The infamous Sheriff J. D. Stewart of Catoosa County Georgia used Pontiac Trans Am’s at the end of the 1970′s. Sheriff Stewart was a man that appreciated and understood the importance of a quick patrol car. After leaving the Navy in 1946, he spent 10-1/2 years patrolling the highways of Georgia as a Georgia State Trooper. He went on to become the Sheriff of Catoosa County at a time when he had to provide his own vehicle.
Sheriff Stewart served his career in a time when you chased people hauling illegal alcohol, and those cars were fast. The Stewart found himself chasing down people with a 1964 Pontiac GTO (such as legend Junior Johnson), and when the time would come for another fast patrol car, the Sheriff would turn to Pontiac to find it.
When Sheriff Stewart went to the heads of Pontiac to get a Police Package Lemans, they offered him a deal on the Trans Am instead.
The Sheriff purchased the Trans Am’s for $5,200 each. It’s unclear if the sheriff purchased 6 or 8 Trans Am’s in 1978, but purchased 4 more in 1979. These cars were all white with red interiors, and did not have the bird decals on the hood. The cars were non-air conditioned W72 400 cid 4-speed cars, and were equipped with a radio, siren, and blue dash light.
In the photo above, you can see the siren at the front of the center console, and the police radio under the right side of the dash.
Nobody knows whatever happened to these cars. None are known to exist, but they would make for an interesting collectible if they did.
I’ve heard that the Sheriff’s Department was restoring a white Pontiac Trans Am back in to one of these patrol cars, but haven’t seen any stories or photos of its completion.
“The Sheriff Of Catoosa County”
November 1979 – Car and Driver Magazine
By Dan Gerber
Independent truckers, protesting the skyrocketing price of diesel fuel, have just called off their blockade of truck stops along Interstate 75. Barney Creech and his Kenworth are rolling again, headed north toward Chattanooda and the Tennessee line, slightly over load limit with structural steel. He’s Slightly over the speed limit, edging p on 70, trying to make up some of the time he lost to the blockade. He’s feeling the tension dissolve, getting back into the rythm of the road, when he sees the flashing red light in his mirrors. His stomach tightens momentarily, then eases as he discerns it’s only an ambulance. The ambulance passes. He smiles with relief and settles back behind the wheel. Then suddenly the smile fades. A white Pontiac Trans Am, the word “Sheriff” emblazoned above its rear spoiler, blasts past him at slightly more than 100 miles per hour. Instinctively, he lifts his foot of and reaches for his CB mike to warn his brother truckers ahead, But before he is able to get the button down, Channel 19 is flooded.
“Jesus Christ, it must be a war. Smokeys in clusters, must be a hundred of ’em headin’ toward that carpet city”.
Before he gets his mike back on the hook, another white Trans Am slips past, its pipes blatting like a Grand National stocker, then another and another. Zap, zap, zap. He’s fairly certain he’s counted eight in all. He’s feeling a dittle dizzy. He could have more easily adjusted to UFOs. He grabs the mike again. “County mounties in Trans Ams. Can you believe that?”
“Hell, this’d be Catoosa County, don’t you know?” another voice breaks in. “That be J.D. Stewart’s boys”
Now it turns out that it isn’t a war. It isn’t even an emergency. It’s just Sheriff J.D. Stewart of Catoosa County, Georgia, saving time while obliging photographer Humphrey Sutton and me by running up to the Tennessee line so we can get a group photo–eight white Trans Ams, nine deputies, and the sheriff, posed in front of a sign that reads, “Welcome to Georgia, State of Adventure.” The sign seemed more than appropriate and the ambulance, well, the ambulance just happened by in time to lead the parade.
Barney Creech isn’t the first trucker to be “plum amazed” by the sight of a Trans Am painted up like a patrol car, though he may be among the first to see all eight of them at one time. Folks who live in northwest Georgia and south central Tennessee have become accustomed to the idea of smokeys in sports cars, and for many of them, Sheriff J.D. Stewart is a source of local pride and nearly a living legend.
