable tycoon’s deep-seated thirst for Coors. And, yes, Burt Reynolds’ untameable sexuality. The back story of how Smokey got made is a bit more interesting: prolific Hollywood stuntman Hal Needham was working on the set of Gator and was given a gift of (illegal) Coors.

You read that right. Coors, ubiquitous potion of good time brohood, was once illegal in certain states. The movie was made in the late ’70s, and at that time, Coors was actually a regional product. It was made in Colorado, but because it wasn’t pasteurized and contained no preservatives, shipping could get a little tricky. Coors didn’t get national distribution until 1986. Which is why, in the 1970s, Coors wasn’t actually licensed to sell east of the Mississippi, making it, briefly, a rare and sought-after product. (Per Time Magazine, Gerald Ford, Eisenhower, and Paul Newman hoarded the stuff.)

Coors’ cachet aside, Needham wasn’t a big beer fan, but he did notice that the Coors would disappear out of his trailer in small increments. Finally he figured out the maid was stealing two bottles a day. Realizing how important this beer was, to some anyway, he thought “bootlegging Coors would make a good plotline for a movie.”

So in between being thrown around and set on fire and stuff, Needham actually wrote the script for Smokey and the Bandit. He showed it to his roommate at the time, who thought the dialogue was “horrible” but the plot was good enough. We’ve all had opinionated roommates, but Needham’s roommate was actually Burt Reynolds, the number one box office star at the time, and the inspiration for many a misbegotten mustache. Reynolds helped Needham get the movie made, and the rest is Dixie car chase and Coors history.

If you, like us, don’t quite know the story itself, here it is: basically, a wealthy Texan caricature named Big Enos (say it out loud) Burdette and his son—Little Enos (say it out loud)—want some Coors. Four hundred cases of Coors. Quickly. Why? Well, for obvious reasons. Big Enos (say it out loud) is sponsoring a car in some Atlanta race and wants to “celebrate in style.” Which, per all logic and human reason, means with 400 cases of Coors.

Big and Little Enos are also kind of sociopaths, or just the type of people who have money and use it to send normal people on weird errands. They want the Coors, sure, but they want to drink it in Georgia, a state where it wasn’t legally sold at the time. Their solution is to offer rodeo truck driver Bo “Bandit” Darville $80,000 to go pick it up in under 28 hours. Which, in the annals of weird errands for rich people, has apparently never been done before.

Most of the movie involves Bandit doing crazy sh*t with his Pontiac Trans Am to run interference for the truck full of 400 cases of Coors driven by his friend Cledus “Snowman” Snow (they didn’t spend a lot of time brainstorming on that nickname, and we’re fine with that; plus, Cledus has a great Bassett hound named Fred, so he’s OK in our book). There are great car stunts in this movie, plus Sally Field playing a character named “Frog,” which is almost all you need in a film. But then, yeah, the cherry on top, Sheriff Justice. (His son was supposed to marry Sally Field, she ditched it and hitched a ride with Bandit, which is part of the reason why he has so much heat on his tail.)

This is where we say “spoiler alert”: despite Sheriff Justice’s best efforts, the Bandit and Snowman get their haul in on time. It’s a squeaker, ‘cuz it’s a movie, but they get the job done. Except, since it’s a movie, the job isn’t really done. Little Enos (say it out loud) now wants clam chowder from New England in some other insane and arbitrary amount of time. Possibly a sequel that was never made, but then again, people are probably more interested in a truck full of beer then a truck full of creamy shellfish soup.

Anyway, since you’ve read this far, you clearly care deeply about American cinematic history, so watch this clip. It sets up the story and you’ll also fall in love with Burt Reynolds. Who, as it turns out, is helping launch the new “Bandit” edition Pontiac Trans Am.

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