Yesterday’s Fiction Is Today’s Fact


Not Gonna Happen

Of course, KITT had some other functions that will never make it into production cars, no matter how much we might want them to.

Turbo Boost

Turbo boost

KITT’s most famous feature is also the most unrealistic. I would LOVE to be able to turbo boost over that idiot hogging the left lane at the same speed as the right lane. But that’s not going to happen, and not just for liability reasons.

Consider this video, recently shared by Jalopnik, of a car being lifted off the ground by the force of several downward pointing fire hoses. Yes, it worked. But fire hoses are extremely powerful. It still took several of them to provide enough force to lift the car (a Trabant, by the way, which is much lighter than a Trans Am). Also, as you may have noticed, water is far more dense than air. You would need a jet engine larger than the car itself to lift it off the ground. Never mind the precision you’d need pre-launch to control your trajectory (rally drivers get pretty good at this), or the body crushing shock of the landing (which is why southern California suffered a severe lack of 1970ish Dodge Chargers when The Dukes of Hazzard was being made).

Turbojet Propulsion

Bonnie Barstow making adjustments

According to Wikipedia, “KITT is powered by the Knight Industries turbojet with modified afterburners and a computer controlled 8-speed turbodrive transmission. Specifications 0–60 mph in 2 seconds, standing to quarter mile 4.286 seconds.”

In reality, there have actually been turbine cars.

[brid video=”61138″ player=”4063″ title=”1963 Chrysler Turbine Ultimate Edition Jay Leno’ Garage”]

The 1963 Chrysler Turbine was literally a jet car. For that matter, so was the Batmobile, which was a modified 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car. But in an automotive application, a jet engine didn’t have any real advantages over the internal combustion engine, had worse fuel economy, and would have required a completely new production line to produce the turbine engines. It just wasn’t practical to build on a large scale. The same would apply to a modern day KITT.

In fairness, though, a computer controlled 8-speed automatic transmission is available today in many cars. That’s pretty futuristic, considering that the 1982 Trans Am only had three or four speeds, depending on which 305 motor it had.



Here’s another feature I’d love to have – the ability to lock the brakes of other vehicles. That’s one way to get a tailgater to back off! Unfortunately, the theory of its operation is rather absurd.

This system is believed to work by utilizing focused microwaves to heat the brake fluid, causing it to expand and apply the brakes of the car.

Yeah… If anything, overheated brake fluid would boil, adding gas to the lines and causing the brakes to be less effective, not more. Also, the massive amount of microwave energy required would probably cook the occupants of the car the same way a microwave oven cooks your dinner long before the brakes were affected.

Surveillance Mode

Surveillance mode

WTF is this, anyway? Apparently, Surveillance Mode could detect people and vehicles and track their movements and discern proximity; gather structural schematics of buildings, vehicles, or other devices and help Michael avoid potential danger when he was snooping; monitor radio transmissions and telephone communications within a location and trace those calls; and tap into computer systems to monitor, or upload and download information as long as he could break the access codes. Basically, it’s Knight Rider‘s version of Doctor Who‘s sonic screwdriver, or Star Trek channeling everything through the main deflector dish – a catch-all easy way out of any plot hole they couldn’t write themselves out of any other way.

Ski Mode

Ski mode

Yeah, right.

Third Stage Aquatic Synthesizer

Boston Duck Tours

Photo credit: Boston Duck Tours

I can’t even find a photo of KITT driving on water, but I did find a picture of a Boston Duck Boat, a bus/boat that really can handle both environments. I know for a fact that these work because I’ve been on one myself. Boston Duck Tours takes riders on tours of Boston, both by land and by sea (I wonder how many lanterns would hang in the Old North Church for that one?) They use modified DUKWs, which are themselves modified deuce-and-a-half Army trucks from World War II with amphibious capabilities. They didn’t need a new fangled Third Stage Aquatic Synthesizer to take to the water.

The problem with amphibious vehicles is that they don’t handle either environment particularly well. The Duck Boat lumbers around the streets of Boston just as awkwardly as you’d imagine a six wheeled Army truck would on a road system designed hundreds of years ago by grazing cows. It has a top speed of 50mph on land, and just 6.3mph in the water. (On the plus side, that’s slow enough that Duck Boat tour drivers routinely give small children a chance to drive while they’re in the water.) The idea that KITT could simply hydroplane across the surface using his wheels and turbo for propulsion is just ludicrous. No wonder this only appeared in one episode (“Return to Cadiz,” if you’re wondering.)

So while some of KITT’s functions and features are nothing but fantasy, some could make their way into the real world, and others already have. Who knows what the science fiction writers of today will inspire engineers to design and create tomorrow?

Interesting Side Note

What if?

Did you know that KITT was originally supposed to be a Corvette, not a Trans Am? It would make a lot more sense, since the Corvette was the pinnacle of American sports car technology at the time, and arguably still is today. The problem was the timing. Knight Rider premiered in 1982, right when the C4 Corvette was supposed to be coming out as a 1983 model. Corvette aficionados know what happened next – or more specifically what didn’t happen, that being the 1983 Corvette. There wasn’t one. “Quality and production problems had delayed introduction of the new C4 generation so 1983 was passed over,” according to The Corvette Story. But, as they say in show biz, “The show must go on,” and so it did, with GM’s next best sports car taking the Corvette’s place – the Pontiac Trans Am.


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