Last month in Part 1 of "K.I.T.T. Confidential," we covered the genesis of the proposal to have the all-new '82 Trans Am fill the role of K.I.T.T. (Knight Industries Two Thousand), the star of the original television series Knight Rider. Once Pontiac General Manager Bill Hoglund finally signed off on the project, as covered at the end of Part 1, a series of events had to kick into action to make it actually happen.
Part 2 traces the strange, sometimes serendipitous, almost providential paths the placement followed. So many varied elements had to fall into place just so, that success could not reasonably be predicted … even in Hollywood, the town that made happy endings famous.
Now began a race to get the cars built and modified in time for the production of the Knight Rider television pilot. New '82 Firebirds were scheduled to start rolling off the assembly line in November 1981. Pontiac's Los Angeles Zone Manager John Kitzmiller submitted orders for three, fully optioned black Trans Ams. However, production delays kept popping up, mostly due to a series of holds placed on the disc brakes. The vehicles, first scheduled for early January 1982 build dates, were delayed several times and did not finally roll off the assembly line until mid-April. That's when the black-ops troops were called in.
Normally, when a vehicle is built, as it leaves the end of the assembly line, legal ownership passes to the transportation company, which then takes possession of it, and, for insurance purposes, legally owns it until it is delivered to the designated dealer. Even with Pontiac General Manager Bill Hoglund's approval, the Knight Rider project was still largely sub rosa. This made the normal delivery procedure impractical since the cars were not part of any budgeted promotional program, and they could not be delivered to, or through, a Pontiac dealer, or even the Los Angeles Zone Office. Nor would Pacific Motor Transport (PMT), General Motors' transportation company, ever take legal possession of the three K.I.T.T. Trans Ams. This break in the usual chain of custody, as it were, is why PMT had to be involved in the earlier meetings described in Part One and approve the arrangement. To further complicate matters, Knight Rider creator and producer Glen Larson did not want the cars delivered to Universal Studios, since for cost considerations he was having the design and modification work done elsewhere to avoid using the studio's expensive union labor.
Knight Rider: Season Four with new packaging is now available from Universal Home Entertai
The morning of Friday, April 16, 1982, a telephone call came into Vista Group, Pontiac's West Coast public relations agency, which was spearheading the project for the Division, and where this author worked as vice president of client services. After asking if he was talking to Eric Dahlquist, the president of Vista Group, and without identifying himself, the caller said cryptically, "Be at the PMT lot this afternoon at 4 p.m. There will be three black Trans Ams there with the keys in them. Take them, they're yours." And he hung up. Eric did not recognize the voice, and to this day we have never found out who made that call.
At the appointed hour, Eric, Larson's supervising producer Harker Wade, and I showed up at the PMT lot just outside the GM assembly plant in Van Nuys. Sure enough, shortly thereafter three gleaming black Trans Ams rolled off the assembly line and were parked in the lot. The PMT people got out of the cars and turned their backs to us. Harker, Eric, and I got in the cars and drove them away. There was no paperwork. No loan agreements. All that would follow eventually, but only much later, like years later. It was as if the cars did not really exist. Like I said, black ops.
As the machinations to secure approval for the placement covered in Part One were underway, John Schinella, head of Pontiac's design studio and the man responsible for the Trans Am, made a trip to Los Angeles and met with Harker Wade and me in the front room of Vista Group's office. At that meeting, Harker described the desired look for the nose of the car, with the now-iconic red light that cycled back-and-forth. Schinella picked up a napkin from the coffee table we were sitting around, took out his pen, and quickly did a rough sketch of the car's nose, incorporating the light and other slight changes needed in the fascia and hood to accommodate it, while still retaining the Trans Am's distinctive look. "That's it, that's the car. That's exactly what Glen wants," I remember Wade saying. Today, Harker asks, "Do you know where that look with the cycling red light came from? It was modeled after the Cylon Warrior from Larson's Battlestar Galactica series." That light, by the way, would prove to be a source of never-ending headaches for the film crew during the first two years of the show.
With its telltale red light showing the way, K.I.T.T. speeds off on another crime-fighting
The interior of one of the stunt vehicles reveals the dual controls used by stunt drivers
Using sketches provided by John Schinella, Hollywood studio designer Michael Scheffe made