The late 1970’s to mid-1980s were a golden age of “Car Chase Action TV”. Fuelled by the big screen successes of movies like Smokey and the Bandit, TV creators let loose all kinds of customized and specialized vehicles. From The Dukes of Hazzard to Hardcastle and McCormick, and from the little-known “Street Hawk” to the iconic van of The A-Team, the small screen was bursting with supervehicles. However, in almost all cases, these vehicles were exactly that, just vehicles. They were flashy conveyances for the main characters in the show. While it’s true that in some cases the cars became just as important as their drivers (*cough* General Lee *cough*), they weren’t characters in their own right. Their “personalities” consisted of nothing more than the throaty notes of their exhaust and the shrill peeling of their tires.
The same cannot be said, however, of one very, very special “supercar”: the Knight Industries Two Thousand. Better known as KITT (actually K.I.T.T., but that’s a pain to type), this customized Trans Am was a fully aware, AI-equipped, crime fighting vehicle. Bulletproofed and equipped with a “turbo charge”, KITT was a force to be reckoned with. By combining the role of partner WITH the main character’s custom ride, the creators of Knight Rider hit on a winning formula, although one that’s not been used much since, surprisingly.
Of course, it comes as no surprise given the popularity of Knight Rider that there was a lot of KITT merchandise. There were Key Cars, die cast replicas, windup cars and all sorts of kid-friendly paraphernalia produced. Not to be left out, MPC took their Third Generation T/A kit and turned it into a replica of KITT, complete with custom nose, scanner and radically altered interior. Since building models was quite a kid’s hobby back in the ‘80s, this made perfect sense; the same body could be used for both conventional T/A and KITT models, and thus MPC would ensure many more sales for minimal outlay.
I recently had the chance to get my hands on one of these old MPC KITTs, still sealed. I know I should have left it that way, since it’s worth more, but there was no way I could leave it sealed up. I was very excited to let my very own KITT out of the box. However, what I found wasn’t exactly what I expected. Read on to see what I mean.
The KITT model is typical MPC in that it has a large picture/drawing (hard to tell, I think it’s heavily retouched, whatever it is) on the front. Large red and yellow letters clearly proclaim that this is a Knight Rider kit; it was these letters that managed to attract my attention to this kit even though it was on a very busy shelf full of other kits. I guess the graphic designers must have hit on something, eh?
Because this is a TV kit, the box lets you know right away you are getting “official” Knight Rider merchandise. There are copyrights and notices that it is “From the television series”, and there are pictures of the real KITT jumping over things and churning up the dust all over the box. It’s all very exciting and very, very period. There’s a kitschy overdone-ness that is both charming and a bit overwhelming at the same time.
One side of the box shows the model in full size, a nice MPC tradition from the ‘80s, while the other shows more TV scenes and runs down some features of the kit. As expected, the baseline car is a 1982 T/A, but there are some special customizations, including a new nose piece, KITT’s trademark “scanner” and the very “aviation inspired” high-tech dashboard and overhead console. The kit also has T-roofs, which is something I honestly don’t remember KITT having, although the internet has proven to me otherwise.
One very interesting thing about this kit is that it is bilingual. The presence of both English and French implies that this kit was sold in Canada only, and it has a new copyright of 1986 on the box. This is very interesting for a number of reasons; the show only lasted until 1986, and by then KITT had a different look from this model. I guess they figured that it wouldn’t be a big deal; after all, it was a black T/A with a scanner in the nose, what else do you need, right?
I didn’t think twice of the copyright date issues until I opened the box, and even then nothing really out of the ordinary jumped out at me.
At first, the contents of the box seemed to be exactly what I expected. There were a lot of somewhat loose black T/A parts in a bag, as well as some darkly tinted windows, a rack of chrome and a separate body shell. I thought it was an inventive cost-saving measure that the “scanner” was simply a set of vertical lines on the center portion of the front support bars: this meant that MPC can easily use the same body for normal T/As and KITT, without retooling a thing. Well done bean counters!
The rack of chrome parts includes the requisite engine bits as well as two sets of wheels. One is the standard early-3rd Gen T/A “Bowling Ball” wheel, while the other is a “custom” wheel, similar to the lacy wheels seen on later 3rd Gen cars. Having the bowling balls chromed is annoying; this just means they’re going to have to be stripped down so they can be painted properly. Another annoyance is that the taillights are red, when they should be black. All pics of KITT that I’ve seen show black tail lights, but that’s easy to fix with either some black paint or some Tamiya Smoke.
