Matchbox Ultra: The Smokey and the Bandit Truck Mattel Should Have Made
One of the most requested 1/64th(ish) scale Hollywood rides gets the custom treatment via an almost unknown Matchbox line.
In 1977, a film rip-roared onto movie screens that would change the lives of gear-heads for decades to come: Smokey and the Bandit.
An original theater poster for Smokey and the Bandit
If you've been under a rock for the last 43 years and this is the first you're hearing of Smokey and the Bandit, click here.
If you're currently drinking a Dr. Pepper and eating a Diablo sandwich as you read this, you're definitely in the right spot.
So if you're still reading I assume you've seen the movie - and like myself are a huge fan of the flick. While ole' Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, and Jerry Reed do a damn good job acting their way through it, it's the vehicles from the movie that really strike a chord with fans.
Bandit's black and gold Trans Am is the overwhelming star of the show. From bridge jumping to power slides on dirt, to tire roasting burnouts, the TA kicks major ass. That Special Edition Trans Am is STILL a hot seller today, both in full-sized and scale form. In fact, the black and gold Pontiac is one of the most replicated diecast cars out there - no kidding - nearly every major manufacturer has a version: Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Greenlight, Johnny Lightning, Ertl, Kyosho, Yatming, Racing Champions, Road Champs, Zee Toys, and Tomica all have a second gen black and gold-clad Trans Am casting.
The car I chose to photograph for this post is my personal favorite, the Racing Champions Hollywood Rides Bandit Trans Am. It's got the right dimensions, great paint, and is one of the best overall Trans Am castings out there - it just needs the correct black interior to be really perfect.
The other two cars are the amazing Greenlight Buford T. Justice 1977 Pontiac Lemans police car, and a Johnny Lightning 1973 Cadillac Eldorado, an unofficial Big and Little Enos' car replica, but I'll save the details on those for another post.
The star of the movie may be the Trans Am, but it's Jerry Reed's character, Cledus Snow, who does a bulk of the heavy lifting via his boldly painted 1974 Kenworth W900a semi truck.
"Snowman's" rig is a black and tan/gold Kenworth W900 attached to a trailer emblazoned with art originally drawn by Universal Studios staff artist Jerry Gebr. The "Bandit" scene on the trailer is a beautifully painted homage to an old west style stick-em-up.
Unfortunately us diecast fans never got a Snowman's rig replica from the first film...and how do you play a proper Smokey and the Bandit chase scene on your family room carpet without a Snowman's rig?!?! The closest we've come is the Hot Wheels Retro Entertainment truck. While the truck cab itself is pretty nice, it's too small to be accurate next to the Trans Am from the same Retro series, and it never came with the trailer. A truck with no trailer? Nah, brah, that's not working for me.
Hot Wheels Retro Entertainment Kenworth W900.
The Hot Wheels version parked next to the Matchbox Ultra custom
Enter the under-the-radar Matchbox Ultra Kenworth W900. I came across this truck about 12 years ago while doing some random eBay and forum stalking. Remember forums? I miss forums. Anyways, as soon as I learned about this truck, I knew I had to make a proper Smokey and the Bandit replica. After some careful research and a few timely placed eBay bids, I won the stock blue and purple version of the W900. I don't recall if the particular truck had a trailer with it, as I remember buying a second truck just for the trailer, but either way you can find both/each on eBay.
After the truck hit my mailbox, I started the custom process. The truck is really detailed and has some great features - including a screw-base on both the truck and trailer - which made it a breeze to paint. I disassembled the truck, sprayed some good old Testors black paint, and went on the hunt for some decals. I ended up finding some very random diecast truck customizing website that had the EXACT decals for this particular truck. The cost of the single decal sheet? A wallet-busting $50 -- remember this was over a decade ago and I was just as worried that my credit card info was going to get ripped off from some no-named site than I was about not being able to buy Taco Bell for the next month due to that heavy $50 hit. Was it worth it? It was. The decals came a few weeks later in the mail, and they looked even better in person.
I wish I could remember the name or site of the guy I bought the decals from, because he did a great job. Overall they turned out nicely - a few decal applying hiccups on my end were basically the only issues I had (like the raised portions on the cab of the truck and the sleeper decals I applied too low due to putting them on before I assembled the truck).
One of the things that makes this truck so great is its size. I found almost zero information on the Ultra line when searching for details for this article, but they appear to be close to 1:55th scale...it might be a little big but the Trans Am actually fits in the back of the trailer, so to me it's sized just right.
This truck and trailer marks every box for me. The size is perfect, the trailer has moving parts like the dolly legs and opening rear swing doors, the cab has detailed air horns and CB antennas, it's almost all metal, rides on rubber wheels, and both fit together nicely. The fact the TA fits in the back is just icing on the cake. Here's a Youtube video I made showing off some of the details of the truck:
I wish I could give you more info on the line, but there's not even a Matchbox wiki page on them - so if anyone does know more about this line in general, please share in the comments!
For another size reference, the Retro Entertainment Kenworth also fits in the back.
While I appreciate the Retro release, a proper sized replica is what us fans really wanted - and still need. I mean how cool would it be to get one of the new Hot Wheels Transporter style diorama boxes with this truck and a Trans Am?!?! Very freaking cool.
I'm really crossing my fingers that we can get a proper Snowman's rig from Greenlight, who makes bigger trucks and has (or had at one point recently) the license to produce Smokey and the Bandit vehicles...but until then, this excellent Matchbox Ultra Kenworth casting will have to fill the void.
While I could go on and on about the movie, this truck, and of course that beautiful black Trans Am, I'll leave you with some more shots of the custom Kenworth and one of my favorite quotes from the movie:
"For the good old American life: For the money, for the glory, and for the fun... mostly for the money" - The Bandit