I must admit that, initially, the idea of a sheriff posse in Trans Ams seemed plausible only in a Burt Reynolds movie. But then Sheriff Stewart and his deputies might have come right out of a Burt Reynolds movie. They not only fulfilled, but also eclipsed every fantasy I’ve had about the “good-ole-boy,” Thunder Road, Last American Hero, rum-runnin’ South. And, it turns out that Stewart isn’t just a sheriff, he’s a funeral director too. And he’s also the father of another source of Catoosa County Pride: J.D., Jr., a 270-pounder who runs the 50 in five seconds flat, is likely to be playing center for the Dallas Cowboys after one more year of college, and is known affectionately as June Bug.
“The run-runnin’ is pretty much over now.” The sheriff, a teetotaler, takes a long pull on his iced tea in the bar of the Choo Choo Road House in Chattanooga. “We go the last of the Sutton Boys back in the early sixties.” he muses, sounding a little sad about it. “I had to supply my own car in them days, and I ran a GTO.” he says in response to my question about what lead him to Trans Ams. “I always liked Pontiacs. They give me good service, so I’ve stuck with ’em ever since.”
When he came out of the navy in 1946, he spent ten and a half years as a Georgia State Trooper. “We rode motors back then, Harleys, and drove ’46, ’47, and ’48 Fords.” He leans back in his chair like a poker player who’s just laid down a winning hand. “You know the best patrol car I ever drove? Before my GTO, I mean?” He bends close across the corner of the table, bringing me eye to eye with his diamond-studded Shriner’s tie tack, and pauses dramarically. “A ’40 Ford Coupe.”
“But why Trans Ams?” I ask, feeling a little self-concious about sipping the vodka and tonic I’d ordered before Iwas privy to the sheriff’s views on liquor and its consumption.
“Well, it operates cheap and it don’t take you all day to get there. Just like any sports car, it don’t kill you to drive it. You let up on the gas and it’ll pull back so you don’t have to use the brakes so much.” He winks at me and takes another sip of iced tea. “Now that GTO was gutty, but you needed two hands and three feet to keep it on the road. I found that out one night runnin’ Junior Johnson over on the “Tennessee Side.”
“The Junior Johnson?”
“He’s a good ole boy and a pretty good sport.” The sheriff winks again. “He took out about a dozen mailboxes over on the east ridge before we was through.”
“But how do the taxpayers feel about the Trans Ams?” I’m trying to get at the obvious question without coming off like Howard Cosell.
“Hell, they should be happy.” He grins with satisfaction. “I go right to the top at Pontiac and get the best deals. A patrol car should be the ultimate. We asked Pontiac to fix us up with a Le-Mans police package that’d give us what we need, but they couldn’t do it without violating the emission standards. So they said, why don’t you take the Trans Ams. We said we couldn’t afford ’em, but they said they’d put us in ’em right. And they did too—$5200 with everything but power windows and air conditioning. (“Sheriff Stewart don’t believe in air conditioning.” one deputy grumbled. “Its about the only bitch I got with this job.”)
With that 400-inch engine, they’ll run 140, and that’s all you’re likely to need on the Interstate.
“Do you do much chasing?” I ask.
“Every damn thing in the world kits Georgia here, with 75, 29, 24, I-59, and 64 cuttin’ right across it. This is the mouth, and anything headin’ south, or north for that matter, comes right on through it. I enjoy to get out and chase every now and then, and that’s when you purely appreciate these jewels.” A Chattanooga businessman recognizes Sherifff Stewart and stops to kid him about frequenting bars outside his jurisdiction. They trade a few quips, and then Stewart turns back toward me. “We get a lot of robberies to run down on the Interstate. There isn’t much that can outrun us. And we know the county roads, so we’ve got the advantage there. You get to drive the Trans Am. You can about steer it with the gas pedal, so you don’t have to crank the wheel around so much.”
