When a photo shoot in the UAE calls for an American muscle car, there’s only one name on everyone's lips: Burt.
The 1991 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am GTA, named after late Hollywood actor Burt Reynolds, is the country’s most in-demand vehicle among stylists and influencers. “Burt” has graced the pages of many a magazine, having featured in campaigns for Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci.
“The first shoot we did was with Elle,” says Steve Chalmers, Burt’s owner and editor of Yachts Middle East. “Someone at GQ Middle East saw Elle's video and messaged me on Instagram to ask about using Burt for an upcoming shoot. Since then, the whole thing has snowballed.”
Bassel Khaiat, the Syrian actor and face of Bulgari, has been photographed alongside the car. Burt’s most recent shoot was with a luxury jewellery brand and came about after the model contacted Chalmers through social media.
With such illustrious brands and publications calling on Burt’s charms, one could assume it was a lucrative side hustle for the car’s owner, but it isn’t.
“No, I don’t do it for the money. I do it for free. I enjoy the process and having a day on set,” Chalmers tells The National.
It's not surprising that Burt is so sought after – Firebirds are legendary in the motoring world. They have a timeless look that’s both powerful and sophisticated. It’s why they’re vividly remembered as the stars of TV shows such as Knight Rider and movies such as Smokey and the Bandit (starring Burt Reynolds, of course). Now, fans of those programmes and films search high and low for their own Firebird to fulfill a lifelong dream.
Chalmers is no different. The car connoisseur, who was the editor of British magazine Fast Car during its heyday, found Burt in 2018 and fell in love with it. The unique streamlined nose cone and one-off paint job make it stand out. People don't simply admire it, they throw offers at him to take it off his hands.
“I’ve been stopped at traffic lights and had offers to buy Burt,” says Chalmers
Chalmers and his car are part of the Firebirds Forever UAE group in Dubai. Most of these classic vehicles are under wraps during the harsher weather, but members regularly meet in winter. During cooler climes, the Firebirds Forever cruise around the UAE, much to the delight of bystanders. As soon as the group parks up, people quickly flock around and take selfies next to them.
The rumble of the V8 engines is unmistakable and certainly turns heads wherever the cars go. These throaty roars are a throwback to an era that’s disappearing fast.
As manufacturers continue to make their vehicles quieter, these ferocious Firebirds are a reminder of why the term “muscle car” was coined. Ironically, modern EVs such as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 N come with a fake engine and exhaust noise to replicate such a cacophony.
Firebirds Forever UAE accomplished a remarkable feat earlier this year by gathering every model from the original (1967) to the fourth (2002) generations for the first time. It’s even more impressive considering the distances the Firebirds travelled to be imported.
Chalmers explains: “We never thought we’d get a picture of them together. But we welcomed a new group member with an original series one model, so the set was complete.”
Firebirds are few and far between in the UAE. To find one that looks like Burt is rarer than finding an oasis in the desert. The original colour was dark grey, but a new shiny silver coat accentuates the lines to make it look more stylish. The effect clearly works, as it’s one of the reasons why photographers love having the car on shoots as the colour pops.
With so much love and attention for one of the UAE's automotive stars, it’s priceless to Chalmers and he’d never let his photogenic friend go, right? “Oh no, I’d sell,” he laughs, “but I’ve just never had a good enough offer from a serious bidder for Burt.”