“DAD, I’m going to have KITT one day!” So said Heath Craddock, with the innocence of any five-year-old fan of 80s TV series Knight Rider. Who’d have thunk the excited kid would be proven right nearly 30 later?
He has plucked his childhood fantasy from the television and installed it in a Pontiac Trans Am, creating a brilliant replica of the crime-busting hero car of 80s entertainment – high-tech dash and all.
Inspiration came when Heath, in his mid-20s, blew the dust off an old, forgotten video cassette containing an episode of Knight Rider. He put it on.
“My childhood came rushing back to me,” he says. “I didn’t budge from my seat until it was finished.”
Thus inspired, Heath’s hunt for a suitable Trans Am began, but before he’d even found the car he made sure he reserved his KITT number plates.
FANTASY INTO REALITY
Building an at-a-glance KITT lookalike is actually pretty easy. Replica body parts are out there and all you need for a simple version is the front end and a tinted cover for the tail-lights. Most of the stuff is tacky though, Heath reckons, and he needed to go the whole hog.
“It was a two-and-a-half-year build and pretty full-on,” he says of the job he did with his father, Ken. They didn’t just turn an existing car into a replica; they rebuilt the Pontiac underneath in the process. Engine, transmission, diff – the lot. “I didn’t just sign the cheques,” Heath says. “It’s my blood, sweat and tears in this car.”
Amazingly, Heath persuaded Universal Studios to supply crucial measurements, contacts and even moulds for his project, after he convinced them he was not only serious about building a high-quality KITT replica but could actually deliver.
Despite all that high-level assistance, though, it was no walk in the park.
“It was painstaking work to get the stuff to fit,” Heath admits. The bumper was an inch too wide, for example, and many other anomalies reared their heads.
KITT AND KABOODLE
The dash is the single most impressive part of Heath’s KITT replica. It’s exactly the same as the TV car’s second incarnation, from the show’s third series.
“People see the car but they don’t expect the interior,” Heath says. When they look inside, they’re shocked. Even more so when KITT talks, thanks to a CD playing edited voice clips from the show and other sounds that Heath created. Eventually, he says, he’d like to computerise it to allow KITT to ‘respond’ to people’s commands.
Universal Studios put Heath in touch with a Canadian electrical engineer, Christian Forget, who’d been commissioned in 1988 to rebuild the original KITT and make copies for special Knight Rider tours. Christian was a godsend for Heath’s project.
“He basically redesigned the electronics from scratch but kept them accurate to the show, making his own printed circuit boards, running custom sequences and time delays so the LEDs will flash and move,” Heath explains. “He had to convert the old analogue sensor signals to work with the new LED dash components.” So now senders relay and display all the Trans Am’s essential info such as speed and engine warnings, along with replica read-outs on the new dash’s screen.
The TV production company reportedly spent more than $100,000 on the original KITT, and Heath’s pockets have felt a similar drain. But that’s a non-issue for him — he’s stoked with what he’s got.
And so are the people who see it at shows or even when he’s just filling up with fuel. The continuing popularity of Knight Rider, thanks to DVDs and pay-TV re-runs guarantees an all-ages audience for Heath’s creation. Kids come charging over, bubbling with excitement.
“Older people are expecting a 50- to 60-year-old to own it, and they ask if it’s my dad’s,” Heath laughs. They look him up and down, but there’s no mullet or tight jeans like those sported by David Hasselhoff, who played Michael Knight in the series.
“He’s an American icon,” Heath grins. “It’s amusing. He was serious then; now he takes the piss out of himself and still pulls it off.”
No better than Heath has pulled off his KITT replica, though.