Stewart points out that his men get up to seventeen miles per gallon out of their Trans Ams, compared with eight to ten for the highway patrol’s big Fords and Chevys, and that they go through fewer tires and shocks. “We could see any of these cars after a year and get what we paid out of ’em. We just put the radio in and the markings on the sides and back. We don’t mess ‘en up with screens, and we don’t put gumballs on ’em. I don’t believe in gumballs. I kinda like to sneak around, you know.”
Each deputy has a car assigned to him and, as the sheriff puts it, “if he shines his ass in it, then he’s responsible.”
At nine o’clock the following morning, two spotless Trans Ams, one for Humphrey and one for me, are waiting in front of the hotel. Southern hospitality prevails, and deputies Phil Summers and Doug Howell take pleasure in chauffeuring us to Ringgold, the Catoosa County seat. About two minutes from the hotel, we’re cruising south on I-75 at what must be close to 140. The speedometer in the Trans Am only reads 100, but the needle is wrapped all the way back around, hugging the backside of the peg at zero. Though I’m usually a nervous rider, I feel confident of Deputy Summers’ driving, and I realize that at least half the cause of my road-running anxiety, my paranoia of the police, is missing. We pass a Georgia State Highway Patrol car at a speed differential of at least 60 miles per hour, and I ask Deputy Summers if he ever gets stopped for speeding.
“If you were in the clothing business you’d get discounts on your clothes, right? Well, it’s kinda the same thing here. You might call it professional courtesy.” Suddenly I realize that the last refuge for the true sports-car enthusiast is to become a sheriff’s deputy and “to get you a Trans Am.”
“Besides,” Summers continues, “we got to work with other police departments, so we don’t like to hassle each other. The Chattanooga Police Department,” he nods his head back toward Chatanooga, “had a chase a while ago. A holdup man called the Continental Kid worked the interstate, pulling jobs in a big Lincoln, and he finally stole himself a Trans Am. Now the police up there drive big Fords, and they couldn’t catch him. Wrecked three or four in pursuit before they finally called us in. We got him.”
“Just like in the movies?”
“Sometimes it’s a lot like the movies.” Summers smiles. “Anyway, the Kid was a good ole boy. He really was. He’d tell you anything you wanted to know.” Summers downshifts expertly as we take the Ringgold exit.
The sheriff’s office is in an old two-story red brick building with an overhanging porch. The jail is upstairs. A trustee is out front washing Trans Ams. Through the window of the dispatch room, I can see a large woman, shaped more or less like a Coke bottle, wiping the tears from her cheeks as she argues with her boyfriend through the bars of a second-story window. “She’s out there every day.” the dispatcher tells me. “She says she talked to the governor and that he told her to tell us we should let him go.”
There’s talk of the truckers’ strike. “I hope they stir up some trouble so we can bust heads and call names and stuff.” One of the other deputies punches Summers playfully on the shoulder. “I’ll bet there’s plenty of gas on the peanut farm.” Howell chimes in. “I’m sure glad Carter got himself into the White House.”
“Oh yeah?” I’d forgotten this was the home state of our 39th president.
“Yeah, it keeps him out of Georgia.”
In the waiting room, there’s a framed picture of one of the Trans Ams, drawn and quite well too, by a local eighth-grader and donated to the sheriff’s department in memory of Baxter Shavers, J’D,’s young chief deputy who was killed last year, shot in the head by a robbery suspect.
“When Baxter got killed I wasn’t more tha a mile and a half away.” Phil Summers and I are back on patrol, looking for a local man who has jumped an appeal bond on a murder conviction. “I had it in the wind, goin’ to hell, but he was dead when I got there.”
We get another call. Summers “puts it in the wind” again over a twisty county road to check out a reported burglary. “We’re doin’ 85 now. A regular car would be a real handful here.”
