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KITT - The Complete Guide to the Knight Rider Car

Posted on 2020-09-21

"Knight Rider" premiered on NBC in 1982 and would stay on the air for four seasons. The show made David Hasselhoff an international superstar, and it also made a star out of its premiere car, the KITT. Hasselhoff's character, Michael Knight, was the series protagonist and drove the KITT while fighting crime. One of the show's big twists was that the KITT was enabled with artificial intelligence (AI) and could speak. 

KITT car in a parade

The 1982 series by famed showrunner Glen A. Larson was a hit, generating high merchandise sales and reaching U.S. syndication in 1986. If you're a fan of the show or just love TV automotive history, you should know all about the legendary KITT.

What Kind of Car Was KITT?

Due to its many abilities and ridiculously fast speeds, people sometimes ask if KITT is a real car. While the car couldn't top out at over 200 miles per hour (mph), and many of its added features were aided by TV magic, it was based on a real vehicle.

The KITT from the original series was a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am. This car was a two-door coupe, featuring a rear-wheel drive and front engine. In the show, the KITT's engine had a turbojet with customized afterburners. The vehicle could be set to autopilot, and the transmission featured an eight-speed microprocessor turbo drive.

What Was the Car's Name in "Knight Rider"?

KITT's full name is the Knight Industries Two Thousand. Among fans of the show, however, the car is mainly referred to as the KITT rather than its full name.

How Did the Pontiac Trans Am Become the KITT?

When "Knight Rider" was in development, the show's creators homed in on the Pontiac Trans Am to be its primary car. However, Pontiac's promotion manager, Jim Graham, thought the show sounded corny and didn't want the car to be associated with it. This aversion to placing the Trans Am in the show wasn't shared by everyone at Pontiac. The president of Pontiac's West Coast public relations agency, Eric Dahlquist, was a major fan of the idea of the show using the car.

Many others at Pontiac were on board with placing the car in the show to generate attention and raise Pontiac's decreasing sales. Dahlquist even got the new Pontiac general manager, Bill Hoglund, on his side. 

Hoglund said he wouldn't go against Graham's decision, but if Dahlquist could figure out how to get the car into the show, he would sign off on any paperwork. With Hoglund in his corner, Dahlquist got the cars to come out of dealer allocations with a bit of wheeling and dealing involved to secure the original three Trans Ams used by the show. 

Dahlquist also contacted the show's staff to design a modified version of the Trans Am to get the desired look for the series. They planned to change the look of the car's nose so it could feature a red light. Doing this would make it look like the Cylon Warrior from Larson's previous "Battlestar Galactica" series.

setbacks in producing the KITT car

Initial Setbacks in Producing the KITT

There were a few delays in producing the new Pontiac Trans Ams needed for the show. The automakers also had issues with getting the cars into the showrunners' hands. The vehicles weren't included in the company's budgets for promotional programming. They couldn't be delivered through the Pontiac dealer, either, meaning it wasn't certain how the cars would get to the set of "Knight Rider."

Finally, Dahlquist got a call at his agency from an unidentified speaker. This caller told him to be at the Pacific Motor Transport lot by 4 p.m. — this was a transportation company owned by General Motors (GM). The cryptic caller informed Dahlquist that the three black Trans Ams would be waiting for him with the keys left in them. Dahlquist would never find out who made the call, but the person wasn't lying. The cars were there, and Dahlquist was able to use them in the show.

Shaping the KITT's Design

With the Trans Ams in the show's hands, the staff of "Knight Rider" would begin further modifications on the vehicles to give them a futuristic look. Working off detailed renderings from John Schinella, Pontiac's design chief, the staff modified the cars' interiors and exteriors to create the KITT's signature appearance.

Besides making exterior changes that fit the Cylon Warrior look, they also modified the interiors with new buttons, screens and digital readouts. The cars also received fiberglass coverings over the dashboards. 

The decision to allow "Knight Rider" to use the Trans Am ended up being an excellent move by Pontiac. The show was a huge success and put the Trans Am in front of millions of viewers. In addition to the TV show's popularity, the car also gained notoriety due to the high merchandise sales the series generated. It's almost unthinkable now to imagine the KITT as any car but the Trans Am. 

Who Voiced KITT the Car?

Since the car could think and talk, the show needed an actor to provide the voiceover. William Daniels turned out to be the man for the job and even influenced how the car was characterized. While the show's producers wanted the automobile's voice to be more robotic, Daniels eventually convinced them to let him make the vehicle more human-like, with a brighter and more amusing voice.

One interesting tidbit from the show was that Daniels and Hasselhoff didn't meet each other until a Christmas party held when the series was already a hit. Since Daniels only gave the KITT's voiceover, he didn't have to be in the same room as Hasselhoff during filming. 

Daniels also chose not to have his name appear in the show's opening and closing credits during its time on air. He did not want to be credited because he wanted audience members to get the sense that the car had a mind of its own. Despite Daniels' desire to stay relatively anonymous, he quickly became recognized by fans of the show in his daily life.

What Could the KITT Car Do?

The KITT car had numerous features that prepared it for almost any situation. As a sentient car, it would use its voice synthesizer to communicate with others. A primary part of the KITT was its Knight 2000 microprocessor. This microprocessor was essentially the car's brain, making it self-aware and able to think for itself.

