INVESTIGATION – Forty years after the filming and broadcast of the American series, the black Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with the red light scanner still exists. A true collector’s item.
Before he was Mitch Buchannon, America’s best-known sea rescuer thanks to the series Baywatch , David Helhoff played Michael Knight in K2000 (Knight Rider of its original title). It is thanks to this role as a modern-day vigilante that the Baltimore native achieved worldwide fame. In line with action series from the 70s and 80s like Starsky and Hutch, Magnum or Supercopter, K2000 fascinated millions of viewers around the world at a time when the small screen was king. The four seasons and 90 episodes from the creation of Glen A. Larson were broadcast in the United States between September 1982 and April 1986 on NBC and then in France, on La Cinq, until 1992.
If David Helhoff was the hero of K2000 , he shared the spotlight with a very special car, equipped with artificial intelligence and speech. With Kitt (acronym for Knight Industries Two Thousand), Michael Knight had an almost indestructible vehicle loaded with weapons and gadgets capable of reaching dizzying speeds. The car in question, a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am from 1982 revamped by designer George Barris, fascinates millions of fans of the series. Its raven black color contrasts with the red lights which oscillate from right to left between the front headlights. Its dashboard, worthy of an airliner, symbolizes the technological modernity of the vehicle in the imaginary world of the series.
For the filming of the pilot of K2000 In the early 1980s, Universal Studios first purchased three examples of the Pontiac. A fourth car was added to shoot all the tight shots of the first season and a fifth for the stunts. This should have been enough but, over the episodes, the vehicles were mistreated and the production needed to obtain others at a lower cost. On November 11, 1982, production took advantage of an unexpected event to recover cars when a freight train carrying a batch of 1983 model Pontiac Firebirds and Trans Ams derailed in Selma, California. Damaged and unsellable, General Motors agreed to hand them over to production for a symbolic dollar with the promise that they would all be destroyed once the series was finished.
“Many collectors claim to own one of the original cars of K2000 when in fact it is a copy »
Joe Huth and AJ Palmgren, historians of the K2000 series
Nearly 40 years after the end of K2000what happened to the Kitt copies used in the filming of the 90 episodes? “Many collectors claim to own one of the original K2000 cars when in fact it is a copy”explain Joe Huth And AJ Palmgrentwo enthusiasts of Knight Rider. Together, the two Americans launched the site Knight Rider Historians tracing the history of the 80s series and the car driven by David Helhoff. “The production of K2000 used around twenty vehicles for filming but only five still exist today. We own two of them. » And to emphasize that “Some people got one of the cars made by designer George Barris under the certainty that they had been used for filming when that was not the case”.
To find the real Pontiacs used in the filming of K2000, the two men carried out tedious research work. In a video published last November on the Knight Rider Historians YouTube channel, Joe Huth was able to detail all of the cars used during filming. With AJ Palmgren, he obtained the VIN numbers for all the vehicles from Universal Studios. For both enthusiasts, the real cars are 1982, 1983 and 1983 Firebird or Trans Am models of the Pontiac. “Every car in K2000 has a different story »underlines AJ Palmgren who owns the very first original car used for filming. “Each of them is unique like a fingerprint”confirmed Joe Huth, owner of “the penultimate car used in the series”. Recently, he recovered the original semi-trailer and trailer from the series, left abandoned, to restore them in turn.
Three types of cars with Kitt’s look K2000 are to be distinguished: the first are those which were really used for filming, approximately 25 in number and of which only five copies still exist. The second are the official Universal Studios replicas having only been used to promote the series, of which there would be six. Finally, the third and most numerous, the unofficial replicas made by amateurs having no connection with the production. Among them, four Kitts were made for the needs of David Helhoff’s musical tours called “Looking for freedom tour” between 1987 and 1990 (one of these four replicas is in Switzerland).
Where are the last five real cars of K2000 ?
- Since 2007, AJ Palmgren has owned one of the first three 1982 Pontiac Trans Ams purchased by the production. It is currently on display at the Petersen Automobile Museum in Los Angeles, California.