Overall, the interior detail looks nice, with trademark MPC carpeting and seat texturing. The engine looks nice from the instructions, and a Crossfire-type 305 is given as standard. There’s also the usual MPC Twin Turbo unit to adapt to it as well, if you want to customize your KITT. The transparencies are actually pretty nice looking. Unlike other MPCs I’ve built, the windows weren’t all scratched or blemished out of the box. This is likely because they’re not free to move around much; the box is packed more tightly than other kits.
The instructions are large and clear, and typical of MPCs. There aren’t any decals on this kit, which is interesting. All the complex dashboard computer screens and lighted buttons that one might expect as being a decal or two are actually moulded in. You’re going to have to use a lot of fine paint work to have the dash look like the box.
A Closer Look: WTF?
Upon closer inspection, though, there are a few things about the body shell that aren’t quite right. In fact, there are a few things that are just full-out wrong! The first thing that hit me was that there was some kind of badge on the B-pillar/sail panel. KITT should be “bald” there. The badge looked a lot like the GTA crest. Seemed odd; the first GTA didn’t show up until 1987, but here is a 1982-based car with one. What? That’s not all, though; closer inspection showed me a few more very bizarre anomalies.
High on KITT’s front fender, behind the wheel opening, is a badge that clearly says “Turbo” on it. This looks like the GTA Turbo badge used on the 1989 anniversary cars – the white GTAs with the Buick Grand National engine in them. If that’s the case, then it seems that this is a body shell of a GTA. But KITT should predate the GTA by almost half a decade. One sure way to tell, though, I thought, was to look for the extractor low on the body. Early 3rd Gen cars have this, as does KITT, but GTAs do not.
Guess what I found (or didn’t find, if you prefer)? Right. No extractor. However, it gets even weirder, because below the extractor, low on the rocker, was the winged wheel insignia of the Indianapolis speedway! It’s true that the Turbo GTAs were used as Indy Pace Cars in ’89, but they also have lower-body cladding. The wheel insignia is embossed on the part of the body that would be covered by cladding. This really makes no sense…
So, what I have here (other than a “failure to communicate”) is a KITT that is actually an ‘89 GTA, but with the rest of the kit bits from an earlier, normal T/A. The KITT parts are in the bag, and I can see the computerized dash and overhead console, but there’s also a “Turbo” hood (normal for KITT and early 3rd Gen T/A) and a later-type vented hood, like you’d expect on a GTA. There are also two kinds of spoiler in the kit; the bar-like type you’d see on early cars and the later style wrap-around spoiler.
Basically, this car is one huge bundle of mistakes, contradictions and confusion, all in one box. The only thing I can think of to explain this kit is this: This kit was actually released in ‘89, after AMT had bought up MPC. It found a bunch of bilingual boxes in a warehouse somewhere, and figured they may as well ship some more Knight Rider kits, since the sprues hadn’t changed. However, the body had already been retooled to the ’89 Turbo GTA mould. No worries; no one’s going to notice. The body is based on the tooling for the original KITT anyway, and the MPC Annual and KITT are interchangeable, so why not just cast some Turbo T/As in black and throw the bodies in the boxes?
If that’s not how it went down, then I don’t know what else to think. This kit was sealed when it was purchased, and there’s no way that the folks at MPC would have made a Turbo-badged 3rd Gen car in 1986. So, as you can see, this is an odd variation on a theme. I wonder, does anyone else have one like this?
KITT is one of the most recognizable and famous cars from the 1980’s, and the longevity of the design is testified to by the fact that there are still new kits of KITT coming out, and from a variety of makers. This is one of the earlier efforts, though, and its roots in MPC’s Trans Am annual model are clear. That doesn’t make this a bad model, though, and it’s an interesting piece of history. Any built KITT will immediately attract attention at a show, such is the fame of the real deal.
This particular rendition of the famed “Two Thousand” though is interesting because it is such an odd combination of different elements, and because it was obviously issued quite late in terms of Knight Rider’s original run, if indeed it wasn’t issued AFTER the show was off the air! For KITT purists, this model is going to be a frustration; it’s clearly not correct when compared to the car seen on the show. The differences aren’t hugely obvious, but they are significant.
I’m not sure quite what to do with this one, I’ll admit. If I want a model of KITT, then I want it to be correct, but there’s no point in building this car “stock”, since it doesn’t have the right nose or interior. I’m working on a plan for it involving the turbo engine and the KITT front end, but the interior out of the MPC ‘88 GTA. Stay tuned!