On the DVD Documentary, Burt Reynolds says that a senior executive at Pontiac promised him a free Trans-Am if the movie became a hit. It did and the 1977 T-Top Trans-Am became one of the hottest selling cars of the year. When the movie became a hit, Reynolds expected the executive to come through with his promise. But the Trans-Am never came. After a few months, Reynolds, (who was afraid of looking like one of those pretentious stars looking for freebies), finally called Pontiac. As it turned out, the executive that made the promise had retired and the new executive refused to keep the promise that was made, by the previous Pontiac Trans Am executive.
Hal Needham asked Jerry Reed to write a theme song for the film. A couple of hours later, Reed presented "East Bound and Down" to Needham. With an acoustic guitar, Reed started to play it and Needham immediately stopped him. Thinking Needham didn't like it, Reed offered to re-write the song. To which Needham replied: "If you change one note, I'll kill you!" The song went on to become one of Reed's biggest hits.
While Hal Needham was in Georgia working as Burt Reynolds' stunt double in Gator (1976), the driver captain on the set brought some Coors beer from California and brought a couple of cases to Needham's hotel room. After he noticed that the maid kept stealing the beers from the fridge, he remembered a TIME magazine article from 1974 about how Coors was unavailable east of the Mississippi River, because the beer was not pasteurized and needed constant refrigeration, and couldn't legally be sold outside of 11 western and southwestern U.S. states. Which made him realize that, "bootlegging Coors would make a good plotline for a movie."
Jackie Gleason reportedly modeled his character, Sheriff Buford T. Justice, after Burt Reynolds' description of his father, a Florida police officer and Chief of Police. Among the character traits that came from this was the use of "sumbitch", a colloquial pronunciation of "son of a bitch".
Fred, the Bassett Hound dog for Snowman's pet, was personally picked by Burt Reynolds, chiefly because it refused to obey commands. Perhaps it was a reminder of Elvis Presley singing Hound Dog to a Bassett Hound on Steve Allen's show for new talents.
According to Hal Needham on a radio show in Atlanta, the scene with the football players narrowly missed being a serious accident when, unknown to the film crew, a groundskeeper watered the grass on the field, causing the car to go out of control, slide the wrong way, and almost hit the extras.
Hal Needham was better known in the film industry as a stunt man, and had great difficulty in getting any producers interested in this project. Only when his close friend Burt Reynolds agreed to star in the film did he manage to gain studio attention.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Sally Field says Burt Reynolds wanted her for the role of Carrie after being smitten with Field for some time, since her TV debut on Gidget (1965). Field says she decided to do the part because it allowed her to be light and pretty, a big departure from her previous role on television as the troubled Sybil (1976).
According to director Hal Needham in the DVD Documentary, Pontiac gave them three Trans-Ams and two Bonnevilles (Sheriff Justice's patrol car) for the film. Needham says that one of the Trans-Ams was completely destroyed during the famous bridge jump scene and that with all the damages the Lemans sustained, they eventually had to piece all three bodies together to make one Bonneville.
When Hal Needham originally wrote the initial screenplay, he hired Jerry Reed to play the Bandit. But when Needham told Burt Reynolds about the film, Reynolds decided he wanted to do it and Reed was re-cast as the Snowman.
In the restaurant Sheriff Justice (Jackie Gleason) orders a "Diablo sandwich" which is like a "Sloppy Joe" but spicier. There are regional differences but it is usually made like a Sloppy Joe with ground beef. The Sloppy Joe spices are replaced with taco spices and the recipe might include hot sauce, canned corn and diced tomato. In some places jalapeño peppers are added. It is usually served on a hamburger bun.
In the original screenplay, Bandit's last name is LaRoue (first name never mentioned), Carrie's name was Kate, Cledus' handle was simply just Bandit II, Big Enos and Little Enos' names were Kyle and Dickey, Junior was not a character, Buford's name was different, Bandit's car was not a Trans Am, and the reward for making the run was a new truck, not $80,000.
The nickname Smokey is Citizens Band radio slang for State Patrol troopers because of their hats. Most states outfit them with what are properly called "campaign hats" with a "Montana crease". The hat with that type crease is of late 19th century vintage. It came to be called a "Smokey Bear hat" after the US Forest Service began publishing images (posters) of their mascot wearing one in 1944. Nicknames for other law enforcement officers are, among others, "City Kitty" or "local yokel" for a city police officer and "County Mountie" for a county police officer or Sheriff's deputy.
