Last week, this Chevrolet Camaro-based 2012 Trans American Muscle Bandit Freedom Edition fetched $150,000 for the Disabled American Veterans at the Orange County Barrett-Jackson charity auction. If the name sounds remotely familiar to you, it’s because TAM was featured late last year on the Discovery Channel’s popular reality show, American Chopper.
For that episode, which aired during Bike Week, American Chopper host, Paul Teutul Jr., broke from the show’s family rivalry and chopper roots to showcase his design team’s expanding business model—cars—and its newest project, the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro.
The result was a business and ratings success—more than two million TV-goers tuned in—but for viewers like Mike Ryan, Director of Development for the MobilityWorks Foundation, a non-profit organization that offers transportation support and services to special needs individuals throughout the United States, the Camaro episode was an inspiration.
Ryan was watching the Camaro episode in his living room with his family when the gears in his head began to spin: What if MWF could team up with TAM, like American Chopper, to build a one-off Camaro to auction for charity?
The next day, Ryan contacted Jason Silverman, principal of TAM, to pitch the idea of working with MWR and the California chapter of Disabled American Veterans. Ryan told Silverman about the six million mobility-challenged veterans nationwide—including many returning veterans with amputations from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and how MWR provided financial assistance and equipment needs to them. A week later, Ryan met Silverman in Florida to discuss the deal.
The pitch made an instant impact on Silverman.
“We really wanted to attach ourselves to a quality cause,” said Silverman. “Mike’s [Ryan] plan really struck a chord because we had just worked with Paul Jr. [Teutul] and we learned a lot about the veteran causes through him and his team.”
The 580-hp TAM Bandit begins life as a Chevrolet Camaro and goes through numerous engine, exterior, and interior enhancements, including a Magnaflow exhaust system, 22-inch wheels, a “shaker” hood, an SLP suspension, LED headlights with “Angel Eyes,” and an optional supercharger, among other parts. Most striking, though, is the Bandit’s resemblance to Burt Reynolds’ 1977 Pontiac Trans Am from the iconic film, Smokey and the Bandit. In total, the build is a $30,000 conversion. The Freedom Edition, though, received DAV embroidered logos in the interior, and a custom paintjob.
From inspiration to build to auction, the process took nearly three months and on June 24, 2012, the Bandit Freedom Edition hit the Barret-Jackson auction block, surrounded by a military Color Guard and dozens of veterans. Barrett-Jackson says that about 54,000 people attended the three-day event, which culminated with a live broadcast on the Speed Channel.
Before a nationwide audience, the first final bid ended at $62,000. That’s when lead auctioneer Spanky Assiter urged the crowd to continue bidding. The winning bidder then donated the car back to the auction for resale, and the car again sold for $61,000—a total of $123,000. But according to reports, that wasn’t enough for Assiter, who shouted, “I’m not giving up until I get $150,000!”
Audience members then stepped forward with $27,000 in individual donations, equaling $150,000 for the Disabled American Veterans and MobilityWorks Foundation.
“The MobilityWorks Foundation and the DAV are grateful to Barrett-Jackson and TAM for making this auction possible,” said Ryan.”The donation of their time, expertise and services will generate critical funds to help disabled veterans with their mobility challenges and other needs.”