In this article I’m presenting a series of four ERTL model cars of the 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am “K.I.T.T.” and his evil twin “K.A.R.R.”. The iconic automobiles of the 80’s TV series “Knight Rider”. I’ll start with the more recent 1/18 K.I.T.T. and K.A.R.R., compare them to the original Firebird Trans Am they are based on, and continue with the 1/25 and 1/64 scale models in part 2.
History of the car
In 1982, Pontiac launched the completely redesigned third generation of the Firebird model. It was a drastic change in terms of technology and styling: electronically controlled retractable headlamps flush-mounted side glass, a glass rear hatchback, just to name a few. This generation was designed in the wind tunnel. Every exterior element of this car was designed to be sleek and aerodynamically efficient. The Trans Am, which was the top model of the range, was the perfect car to choose for a TV series that was about the car of the future, the “Knight Industries Two Thousand”, commonly known as “K.I.T.T.”.
Engine wise, the third generation Firebird came with a plethora of inline 4, V6 and V8 engines, going from 151 cu in (2.5 L) all the way up to 350 cu in (5.7 L). In the TV show, K.I.T.T. got its power from a turbine, but the actual engine was the Crossfire-injected LU5 305 cu in (5.0 L) V8 with a whopping 165 hp, coupled to the TH-200c automatic 3-speed transmission, that came with the Trans Am only – A rather modest power output for today’s standards, but then it was in 1982.
K.I.T.T. and K.A.R.R. were based on the Recaro Edition Trans Am with the PMD (Pontiac Motor Division) seats. On the exterior, the changes to the production model were surprisingly small, but all the more iconic. The front bumper with the integrated red scanner light has the correct shape. The scanner light even works and is powered by four coin cells located in the fuel tank. Press the small black button on the left side just in front of the rear wheel and the scanner light will stay on for 20 seconds. Press the big blue button on the opposite side and it’ll stay on till you press it again.
This K.I.T.T. has two fog lamps per side plus additional turn signals. In the TV show, K.I.T.T. never had turn signals in the front bumper. There were three fog lamps per side in the first two seasons and only two fog lamps per side in the final two seasons. According to the dashboard, this is supposed to replicate the car of the first two seasons. Back then, K.I.T.T. had a slightly different front bumper than in the following seasons: the fog lamp part was covered with black laths, making the fog lamps visible only when switched on. The original parking lights were covered by tinted plastic, letting the light shine through when switched on. This is the later bumper that completely covers the original parking lights of the Firebird. K.A.R.R. had two appearances on the TV show; one in the first season when the exterior was identical to K.I.T.T.’s and one in the third season, when the scanner light had faded from red to yellow, due to a two years in salt water. He had also repainted the lower part of the body in grey.
The only differences to K.I.T.T. are: the grey paint on the lower part of the car, the yellow scanner and the yellow voice modulator. The grey paint job just misses one detail, the line along the wheel arches. It does have the front stone deflectors like on K.I.T.T.. K.A.R.R. has three fog lamps per side as well, instead of two. However, they are all white.
Further down the front, you can see the grappling hook. Although it was only visible up close on the show when used, ERTL managed to install a permanent one with a spring that rolls it back in when you release the rope. Whereas it works still quite good on this K.A.R.R. model, it’s a little stuck on K.I.T.T. and I have to roll it back in manually. Nevertheless, it’s really impressive to see that they thought of it and made a working unit!
Back on top, the hood has its signature left side Trans Am bulge. The headlights do not pop up on this models, nor do any of the other lights work, which is a little sad, since they already have batteries for the scanner lights. Anyway, the marker lights are correctly painted orange in front and red in the rear. Fortunately, the windshield wipers are accurately replicated separate items that have been installed hidden behind the hood – just as they should. The air extractors on the front fenders are also there. ERTL even painted them in a different matt black as opposed to the shiny black on the rest of the car. The garnish moldings on the doors have been installed correctly. On K.A.R.R., they also mark the limit between the two paint colors. The radio antenna is missing, just as in the show.
The wheels are fitted with the turbine finned alloy imitation rims with the black “Bowling Ball” hubcaps. The tires don’t show any brand markings on the side like in the show, but they have actual profile on them. The stone deflectors, standard on the Trans Am, were mounted in front of either wheel. Contrary to this model and many replicas, the front ones were never mounted on the actual K.I.T.T.. Even this one has got them. Finally, the fuel filler cap with the opening bulge on the left side is very accurate. The back window is tinted and opens just as in real one. Contrary to the life size one it has a thick frame, but then I suppose it would have to hold everything together. In the rear, K.I.T.T.’s black single piece taillight cover is on, as opposed to the Firebird’s original three piece cover. The bumper follows the exact embayment in the lower part and is completed with the classic blue “California KNIGHT” license plate sticker, bold on by four painted screws. However, ERTL just made yet another mistake with the paint job on K.A.R.R.: On the model the entire bumper is grey. On the real car, the separation is on the edge of the bumper, meaning that the upper surface is black. Please note: There was no license plate on K.A.R.R. when I got it. The one on this one is a self-made replica.