We find the suspect in a trailer park, a teen-aged boy whose guilt is corroborated by an eyewitness and by a bloodhound )I told you it was like a movie), who traces the burglar’s trail to the door of the biy’s mobile home. We question two small boys, who confirm having seen the suspect run from the direction of the burgled house.
“Kids and whores, ” Summers explains. “At the police academy they tell you they’re the best people to get information out of. Women notice clothes, and kids notice cars. And whores, well, you know men. They get a little love and they’ll tell a woman anything. And whore are out on the street all the time, so they see a lot.”
Leaving the trailer park, Summers stops to wait for a passing truck. “We have a lot of trouble with parks like this. They’ve got a lot of transients, real ruby-jeweled people.”
Near town, we catch up with Deputy Howell’s car. I notice the muffler hanging low, and ask Summers about ground clearance. “We haven’t drug the muffler off of but only one car, and that was the sheriff’s. He’ll go anywhere.”
“And I” bet you’re going to tell me he’s got the fastest car, too.”
“Oh, he surely does.” Summers grins. “He wouldn’t put his ass in anything that wouldn’t flat fly.”
The next day, I put the same question to J.D. himself. “Hell, they’ll tell you anything.” he chuckles. “Whatever car I get in, they’ll swear it’s the fastest.” We’re cruising up old US 41, which was the main route to Florida before I-75. I’m feeling a slight attack of nostalgia, realizing it must have been this highway I cruised with my parents on the way to Daytona in a ’48 Buick convertible. “It was a lot different back then.” the sheriff muses. “A lot of businesses went down overnight when they put through the Interstate.” We pass a half-collapsed wooden building plastered with graffiti, rusted Coca-Cola signs (“The Pause That Refreshes”), and an outstanding collection of chrome hubcaps. “That was once the biggest truck stop in the south.” The road dips sharply to the right, then climbs a long hill. At the crest of it there’s a billboard advertising a marina (“Big Toys For Big Boys”), and as we drop down into a hollow, J.D. points out the foundation of what was once a fireworks store. “That’s where I was sittin’ the night ole Junior came by. He was pissed off ’cause his car didn’t run good. That was over at Boyd Speedway, just over on the East Ridge. I was just pulled off to the side there in my ’64 GTO, and junior come by turnin’ it on. It must’ve been about midnight, and I chased him all the way to his home in Tennessee. Course he was geared too low to really get it on for the road, but he took out a slew of mailboxes on the way. I wrote him up a ticket, right there in his driveway, and told him to stop by and see the judge when he got a chance.
Toward evening, before J.D. takes Humphrey and me, along with Mrs. Stewart and June Bug, to his favorite steakhouse in Chatanooga, we make one last stop on our tour of the county. Stewarts Funeral Home. It’s a brand-new building and the sheriff’s pride and joy. We see the chapel, the office, the reception rooms, and we’re about to head for Chattanooga, but there’s one more thing. “Let me show you where we fix ’em up.” Humphrey and I take deep breaths and glance at each other before we step through the door at the back of the office. The floor and walls are covered in white tile, and it looks something like an operating room, except that instead of there being stethoscopes and scalpels on the counter adjacent to the table, it’s covered with make-up, hair spray, and flesh colored putty. I ask J.D. if he’s a mortician. “No, I ain’t licensed, but I could do it. It’s pretty simple. You could do it yourself if you just watched a few times.”
I glance at Humphrey and he looks a little faint. We step into the display rooms, and J.D. shows us his selection of caskets. “Here, feel this.” He strokes a pillow in one of the boxes. “That’s real hand tufted material, more comfortable than a bed. Course it should be.” he winks. “You’d be in it for a long snooze.
Sheriff J.D. Stewarts Passing:
Sheriff J.D. Stewart died after suffering a heart attack during a police pursuit August 9, 1986. His Trans Am is on his tombstone.