La car, star of the small screen in the eighties
In the 1980s, vigilantes, police or not, were legion: Starsky and Hutch, The Dead Man, Rick Hunter, Miami Vice etc…and a good vigilante must have an adequate mount. What would Sonny Crockett be without his white Ferrari Testarossa, Thomas Sullivan Magnum without his Ferrari 308 or Colt Seavers without his GMC Sierre Grande pick-up?
At this time too, product placements exploded in cinema or television, and science fiction was also in fashion. Car manufacturers see it as a boon to promote their new models and acquire an avant-garde image. Glen Larson, to whom we owe the series Battlestar Galactica and The Falling Manproduced a new series which was broadcast from September 1982 on the NBC channel: Knight Riderbetter known in France under the name of K2000. The series features Michael Long, a former police detective with severe facial injuries left for dead during an operation who, after receiving facial surgery and a new identity as Michael Knight, is hired by Devon. Miles, director of the public justice organization FLAG, to fight crime with unprecedented means, including an ultra-sophisticated high-performance vehicle equipped with a revolutionary artificial intelligence with which he can communicate: the Knight Industries Two Thowsenda.k.a KITT.
Pontiac Transam 82: mouth but not too much muscle
The car in question, heroine of the series in the same way as the character of Knight played by David Hasselhoff, is based on the Transam version of the Pontiac Firebird, whose 3rd generation has just been launched in 1982. Funny anecdote, at the when the producers were looking for the right model a General Motors train carrying brand new Pontiac Firebirds went off the rails! The cars having become unsaleable following the damage, Universal saw a golden opportunity there, and bought them according to some for $1 each! The studio only financed the model transformed and used for close-ups and interiors, which cost a whopping $100,000 at the time.
Unlike the previous generation, which was born in the early 70s in the midst of the Muscle Car craze, the new Firebird is more modern in its design but has nothing to do with the angry pony car that was its elder. The oil shocks and the economic crisis have been there, and the car has had to gain enormously in efficiency. It weighs 230 kilos less than generation 2 and benefits from a very aerodynamic line with a drag coefficient of 0.32, the result of extensive studies in the wind tunnel. The designers have gone to great lengths in detail, with side mirror housings in light metal alloy, almost in the shape of a cone, or even wipers hidden under the hood with the air intake for the air conditioning system. The hood is plunging, the optics are tapered and retractable headlights appear in the purest fashion of the time.
Anti-pollution standards and the context of the oil crisis oblige, the gluttonous Muscle cars of the sixties and seventies had to put away their monstrous blocks. The 3rd generation Firebird receives injection but starts, in its first vintage, with a 4-cylinder of “only” 2.5 liters and 90 horsepower. Ouch! At the other end of the range, there was a carburetor V6 of…112 horsepower, a 5.0 V8 with 4-barrel carburetor of 145 horsepower and, for the Transam, a Chevrolet “Crossfire” V8 of…175 horsepower, all coupled to a 3-speed automatic transmission! If it has a mouth, as much to say that the Firebird was not a sports car, and still a Muscle car!
For a James Bond of the future
But in the series, thanks to fiction, everything changes. Renamed KITT, equipped with a supercomputer with scalable and sensitive artificial intelligence, the Firebird has in the series a turbojet engine that can operate with different fuels including hydrogen. Its body is armored and resists almost anything. In Turbo Boost mode, it can take off using thrusters to avoid an obstacle or exceed 320 km/h. “great Pursuit mode”where aerodynamic appendages are then deployed to thrill Mansory, even allows to cross the 300 Mp/h. Brilliant idea from Glenn Larson too: to give a “soul” to this car. This will go through the digital work of the computer voice, endowed with a real personality and deadpan (cooler than HAL 9000) and also by the luminous red beam implanted on the muzzle (which was lengthened for the occasion), which was supposed to represent a kind of « heartbeat » for this almost « living » car. Who hasn’t tried to imitate the sound of the beam with their mouth?
KITT also has many gadgets and modes: ejection seats, shield, jammers, scanners, flamethrowers (under the bumper!) and even a parachute just in case. Everything has become cult: the flashy aviation dashboard full of sensors, Michael’s visionary connected watch (“ Kitt come get me! »), the sound effects, the credits (whose chorus is inspired… by a 19th century ballet!), the nemesis “KARR” (the initial prototype that swung to the dark side, with an AI without moral limits unlike KITT) without forgetting David Hasselhoff’s hairstyle of course.
KITT, it’s almost real now
It is funny to note that this series, which launched a fashion for futuristic vehicles (Supercopter, Clockwork Thunder), and which contributed to giving birth to the love of the « car » in yours truly, was based on a futuristic and high-tech approach with a car equipped with a communicating AI (and wielding humor, unlike domestic assistants! ), which we are getting ever closer to in today’s world. Even 300 Mph have been reached, by the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport! What could well make us dream in future series? In a few years, the autopilot and dialogue with the on-board computer will be common. What was pure fantasy 40 years ago and made children dream is gradually becoming real and becoming commonplace. On the other hand, not sure that the Turbo boost is authorized…
“The exploits of a lone knight in a dangerous world. The knight and his mount! A modern-day hero, last resort for the innocent, the hopeless, victims of a cruel and ruthless world. »