Knight Rider Design Story

Any commercial use of stories, photo's or art without written authorization from Robert Webb is prohibited. Webb 2003
Updated: Feb 9, 2002

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Knight Rider in 1986 was on the way out. It was a very popular Television series for many years but it had finally run its course and was destined to be canceled.

However, the Knight Rider people at Universal Studios did not want to give up just yet. They thought they might have a chance of stretching the run if they could spice up the show with a change to K.I.T.T.. K.I.T.T. or Knight Industries Two Thousand automobile was nothing more than a black Pontiac Firebird with a kustom nose piece and black acrylic over the taillight Plexiglas. It also had fancy Electronic gizmo's and a custom dash panel.

I was working for George Barris at the time as his Artist and he asked me to sit-in on a meeting with Universal. They arrived with several drawings of what they wanted done. It was a well thought out and extensive presentation. We were being asked to build the car to their specifications.

It looked like a Firebird on steroids with weak, skinny, stock "DOT" tires. The wheel wells were boxes punched out over each wheel well. It would have been nice but they had no intention of changing tire size! Because of this I thought the design was weak, to say the least. In fact the first time I saw the drawings I laughed out loud (a bit). Not a politically correct thing to do in a sales meeting! I am glad I did not see George's face at that moment. I am sure he probably was boring holes though me with his eyes.

It was unintentional. I was just caught by surprise. The tires could hardly be seen deep within the wheel wells. At first I thought it was a joke. I quickly gathered my wits back up, apologized and explained my reaction. The tires were lost in the enormous wheel wells. I recommended they change the tire size in the "Pumped up mode" and then it would be just fine. They said that was not possible, for what ever reason. So.... what to do?

On the spot I made some recommendations and drew a few quick sketches. They, and George understood what I was saying and probably saw my earlier reaction as a possible future public reaction as well. They all sat around and we discussed possible changes. I made sketches as they brought ideas up. So, with a mix of ideas from George Barris, myself and the Universal Studios people I was given the green light on drawing a new version of K.I.T.T.!

I made a few drawings. As I recall, 4 nice color sketches and several mechanical ideation drawings for the construction people. I have one photo of the artwork I produced for Universal. It is the one above. I really liked the convertible. It was, in real life, a very pretty car. The Rocket Car version of K.I.T.T. was fun and, at least, did not look weak! It was a bit of a cartoon, but still had sizzle.

There were 4 cars built.

#1 Convertible

#2 Trailer Convertible

#3 Hydraulic actuating version, with no engine

#4 Solid driving version with air brakes

Car number one. This is the convertible while it was being made. When it was finally painted it was breathtaking. The body work was flawless on this one. The guys building the car had plenty of time to do this one right.

The gentleman in the red shorts is Tubs. Tubs was one of Georges best friends and one heck of a good car builder. The sad thing is that Tubs passed away a few years ago and I know George must miss him a great deal. They went way back together.

This is the second car. It is a mock-up of the convertible mounted on a boat trailer and the hardtop really drops in to the trunk area using a track and bearing system. I proposed a soft cloth tanau cover to roll up in the rear, like a pickup truck, but they went with the dorky "magic hard shell" back cover that comes from another dimension. a stage hand pushes the giant fiberglass cover forward from the back after the top retracts in to the trunk area. I really like the way the turtle deck looks. It is the rear deck "mechanical solution" that I did not like. Oh well... I was not the Designer of that deal.

This is a closeup of the mechanism that drops the hard top in to the trunk area. I was able to design it so that it would drop in to the stock firebird! They put it on this trailer for some unknown reason. It is kind of frustrating after I worked out all of the angles. They could have had a really cool convertible that really worked. Instead they ended up with a funky trailer and a full time "slick" convertible. The final solution to this belongs to George Barris and his craftsmen. They were able to take my wimpy drawings and breathe life in to real steel.

Here is the third car. This one has all of the wings and goo-gaws welded in place so the car could be driven by stunt drivers and pushed around a little. It did have operating "Air Brakes" though. The hydraulic air brakes were extremely fast actuating and looked kool! You can see one of the the rear air brakes on the quarter panel. The roof is a fiberglass piece and one of the air brakes was cut from it.

If you look below the bumper you can see an aerodynamic device (primer gray), or wing, of my design. It is a wing that provides downforce from the air exiting below the car. In my estimation, this air is underutilized by aerodynamic devices. I think it could be used on some serious street vehicles. Watch out for curbs and speedbumps though! The air is very disturbed under a car, but if you use an underbelly pan to smooth it out, the wing might add a lower drag way of gaining some downforce. This one tucks up in the bottom of the rear bumper.

This is a closeup of the right rear air brake. There were two in the rear and a huge one on the roof. Note the diagrams written by the car builder. It was a quick building process and they did not have blueprints. I provided them with quarter view drawings and some side views showing angles and desired results. They winged the rest. These guys are Pro's!

The front bumper splits in to 2 Pieces. The upper half becomes a wing and rises vertically above the hood line. In this photo the upper half has not been mated to the lower yet. You can see the two mounting points on top of the bumper. My original drawing showed a real wing rising from the area between the bumper and the front of the hood. That is why the bumper moves forward. But as you can see they made everything simpler to build by makeing the bumper split. I like the solution they came up with as well, but you might ask why the bumper moves forward at all? Now you know.

This is a great side shot of the front engine bay area of the third car. You can see the Intake Scoop in its raised position and the small wings that pop out from the front of the quarter panel. This car was drivable and was designed to be driven hard. Everything was welded up tight.

The fourth car had no engine. The reason was that the entire engine bay was stuffed full of hydraulic rams that moved the front bumper out and up and made all of the goo-gaws pop out. That is the car you saw in all of the closeups as things opened up. You will never see a shot with the fourth car rolling along sprouting all of this stuff. It was a barge or "hangar queen". I suppose they could have taken it to a hill and let it roll down while sprouting its feathers. As I recall, It did steer and have brakes.

If you wanted to see inside K.I.T.T., here is a good shot showing the small "stunt driver" wheel and kustom dash. This is the same dash used on all of the other K.I.T.T.'s. One day while on the lot at Universal, I counted 16 black knight rider cars! There were 2 car trailers full of these cars. You can not have a dent in an indestructable car!

The stunt guys were good at keeping the cars dent free, but sometimes a difficult stunt sequence would cause errors in judgment. Every so often, over and over! Thus, they had many cars on hand. One special car had a removable rubber-like coated shell that allowed "sparkling" bullets to bounce off! When you see bullets spark off of the car, that is actually what is happening! Kind of hard to believe, but I saw the shiny "rubber" car and I have been told this was how they did it. Hmmmm...

Knight Rider!