When scenes were filmed in the Trans Am, it was not possible to use a slate to mark the beginning and end of scenes. The actors had to clap their hands instead to mark when a scene started and ended. Several outtakes show this being done.
When Sheriff Justice first meets Sheriff Branford (a black man) he first addresses his white deputy as the sheriff, before remarking to Sheriff Branford "You sounded a lot taller on the radio." This is similar to a scene in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), when Walter Matthau first encounters Inspector Daniels (also a black man) in person, by telling him "Oh, I thought you were, uh, a, uh, shorter guy..."
The original actors mostly redubbed their own lines for the television version, except for Jackie Gleason. Actor Henry Corden, who voiced Fred Flintstone after original performer Alan Reed died, was used to replace a considerable amount of Sheriff Justice's dialogue. This is fitting, as Fred Flintstone was a parody of/homage to Gleason's character Ralph Kramden and The Flintstones (1960) was a parody of/homage to The Honeymooners (1955).
Near the end of the movie, one of the two Georgia State Patrol cars that block the entrance to the fairgrounds (the Oldsmobile) is equipped with an airbag (very rare for the '70s). General Motors did offer the airbag as the Air Cushion Restraint System in 1974 as RPO AR3 in full-sized Buick, Oldsmobile, and Cadillacs after it was experimented with some 1973 Chevrolet Impalas used as test mules. The airbags were used in conjunction with a knee blocker on the instrument panel. GM discontinued the ACRS after the 1976 model year in response to low demand. The airbag did not deploy in that minor collision but did deploy when they purposely wrecked the car years later. That car is shown in an airbag safety film used in some traffic schools.
When "The Bandit" asks "Silver Tongued Devil" as to his location, he answers "Interstate 82". There is no "Interstate 82" in the state of Arkansas. However, U.S. routes were also known as interstate routes, so calling 82 an interstate would be correct for the time period. The interstate system we know today was still being built at the time this film was made. PS: There is a Highway 82 in Texarkana, Texas. close to where the beer was "taken from."
Snowman's hat would lead the audience to believe that the W900A is Caterpillar powered. However, in most scenes of the movie the truck can be clearly recognized by sound as having a Detroit Diesel. It's been rumored that the trucks in the movie were powered by Cummims, Caterpillar, and Detroit diesels.
Hal Needham saw a picture of a Pontiac Trans Am in a magazine and thought up a product placement idea. He asked for six Trans Ams, but Pontiac would only agree to send four. Needham also asked for four Bonnevilles for Jackie Gleason's cars, but he only got two. By the time they shot the final scene, they had wiped out three Trans Ams and the fourth wouldn't start after all of the stunts, so another car was used to push it into the scene. For Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), Needham asked for and received 10 Trans Ams and 55 Bonnevilles with no trouble.
Set with his $5.3 million budget, a studio "hatchet man" was sent to Atlanta to inform Hal Needham that his budget was cut by $1 million. With Burt Reynolds making $1 million, Needham still had $3.3 million to make his film.
Even though the storyline had bandit as a notorious truck driver, Burt Reynolds character never sits in the cab of any truck during the 'bet'. He 'drives' up to Snowman's house in the early scenes of the film.
The area around Helen, Georgia was used for some locations. The scene where Buford T. Justice's car has the door knocked off by a passing semi was shot on GA 75, 3 miles (4.8 km) north of Helen. The tow truck driver was an actual local garage owner, Berlin Wike.
Richard Boone was also considered for the role of Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Burt Reynolds wanted someone "a little crazier, a little more dangerous, and a lot funnier" than Richard Boone, so he suggested Gleason.
The film features the custom clothing and costuming of Niver Western Wear of Fort Worth, Texas. NWW provided much of the western attire worn in the film, as well as the custom-made (size 64) sheriff's uniforms that Jackie Gleason wore throughout the film.
Variety reported that, "after shooting the first of what was intended to be a handful of scenes with Reynolds and Jackie Gleason on screen together, Reynolds demanded that the subsequent scenes be scrapped. Why? The question isn't directly answered, or even indirectly addressed."
The line of Jackie Gleason's dialogue printed on the movie's poster is incorrect. The quote on the poster reads "What we have here is a total lack of respect for the law." In the movie Gleason actually says "What we're dealing with here, is a complete lack of respect for the law."