Jay Leno rides the KITT from Knight Rider

Jay Leno has driven all types of cars: exotic, luxury, muscle and electric. But he’s never driven a talking car. Ok, he still hasn’t driven a real talking car, but he did drive a 1982 Pontiac Firebird that played a talking car on TV. Specifically, KITT from the hit 1980s action show Knight Rider.

Joe Huth, who owns one of five surviving Trans-Ams who played KITT, joined Leno on Jay Leno’s Garage to discuss his KITT car. “I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. Seeing an indestructible car that could talk and jump over things captures my imagination,” Huth told Leno.

From the second Jay got into the cockpit of the car, it was obvious this was no ordinary Pontiac. There was the iconic steering yellow, which surely influenced Tesla designers, plus a myriad of displays and gauges for things like “Normal Cruise”, “Auto Cruise” and “Pursuit”.

While KITT is too old for infotainment features like Apple CarPlay, the car has a phone and a 9-inch color TV that was used by the show’s other star, Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff), to communicate with his team at headquarters. Other cool features of the car include turbo boost, as well as the ability to create an oil slick and release smoke.
The dashboard of this particular model has been modernized for this installment of Jay Leno’s Garage. While KITT was a Pontiac Trans-Am on Knight Rider, the example Huth brought to Jay Leno’s garage was a base model Pontiac Firebird disguised as a Trans-Am. It served as a stunt car, but after the show stopped airing, the studio added the interior elements seen in the TV show and displayed it at the Universal Studios theme park.

The car’s base engine is decidedly less powerful than the turbojet that powered the car on TV, and the car can’t drive itself. It only has around 500 miles from new and comes with a three-speed automatic transmission. This transmission was chosen for its durability, which allowed the stuntmen to be as hard on the car as they needed for the show’s trademark action sequences.

Besides the design cues, which include the car’s distinct oscillating red light under the hood, the car’s most significant upgrade was a brake line interlock system. This holds the front brakes in order to allow the rear wheels to spin and smoke the tires. It can also hold the rear brakes to allow the car to make 180 degree turns.

This version of KITT was the least modified of the five remaining cars that appeared in the series, so much so that it still runs on the original Eagle GT tires. “They have great tread, but they’re a bit stiff because the rubber has hardened a lot,” Huth said.

So what did Leno think of KITT? “It drives well. It handles like a stock Trans-Am,” he said.

Earnest L. Veasey