Bandit Impala

The replica Bandit Trans-Am from Burt Reynolds’ “Smokey and the Bandit,” and the restored 1969 Chevrolet Impala prepare to lead Cumming’s Independence Day parade.

CUMMING, Ga. — Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow has been restoring old cars for years, but none more important to his community than the 1969 Chevrolet Impala, which will stand as the centerpiece of the future City Center fallen officer memorial. 

Forsyth County Sheriff’s Deputy James William Cantrell and Reserve Deputy Larry Mulkey responded to a burglary call January 10, 1972. At a traffic stop, the assailants abducted the two officers, putting them in the trunk of the Impala and shot into the car.

Before approaching the vehicle, one of the deputies wrote down the suspects’ license plate number, and that piece of evidence helped lead to their eventual arrest and conviction, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. On both officers’ memorial pages online, there are messages from 2005-2019 thanking them for their service. 

Cantrell and Mulkey were the last Forsyth police officers to die in the line of duty, and recently the city has worked to honor the memory of fallen officers. In 2016, the city changed three street names to honor three firefighters who have died in the line of duty for Cumming, Allyn Lane, Dennis C. Martin and Charles Brant Chesney. 

Brumbalow said he has thought about restoring the car for some time. 

“My grandad patrolled in that same car back during that period,” he said. “The car was at a local tow yard where it had been ever since the night that it happened. They took the car off the road forever after that night.” 

That original would have cost too much to fully restore, he said, so the city purchased a replica. Brumbalow acquired his pride for police from his grandad, and he learned a craft for repairing cars from his father.

“Growing up my dad was a police officer, so we didn’t have a lot of money,” he said. “When his car would break down, he had to fix it. He wasn’t restoring cars, just keeping them running.”

Brumbalow got used to handing his father wrenches and learning the mechanics of older cars. He also saw Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit” at the perfect age. At age 7, he watched Reynolds and even got to ride in a replica Bandit Trans-Am, which inspired a lifelong goal to own one of those cars, himself

When Brumbalow restores cars he often disassembles them down to their frame. His favorites are Mopar cars — Dodge and Plymouth models. He’s had a car featured briefly in “Fast 5” and even got to meet the late “Fast and Furious” franchise star, Paul Walker. 

His collection includes a 1962 Dodge Panel, a 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner and a 1971 Plymouth Barracuda, the one featured in “Fast Five.”

But restoring a replica of the 1969 Impala was a community effort. 

Gary and Matthew Johnson of Johnson Body Shop did all the paint work, Brumbalow said. EC Signs donated the stickers and badge decals. Greg Pirkle of Greg Pirkle’s Upholstery worked on some of the interior.

Lanier Tire and Wheel donated the wheels and tires. FinishMaster donated the paint. Northside Forsyth Hospital, Civil Engineering Consultants and Andean Chevrolet all made financial contributions.

At Cumming’s Fourth of July Parade, Brumbalow and his wife, Jodie Bridges Brumbalow, will lead in his own restored Bandit Trans-Am that he purchased a few years ago, followed by Forsyth County Sheriff Ron H. Freeman in the Impala. 

The mayor said he tried to arrange for former Sheriff Donald Pirkle, the sheriff back in 1972, to pilot the car, but he is unable to attend. The theme of the parade and the new City Center is “Main Street America from a simpler time,” Brumbalow said.

The center will be on Canton Highway near Forsyth Central High School. It will have a memorial for fallen officers and firefighters, a 1950s theme for restaurants and shops in the hub and a large green space for the community.

The firefighter memorial will feature the last operating firetruck from when the city still had its own fire department and will memorialize all those who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

The city’s fire department was always a volunteer operation, Brumbalow said. And many of those volunteers were previous mayors and city council members. 

City Center is expected to break ground before the end of this year and reach completion by the end of Brumbalow’s term in 2021. 

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