An Auckland builder has created his own blockbuster-worthy big-rig and muscle car combo inspired by the iconic film Smokey and the Bandit.
Charlie Bailey bought the same Kenworth truck made famous in the American movie starring Burt Reynolds and gave it a full makeover in the same gleaming black and gold.
The purchase of the 1985 Kenworth W925 from Melbourne was a childhood dream realised for Bailey, 45, who as a boy spent the holidays driving around New Zealand with his truck driver dad.
“I always loved Smokey and the Bandit as a kid and always wanted to own a Kenworth because my dad used to drive them,” Bailey said.
“I’d spend the school holidays driving with him up and down the country delivering L&P. He drove some mean trucks.”
Bailey looked everywhere for the right Kenworth but lucked out in New Zealand where he said owners never sell and “would rather die with their trucks.”
He finally found the perfect truck in Melbourne and after tight negotiations secured the sale.
“The guy didn’t want to sell it to me at first. He was old-school and didn’t want it leaving Australia,” Bailey said.
“But I get something in my mind and I won’t stop until it’s achieved. He ended up giving me first dibs.”
When the truck arrived on New Zealand soil, Bailey was torn between the Smokey and the Bandit theme or “just doing a bad-ass custom truck”.
Once he decided on The Bandit he went full throttle and made the truck as “period correct” as he could but with his own twist.
The truck had a full panel and paint, work to the chassis, 10 stud rims added, as well as new stacks and more lights.
The work would usually take years but Bailey called on professionals, put in long hours himself, and got it done in just five months.
Bailey is no stranger to hard work on muscle cars and bikes. Over the past 15 years, he has bought and sold more than 60 classics - always adding value along the way.
As well as the famous Kenworth, Smokey and the Bandit features a Pontiac Trans Am Firebird. Burt Reynold’s character Bandit drives the Trans Am to distract police from the Kenworth and its cargo of bootlegged beer.
“Once I had the truck I needed the Trans Am,” Bailey said.
A mint Pontiac Firebird was secured and Charlie created a wooden crate for the back of the truck - just like the one used to carry the illegal booze in the movie.
Instead of holding liquor, the crate opens into bar leaners to provide the ultimate pop-up bar at car shows and events.
“You could set it up like a VIP bar to be used at events, you could put a band up there and make it really cool.”
Bailey estimates the full setup cost upward of $300,000.
“I usually have a couple of muscle cars and they are like $120k each so I justify this because I have the truck and trailer and I still have a car.”
He said the truck could also be put to work.
Bailey co-owns Auckland building company Team Salamander and said The Bandit could transport diggers and other heavy machinery.
More likely though, it will be used to take “other toys” around the country to various shows.
“It will be perfect for events like Beach Hop where you are there for a week and want to take more than one car.”
The Bandit and the Pontiac will head to the Kenworth 100-year celebrations at Mystery Creek on February 3, 2024.
Reuben Durent, from Kenworth supplier Southpac Trucks, said the free event would feature classic Kenworths such as The Bandit as well as new models.
“There will be 1000 Kenworths there so it’s going to be amazing and pretty nostalgic with the history in New Zealand.”
Durent was impressed with Bailey’s passion for the project.
“It’s exactly the same as the Kenworth in Smokey and the Bandit and he’s put a huge amount of work into it,” Durent said.
“He’s got a slogan on the back of the truck that says “It wasn’t easy but it’s Fa-Kenworth it” and that’s perfect in this case.”
Kirsty Wynn is an Auckland-based journalist with more than 20 years’ experience in New Zealand newsrooms. She has covered everything from crime and social issues to the property market and consumer affairs.