Schinella would later provide more detailed drawings of the car. "In fact," says Wade, "John gave us designs that were supposed to be, like, down the line, so as the production Trans Am changed, we could change K.I.T.T." One wonders where those drawings are today, and what they might be worth.
In a 1981 meeting at the Vista Group offices with Knight Rider Supervising Producer Harker
Once the three Trans Ams were built and spirited away from the Van Nuys plant, modification work began in earnest since the deadline to shoot the TV pilot was rapidly approaching. Jon Ward, a well-known Southern California car builder, and a founder and enthusiastic participant of the famous (or in some circles, infamous) "Banzai Runners" of the '80s, did all the bodywork in his shop in Agua Dulce. Working from Schinella's detailed renderings, it took about six weeks to complete, despite an ongoing litany of changes issued by Larson.
Schinella also provided interior dimensions and engineering data to Michael Scheffe, an independent studio designer who had been hired by Larson to create the elaborate computerized dashboard for K.I.T.T. The dash, designed and built in Scheffe's Santa Monica studio, was fitted to at least two of the cars as well as a stationary buck used for close-up shots.
You will note that nowhere in all of this has the name of George Barris come up. The reason for this is simple: Contrary to the commonly held belief, which is encouraged to a certain extent by his publicity machine, Barris had absolutely nothing to do with the original Knight Rider Trans Am. John Schinella largely designed the exterior, although Michael Scheffe did contribute considerable input during the modification phase when real-world actualities did not match the design concept drawings. Jon Ward did all the bodywork in his Agua Dulce shop, and Scheffe designed and constructed the dashboard. With the exception of probably acquiring at a later date the licensing rights to build display models of K.I.T.T. for use at auto shows and the like, the only involvement Barris had with Knight Rider may have been when he helped in a slight freshening of the car for the show's fourth and final season, according to Scheffe.
All the while, Larson was working on Universal executives to green light the actual production. Harker Wade, as the supervising producer, had put together a $5 million budget for what could be a television pilot, a two-hour made-for-TV movie, or a feature-length motion picture. Five million bucks was crazy money in 1982, even for a producer with the successful track record of Larson. The studio kept balking at the cost, and Larson kept coming back to Wade asking for more budget cuts. Finally, the studio said all Larson would get was enough budget for a 15-minute short to present to NBC network executives.
A close-up view of K.I.T.T.’s nose during modification at Jon Ward’s shop in Agua Dulce, C
"Glen calls me down at the production office early one morning," Wade recounts, "and he says, ‘We got a go-ahead on Knight Rider.' I ask, ‘What are we doing? A movie? Hour pilot? What?' And he says, ‘We're doing a 15-minute presentation.' I said, ‘Oh, man! When are we doing it?' Glen says, ‘Come on down, get a camera crew—we're doing it now.'"
This was 8 a.m. on Friday, and the presentation to NBC executives was scheduled to take place the following Monday in New York. Harker tells the rest of the story:
"Glen says, ‘I talked with Dan Haller and he's going to direct all the talking parts of it, and we'll use the set from the Biggest Little Whorehouse in Texas on Stage 12. You're going to do the exterior stuff.' Okay, I thought, here we go.
"I put together two camera crews, one with sound for Dan Haller, the other without sound for me. Then I called the Newhall Land and Cattle Company, which controls the area around the Magic Mountain amusement park where we wanted to shoot the exterior stuff. We sent two of the Trans Ams and my camera crew to Magic Mountain. We shot as much as we could—run-bys and the like. After I ran out of ideas, we went to the studio's back lot—we had to be back there anyway, so we shot some more stuff. We shot until almost midnight, and then I had to call it or else we'd be into all kinds of overtime
"All that film, all the interior and sound stuff that Haller shot, and all the exterior scenes I did, it all went immediately to the lab, which we'd arranged to stay open, what is called daylighting, but in actuality they just stayed the entire night. The lab got the film about 1 a.m. They developed it and it went straight to the film editor for cutting. It was now early Saturday evening. Then the music and sound effects were chosen and mixed in overnight. It was all done by Sunday afternoon, and one of the assistant producers who was standing by got on a plane, the red-eye, to New York to show it to the NBC executives Monday.
You’re looking at a side view of K.I.T.T.’s nose section after modification. Note the lack
On location, one K.I.T.T. is on the ground being prepped for a shot while two more are in
Universal Studios Transportation Manager Neil van Order prepares to drop the crusher’s bal