- In July 2007, Joe Huth purchased for around 100,000 dollars a 1984 Pontiac Firebird that appeared in nine episodes of K2000. At that time, the author of the book Knight Rider Legacy learned that the car, left abandoned on Universal’s premises for around fifteen years, was available for sale at Kabian Motors in Dublin, California. Fully restored, it was priced at $149,995. “The car is on consignment. It is owned by Tim Russo of Livermore, a 48-year-old customer of Kabian Motors who wanted to put the car on the market to see if there was interest.”then explained the East Bay Times . “Russo purchased the car in 1997 at an auction in San Diego and spent the next several years searching for parts to restore the car to its former glory. » At the end of filming in 1986, this example used in the stunts was restored to be exhibited in the Universal Studios museum. “10,000 visitors sat in this car”Joe Huth told host Jay Leno, reporting the damage caused by this exposure to the general public. “This car suffered during filming but it suffered just as much during the ten years when people crashed into it. »
- A 1982 Pontiac Firebird is on display at Dezerland Park in Orlando, Florida after being restored by a Los Angeles collector. The car was purchased by production to be transformed into a convertible for the needs of season 4 of the series. This museum also has one of six promotional cars.
- A 1982 Pontiac Trans Am that was used in nearly 80 episodes of K2000 long belonged to Carl Casper, an American collector. First exhibited in Indiana, it was sold to a private collector in California.
- A 1982 Pontiac Trans Am is in the possession of a private collector in Keswick, England. This would be the only car in the filming of K2000 to be outside the United States. On several occasions the vehicle was displayed at a car show in Bradford.
In January 2021, David Helhoff had sold the Kitt replica he owned at auction in the United Kingdom. This 1989 Pontiac Firebird found a buyer for $300,000 (around 250,000 euros) and the money was donated to charitable organizations supported by the actor. The American actor never owned one of the real Pontiacs from the filming of K2000. On the other hand, he was offered by the production teams the front of Kitt with the red scanner in working order. After keeping it for several years, he resold it at auction and found savvy buyers in Joe Huth and AJ Palmgren.
The copy of K2000 by Vincent Perrot
In France, Vincent Perrot has owned a K2000 Kitt for over 30 years. “I’ve had it for a very long timethe RTL host told us. I found it in a car museum while I was participating in the launch of Johnny Hallyday’s first American road trip on a Harley-Davidson in 1990. I had to wait three years to acquire it after long negotiations. » The price of this pion purchase, Vincent Perrot did not wish to reveal it to us. “It wasn’t a big deal but it was still very expensive for a car. I was just a modest television presenter in France at the time. »
“David Helhoff told me that he recognized the car of K2000 »
Consulted about the copy of this car, upon reading various photos, Joe Huth told us that the dashboard, the ceiling light, the wheels and the front of the vehicle did not correspond to those used during the filming of K2000. “The Pontiac came with a certificate from Universal and I couldn’t see this museum producing a false certificate for meVincent Perrot explained to us. The condition it was in, the look, the finishes and everything that went with it pleased me so much and corresponded so much to everything I knew about it. K2000 – of which I was a fan – that I had, whatever happened, wanted to acquire it. I knew I would never sell it again so I didn’t care about its authenticity, I wasn’t taking any risks. I love it ! »
In France, Vincent Perrot took the opportunity to meet David Helhoff during one of his shows to show him his Pontiac. “He was really happy to see it, he kissed the bodywork and got in, he remembers. There were no cell phones at the time and I was not able to immortalize these moments with him. He told me that he recognized the car K2000 and told me that many pretty women had accompanied him in the penger seat. And not just during filming! (Laughs.) »
Six months ago, Vincent Perrot unearthed a DVD box set of the complete K2000 at a discount store and started watching a few episodes at home. Upon seeing the images, his two children were impressed by the car. “I realized I never told them I had a copy of Kitt and they didn’t believe methe host told us. During a weekend, they discovered the Pontiac and were able to take a ride in it. Now they dream that I will accompany them one day‘ecole with! (Laughs.) » In his biography, the singer Michel Polnareff himself recounts having taken a ride in Vincent Perrot’s car and spoke about it happily on RTL. Memorable.