Looking further down we can see the tips of the two exhaust pipes, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s get up to the roof. As a matter of fact, the T-Top was a crucial part of K.I.T.T.. If you have watched to show you’ll know that K.I.T.T. used his ejector seats frequently, but we’ll get to that as we’ll get inside the car. The two sections are made out of tinted plastic, follow the original’s slightly curbed shape and are retractable. They are simply put on the car and cannot be attached. So be careful when turning the car upside down. That said, they fit perfectly, just as in the real world. 😉
Now let’s check out if there is actually a turbine under K.I.T.T.’s and K.A.R.R.’s hood. On the one hand the result is very disappointing, because ERTL put the conventional original 5.0 L V8 in it, in lieu of the turbine. On the other hand, the turbine was never visible in the show; every time they opened the hood, the stock V8 engine was in there. In that perspective, it’s a spot on job: Gold painted engine block, chrome valve covers, grey headers and alternator – all the different elements are painted in their respective color. The air filter, the cables on the engine bay and the hose connecting the radiator and the engine are on, even all of the auxiliaries and the v-belts are installed, even though they cannot turn. They even thought of replicating the exact shape of the cover plate between the headlights – well done.
The only letdowns are the battery and the headlights. While the battery is installed, no cable or connectors are visible. ERTL did a better job on the “Bluesmobile” I reviewed previously. And I assume it would have been feasible to install retractable headlights on this kind of model – Some less expensive model cars have that. Overall though, a very nice job. The hoods of both cars close nicely, they are well adjusted and the shut lines are very clean.
Time to look under the car. The mechanical details are all very accurate. The differently painted colors like in the engine bay continue their way down here. The wheels turn and the steering is connected to K.I.T.T. & K.A.R.R.’s futuristic steering wheel. From underneath we get a close look at the grappling hook and it’s actually quite sophisticated: A mini hook attached to a rope, which is attached to a winch that has been fitted with a spring. Just pull it out and it’ll rewind as you let it go. Although it still works quite good on this K.A.R.R., the one of K.I.T.T. appears to be a little stuck, probably because he got to use it more often than his evil twin.
The rest of the undercarriage is as detailed as we can expect it from ERTL: the exhaust pipes even integrate the catalytic converter. The tail pipes have the original angular ending – very nice. The transmission and propulsion shaft are painted grey and even show the correct articulations. Another nice touch is the fact that ERTL put in four real springs. Unfortunately, they are just for show and the suspension is solid. As usual for ERTL 1/18s, the undercarriage is screwed to the body with six bolts; two in the front, two in the middle and two in the back.
As mentioned before, the buttons in front of the back wheels are here to action the scanner light. The fuel tank is obviously the ideal place to store the coin cells. Funnily enough, the fuel tank is painted grey on K.I.T.T. and black on K.A.R.R.. Since I purchased K.A.R.R. a couple of years later, it just looks like ERTL made some improvements over the years – so far regarding the fuel tank and the fog lights, but also within the interior, as we shall see next.
Inside K.I.T.T. and K.A.R.R. is where the future begins – or at least used to begin during the 80’s. As soon as we hop in the cabin, the iconic dashboard of the 1st two seasons of Knight Rider greats us: The main dashboard, dash switchpod, steering wheel, upper & lower console – everything has the correct shape and sticker on it. Fortunately, ERTL even thought of the “Knight Industries” logo on the steering wheel.
The eight single diodes arranged vertically around the voice modulator are accurately painted on K.I.T.T.: the upper four are yellow, the lower four are red. However, the voice modulator itself is not painted at all. On K.A.R.R., the upper four diodes are orange, instead of yellow, but the voice modulator is painted as a square, like K.I.T.T. had in red in the very first few episodes. It would have been perfect, had they painted K.A.R.R.’s voice modulator with three yellow stripes. Nice job, even the gear lever is the one of the 1982 Firebird so often seen as a close-up when K.I.T.T. changed gears himself.
The rest of the cabin is all beige as it should. The front seats are just like in the actual K.I.T.T.: today’s very rare PMD units. All seats come with the accurate striped upholstery, but remain plastic of course. Tilt the front seat forward and you can access to the rear bench. The coolest thing of the whole interior is without a doubt the passenger ejector seat. Push the black button on the right side of the seat and off it goes! Don’t forget to remove the top first. 😉
The box comes in traditional ERTL / RC2 fashion with the big windows in the front and on top, a picture of K.I.T.T. or K.A.R.R. in the front and in the back. Moreover, there is an open spot up front to try the car’s scanner light. Interestingly, on K.I.T.T.’s box, the acronym is written out just underneath it – “Knight Industries Two Thousand”. On K.A.R.R.’s box, they left that out, whereas they should have added “Knight Automated Roving Robot”. David Hasselhoff aka Michael Knight is depicted on top and in the back for both models. In the back, you get a brief description of the show and the car in both English and French. On the bottom, the ERTL, RC2, General Motors and Universal Studios logos authenticate that this is an official product of the toy company, the car manufacturer and the movie production studio.
Back on the road
Overall, ERTL did a fine job building these 1/18 K.I.T.T. & K.A.R.R. replicas. There are a couple of minor flaws regarding the front of the cars and it would have been nice to have actual retractable headlights, but the rest of the car is very accurate. Furthermore, the functioning scanner light, the grappling hook and the ejector seat make you want to immerse into the Knight Rider world.
While you’re at it, you might want to check out David Hasselhoff’s trailer of the next Knight Rider iteration: