Hanging out with moonshiner Tim Smith (right) and his son, JT (left) was a blast. We’ve been trying to popularize mid-’70s GM A-bodies for years, but these guys gave the cause a big boost with their ’74 LeMans on the Moonshiners reality show.
As the monthly editorial meeting started, I felt more pensive than usual. Each month, Tech Editor Christopher Campbell and I sit down with our publisher and about a dozen or so folks from the ad sales side, operations, art, web, and circulation. We typically bounce next month’s story ideas off our own people before subjecting the rest of the world to them. It’s tense because by meeting time we’ve already spent a good amount of time living with and working on our story ideas—we’ve already got skin in the game.
I’ll confess that in preparing this issue we were up against some tough newsstand numbers. We need to pull out a big month at a time of the year when hot rodders typically come out of hibernation from their garages and hit the street. Putting together a July issue at the end of February is admittedly easier when your magazine is based in sunny SoCal, but I wasn’t getting off the hook that easy; if what I envisioned could be pulled off, it would mean heading to a cold, blustery, rainy locale. But first I had to convince everybody at PHR headquarters.
What we needed for this issue was some extra ammo—something that yelled, “You gotta see this!” As luck would have it, we got that in the form of Tim Smith’s bootleg-runnin’ ’74 Pontiac LeMans. I can’t quite put my finger on it—and neither can the Discovery Channel, which aired the break-out Moonshiners reality show series featuring Smith last fall—but there’s something compelling about a regular guy who concocts moonshine whiskey in the dead of night, then evades revenue agents as he runs his homemade likker to a clandestine drop spot in a hot rod he built himself. As I opened the editorial meeting, I asked for a show of hands: How many have seen the Moonshiners reality show? To my relief, 11 out of 12 said they’d seen it, and liked it. I was halfway there.
…there’s something compelling about a regular guy who concocts moonshine whiskey in the dead of night, then evades revenue agents… "
Growing up in the Piedmont area of North Carolina, I was familiar with south central Virginia, having spent lots of time in the ’70s at our family’s weekend shack in the Blue Ridge mountains. Seeing Smith on the Moonshiners show brought back a flood of memories, right down to the characters I remember as a kid—and the abandoned still sites we used to find peppering the hillside in the woods around our little farmhouse. I only mention this because people ask me, “Is this for real? I didn’t think people made moonshine anymore.” Yeah, it’s real, it’s still going on, and it’s part of life for many folks who live in the South.
If you’re a follower of the Moonshiners TV show, you probably already know that Smith’s latest bootlegging exploits have begun airing anew on the Discovery Channel. You may be on the edge of your seat again, cheering him on, hoping he continues evading the state revenue board. Or maybe you’re of the mind he should be caught and face the music. One way or the other, you’ve gotta love that Smith’s a real DIY hot rodder on a skinny budget.
Knowing about the Moonshiners TV show, however, isn’t a requirement for appreciating this Pontiac, or what Smith has accomplished. If you like mid-’70s muscle, this Colonnade-style GM A-body will have you rethinking the meaning of “affordable” and “cool.” The ’73-77 GM A-body (Pontiac LeMans, Olds Cutlass, Buick Century and Regal, Chevy Monte Carlo and Malibu) are prime fodder for the next round of hot rods, and Smith’s Pontiac is typical of how hot rodding will play out in the next decade.
Now that the cover is blown on the black ’74 LeMans, Smith says it will be retired to strictly legal duties like cruising with his son, JT (who gets much credit for saving the Poncho from the crusher). It will get one last TV appearance this spring as Smith makes a final bootleg run with it—so keep an eye out for it on the Discovery Channel. That whole TV tie-in notwithstanding, we’re still putting a non-’64-72 muscle car in your face. Without monster Pro Touring tires. With black paint. In July. This is the kind of thing that makes my bosses crazy. If you like the issue, we’ll know in a few months when the numbers come back, but in the meantime, I’ll say that it sure was fun hanging out at the moonshiner’s country garage, swapping hot rod stories, and working on the LeMans. Want to see some video from the photo shoot? Log on to www.YouTube.com/PopularHotRodding!