Tom Wilson
August 1, 2008
Photos By: Randy Lorentzen

Horse Sense: Rumor is that our next show-biz Mustang might center on a Bullitt remake. Sounds right on target. We can see Jason Statham reprising the Steve McQueen part.

You may have been asleep in English class when it was taught that there are only seven plots in fiction writing. Or was it six? Three? Whatever-we only remember two: boy meets girl, and boy meets hot car and wins the big race.

Hollywood makes its living repackaging both of these old saws, even if they dangerously romanticize the first and hooey up the technicalities of the second. But then, techno-hooey is the point of Knight Rider, in which our man about town employs the super powers of his sidekick car to lay waste to the bad guys.

Minimal badging and black everywhere give the KITT Hero a menacing back-alley persona, and that's before the nanotech body morphs into Attack mode. The flush-fitting Shelby hood pins are nonfunctional, glued-on suggestions, but the Ford Racing brake-cooling ducts and associated KR fascia cutouts are quite real.

In 1982, David Hasselhoff and a tarted-up Trans Am redlined our 10-year-old imaginations. David was there to get the girl, but that Trans Am was awesome! It had an electronic brain, and talked and everything. It even had a red light in its hoodscoop, like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica. And turboboost! It could jump intersections at 300 mph, and it could even drive itself. It could shoot flames and crack jokes, and it had cool video games, smoke bombs, ejection seats-it had everything!

A big hood and small rear spoiler accentuate the KITT GT 500's already muscular proportions. We like the KR hood and happily note that it isn't so tall as to make seeing over it an issue.

We've since grown older, if not up. Today Trans Ams are the butt of mullet jokes, and when NBC went courting for a new Knight Rider pilot movie, the obvious selection for KITT was the Mustang. The producers wanted an American performance car with broad appeal, and if that doesn't describe the Mustang, what does?

However, just because the Mustang was the obvious choice, that doesn't mean the ponycar was already in NBC's barn. Getting a product on the tube is big business today. Auto manufacturers maintain product-placement specialists near Hollywood, and television cars are procured after much maneuvering. Each side gets the exposure or the hardware it needs, but costs are controlled and strings tightly attached lest a hint of negative publicity is unintentionally generated or an opportunity overlooked. The business is intense, to the point where the negotiations take most of the time needed to produce the show. But hey-that's entertainment; have your people call mine and we'll do lunch.

Developed by Pierre Hoffmann of Auto Indulgence, the LED display in KITT's version of the Shelby KR hood offers a series of motions and flashes. A small hardwired controller fitted in the center console storage bin runs the display, which we used to intimidate rabbits at our desert test site.

It's no surprise that KITT designer Harald Belker needed to rush. Harald, a German expatriate, has an extensive line of movie credits, from Armageddon to The Cat in the Hat, but this was his first television exposure. However, it was most definitely not his first automotive assignment. Graduating with honors from Art Center in 1990, Harald went straight to Porsche in Germany, then back to California at Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design, then on to the Batmobile Conceptual Design in 1996, numerous other movie jobs, some Mattel Hot Wheels work, and he even worked on the E-Bike project for Lee Iacocca. Harald, rest assured, is A-list.

At first, the deal-makers flirted with GM and Chrysler, but Ford moved first. Nevertheless, Harald was under contract for two months before Ford signed. To have something to show in meetings during this early phase, he put together a supercar that could be the next KITT car. "I had to put something down for the meetings."

Once Ford was announced, Harald hoped to work with the exotic GT, but it was out of production so the Mustang was locked in. He sketched a few quick ideas for the daily driver Hero and specialized Attack versions of KITT, then moved on to computerized rendering. This started with downloaded images of a Shelby GT 500KR, with Harald doodling over its basic shape.

Naturally, Ford didn't want to lose its identity in the new KITT. "I did a few things that Ford absolutely hated," says an understanding Harald. "It took the car to another level, but [the company] wanted to keep the flair of the Mustang." One of the nixed elements was vertical wings sprouting from the Mustang's triangular quarter-windows on the Attack KITT. Those were shot off in a hurry.

In the end, the Hero KITT is almost a completely stock Shelby GT 500KR, the car Ford wanted to highlight. This was a trick, as the KR was well into the future when Harald was penning KITT, but he had Shelby drawings as a guide. In the end, Hero hit the streets looking like a GT 500 wearing a KR hood fitted with the KITT red light. That's plenty of pizzazz for anyone needing a menancing look, but not a totally standout profile.