Out of the 20 Pontiacs used in Knight Rider, only five survived.
Jay Leno is no stranger to famous film and TV cars, having recently had the honor of getting behind the wheel of the original 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT Fastback driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt. In a recent episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, the celebrity chat show host and car enthusiast drove an iconic car that fans of the 1980s TV show Knight Rider will instantly recognize. No, it’s not a replica, but the actual Pontiac Firebird used in the show, better known as KITT.
Knight Rider historians Joe Huth and AJ Palmgren managed to track down the 1984 Pontiac Firebird used for filming in Knight Rider, which features in the episode. 20 cars were used during the show’s production, but only five survived – two of which are now owned by Huth and Palmgren. While multiple Pontiacs were used including ’82, ’83 and ’84 Firebird and Trans Am models, this specific example owned by Huth is a base Firebird modified to look like a Trans Am. According to Huth, this specific KITT is the closest to how the car looked during filming. He describes it as a “throwaway stunt car”, which explains why it doesn’t have the famous futuristic dashboard from Knight Rider.
After the show wrapped up in 1986, Universal Studios retrofitted the Firebird and displayed it at a theme park for around a decade. It’s only clocked up 500 original miles, but lived a hard life being abused as a stunt car on set and by thousands of visitors sitting in it at the theme park.
The car was then left to rot in a junkyard before it was rescued and restored by Huth. In Knight Rider, KITT was powered by a fictional turbine engine, but in the real world this model packs a stock 305 cubic-inch V8 paired to an updated Turbo 350 automatic gearbox. It also has significant chassis bracing and a unique braking system that can lock the front wheels for better burnouts or the rear wheels if you want to flick the tail out around corners. If you’re an avid Knight Rider fan, this episode of Jay Leno’s provides plenty of interesting tidbits about the car and the show, though Leno’s incessant ridicule of the duo’s Knight Rider fandom comes across as condescending at times.