Some other primary KITT features included:

  • Molecular bonded shell: The KITT's molecular bonded shell gave it incredibly tough armor that protected it from explosive devices and firearms. The car could only sustain damage from rockets and heavy artillery. However, the shell would still be intact after blasts, with this heavy-duty weaponry only damaging the internal components. The bonded shell even covered the tires, allowing the car to drive over explosives and shield others from blasts. It also protected Knight and the car from electricity and fire.
  • Pyroclastic lamination: With its pyroclastic lamination, the KITT could withstand high temperatures. Its thermal-resistant coating allowed it and Knight to survive temperatures as high as 800 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Electronic jamming system: The car's electronic jamming system incorporated a microwave ignition sensor, an electronic field disrupter and an electromagnetic field generator. This system allowed the automobile to control other electronic machines. The KITT primarily utilized it to disable vehicles that were trying to escape. It also used the system to break electronic locks, scramble security cameras and cheat at slot machines.
  • Turbo boost: The car's turbo boost capabilities enabled it to accelerate quickly and reach impressive speeds. The turbo boost system ran on undercarriage rocket motors that could fire backward or forward. Besides giving the car a speed boost, the turbo system also made it possible for the vehicle to jump 40 feet into the air and push or pull heavy objects.
  • Silent mode: Whenever the KITT needed some stealth, it could activate silent mode. In this mode, the engine noise would be kept to a minimum, allowing the car to sneak up on enemies and stay hidden.
  • Flame throwers, tear gas and flares: When the car needed to get aggressive, it had a few options at its disposal. It had a flamethrower placed under the bumpers to shoot flames at enemies. It also had tear gas it could launch for offensive or defensive purposes. Additionally, its magnesium flares helped misdirect incoming heat-seeking missiles.
  • Passive laser restraint system: When Knight and other passengers were placed in harm's way by sudden stops and impacts, the passive laser restraint system protected them from the shock.
  • Chemical analyzer: Who needs a CSI-like lab when your car has a chemical analyzer built into it? The KITT's analyzer could scan fingerprints, break down the chemical properties of various substances and evaluate ballistic information from bullets. This analyzer also had exterior sensors to examine chemical properties outside the car.
  • Surveillance mode: In surveillance mode, the car could monitor and trace telephone communications and radio transmissions. This ability helped the KITT track people and find out where they were. This feature also enabled the KITT to hack into computer systems, uploading and downloading information. Additionally, the KITT could figure out the structural schematics of buildings and keep Knight aware of any dangers when sneaking around an area.
  • Manual override: The KITT had a built-in function that allowed the driver to override the AI and lock it out from controlling the vehicle. This manual override feature let Knight control the automobile entirely on his own, stopping the KITT from activating its auto cruise. Understandably, the KITT wasn't always too happy about this function, often vocally protesting whenever Knight switched it on.
  • Grappling hook: The KITT famously had a grappling hook and winch for times when the car needed to get creative. The grappling hook was often placed behind the taillights and underneath the front bumper. The grappling hook and winch gave the car even more opportunities for awesome stunts. 
  • Seat ejection system: When Knight needed to get out of the car fast and reach rooftops or fire escapes quickly, the seat ejection system was there to help. The car featured two front ejection seats that could propel Knight out of the vehicle and high into the air.

 

What Is KITT Worth?

In the show's lore, the car was estimated to be worth $12 million in 1982. With all of its features and high-tech additions, it's no wonder this vehicle was worth so much money.

How Did KITT Drive Itself?

To get the visual effect that the KITT was driving on its own, those working on the car installed controls on the passenger footwell. When viewers would see the car driving independently, there was actually a stuntman lying on the floor and driving the vehicle.

How Fast Was the KITT Car?

To fight crime and catch criminals, the KITT had to be fast. Its power system allowed it to go from 0 to 60 mph in just two seconds and travel a quarter-mile in 4.4 seconds. With the turbo boost equipped, the car could reach a top speed of 200 mph. Some fans even speculate that when the vehicle activated its super pursuit mode in later seasons, it could go over 300 mph. 

Where Are the KITT Cars?

Over the show's four seasons, the showrunners purchased and customized around 20 cars for various uses. These cars either served as stunt or hero vehicles. Due to an agreement with GM, around half the vehicles used as the KITT were destroyed once the show ended. Other KITTs were too banged up to drive after being used for the show's stunts and were junked.

Who Owns the Original KITT Car?

Of all the cars used for the show, only five remain. The original hero car was owned by and displayed at a museum but is now stored away. Fans can occasionally find the original cars at Sci-Fi and Comic-Con conventions. 

Meet the KITT car at the museum

Meet the KITT at the Volo Auto Museum

If you're wondering where the KITT car is now, you're in luck. You can find a detailed replica at Volo Auto Museum. Unlike other KITT replicas cobbled together from mail-order parts online, our KITT was built using the original production designs. The car has all the KITT interior pieces, perfectly mirroring the original car — from the steering wheel and dashboard to the lower and upper consoles.

One cool detail of this KITT is that it's been autographed by the legendary George Barris, who worked on "Knight Rider" in its later seasons. The car also features a certificate of authenticity so it can be used as an exhibition vehicle. To see the KITT, all you have to do is take a trip to the Volo Auto Museum. Along with our KITT exhibit, we also have many other displays that are sure to please every member of your family.

Start planning your trip to see our KITT exhibit for an unforgettable journey to the past. If you have any questions ahead of your visit, reach out to us and we'll be glad to assist.

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