Looking at the K.I.T.T.s of Yesterday and Today

By Mike Mello


You probably already know that this Sunday marks the return of Knight Rider, airing at 9 p.m. on NBC. It’s no secret that the new Knight Industries Three Thousand, (K.I.T.T.) is a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR, and although the factory version of the King of the Road is new for 2008, we’ve been seeing the latest Mustang body style since the 2005 model year.

Looking back at 1982’s original Knight Rider series, the third generation Pontiac Firebird, which starred as the Knight Industries Two Thousand, was a brand new body style for that year. As a kid, I remember feeling completely fascinated with K.I.T.T.’s straight, creased, wedge shape and rather subtle black disc wheel covers. Perhaps that’s just one of elements that helped boost (pun intended) the original Knight Rider to fame.

For anyone who was drawn to the show more for the car and less for its driver, I think the then, all-new ‘82 Firebird’s futuristic look did more for the show than what can be expected of the ‘08 Mustang. This is no slight on the Mustang’s killer looks, which I still admire, but this Sunday’s Knight Rider is built on a design that incorporates a healthy amount of retrospective cues. Of course, the last Firebird to be built was in 2002, so that might have been somewhat out of the question for the new K.I.T.T. If a car company wasn’t going to advertise during this Sunday’s airing then the whole show could’ve taken on more of a tribute feel with a 2002 Trans Am picking up where the third generation coupe left off.

At 550 horsepower, the new K.I.T.T. blows away the original on paper, although I haven’t been able to tell whether Turbo Boost has been built into the latest, presumably technologically-superior K.I.T.T. I’ll be tuning in to compare the character of the opposing pony cars since the ‘82 Firebird had more of a subtle, secretive, probing kind of look (better for operating in Stealth/Silent Mode) where as the ‘08 Mustang gets in your face with an aggressive stance and – wait – what about the exhaust note? The original K.I.T.T. only emitted a refined jet-like whir but will the latest K.I.T.T. rumble like a real V8? We’ll have to wait and see what the effects crew came up with.

Does any of this make Sunday’s Knight Rider any less exciting? Does it make this 2-hour TV movie, which, if successful, could turn into a series, any less attractive? Judging by the quick trailer released on YouTube, and from this gallery on Jalopnik, I’d say the new Mustang K.I.T.T. looks sharp and will certainly bring plenty of muscle to its crime fighting duties, but it will be tough to equal the future-shock-mystique of the third-generation Firebird K.I.T.T.

The acting will have to be that much better than what David Hasselhoff and Edward Mulhare brought to the table in 1982 and the fact that the new K.I.T.T. has the ability to shift its own shape can only be the beginning of a new bag of Knight Rider tricks. Turbo Boost and jet fighter-style steering controls wowed us years ago, setting a high bar for anyone who will be comparing the K.I.T.T.s of yesterday and today.

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. Thanks for the reminder about Knight Rider. I was a huge fan in the 1980s when I was growing up. I’ll be sure to DVR the new one this weekend!

    Those plastic wheel cover discs were actually on the production Firebird; my dad bought one for sale back in the day that was missing a few of them, so he put American Racing center caps on the wheels instead (they were aluminum wheels underneath). But you’re right that they definitely helped with the sleekness factor of ‘Hoff’s “T-Top.”

  2. Forget the car, who can possibly replace the shiny 80’s appeal of “the Hoffer”?

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