David Hasselhoff had played Dr. William “Snapper” Foster Jr. for seven years in the popula
Several weeks later Graham’s reply arrived. Eric read the letter and called me into his office. “You won’t believe what Graham just did,” he told me. Graham had rejected the placement, his letter saying it smacked of being another My Mother the Car. Graham’s letter concluded that Knight Rider was not at all the image Pontiac wanted. “That told us Graham didn’t really understand what the K.I.T.T. placement was about. Nevertheless, just like that, the Knight Rider opportunity, which we had thought was a slam-dunk, was dead.”
Or so it seemed.
Eric had already mentioned Knight Rider to several people at Pontiac, including design chief John Schinella, the man responsible for sculpting the sinuous lines of the new Firebird, and Pontiac’s Los Angeles Zone Manager John Kitzmiller. They were all in favor of the placement. “So there was a ground swell of enthusiasm for this opportunity,” says Eric. “Because of this, we decided to press on despite Graham’s rejection.”
Later in the summer of 1981, Eric was back at Pontiac headquarters and spoke briefly with Hoglund, mentioning the Knight Rider placement. Hoglund listened and said he also liked the idea, but he could not directly countermand Graham since, as one his managers, to do so would undermine Graham’s authority and thus compromise his effectiveness for the Division. Eric remembers Hoglund saying, “But if you somehow manage to organize the various people who would be involved in this and figure out a way to do it, if the request comes across my desk, I’ll approve it.”
“That meant I had to go to Design Staff, Engineering, Sales, even the Assembly Division, everyone except Graham,” Dahlquist says with a chuckle.
Back in Los Angeles, a series of meetings took place into the fall, with John Kitzmiller at the Pontiac zone, as well as some of the influential Pontiac dealers in Southern California, and the manager of the Van Nuys assembly plant, where the ’82 Firebird would start production in November. John Schinella at Design Staff was already onboard, and he spoke with Engineering to get their buy-in.
Since any cars that might be approved would have to come out of already tight dealer allocations, some horse-trading was in order. Kitzmiller can’t recall what he promised the dealers in exchange for the cars, but after a little cajoling, in the end everybody bought in. Even the manager of Pacific Motor Transport’s Van Nuys operation was brought onboard—for reasons that would become evident only later.
The buttons are non-functional multi-colored pieces of acrylic plastic bonded to either pl
Producer Glen Larson hired studio designer Michael Scheffe to create K.I.T.T.’s computeriz
Provisions for redundant controls that allowed the car to be operated remotely are visible
Acting as Pontiac’s in-house man in Los Angeles, Kitzmiller wrote the letter to Hoglund, outlining the program and its support among Pontiac departments and dealers, and recommended the placement. True to his word, when that letter crossed his desk, Hoglund signed off on it, and actually scrawled a note of approval in his handwriting at the bottom of the page.
Knight Rider was back on the road.
The custom, blue, personalized California license plate reading “KNIGHT” has to be counted
With the circuitous maneuverings that ultimately secured Bill Hoglund’s approval for the Knight Rider placement over, now came the even harder work—to make the project a reality. Next month, in Part Two of this story, we will see what had to be done to get the cars built and modified, and what transpired to actually sell the series to NBC network executives. It was never a straight road, nor was a successful outcome assured until the last moment. It was, indeed, a plot line that could only happen in Hollywood.
No story on the placement of the Pontiac Trans Am on Knight Rider as K.I.T.T. would be complete without photos of the actual car. Three K.I.T.T.s were built as primary picture cars, cars that are not used for most stunt work. Even though the cars were supposed to be destroyed following the end of the show, all three somehow survived the crusher’s ball. High Performance Pontiac tracked down those original three cars and photographed them for this story.