Review: KITT Shelby GT500 KR

KITT Shelby GT500 KR – Click above for high-res image gallery

At age 8, I had a bed time that ranged from 8:30-9:00 PM. That time went unmodified for years, until my dad decided that I could stay up once a week to watch a new show called Knight Rider. It featured my favorite new car at the time; the Pontiac Firebird. The original KITT was black, looked fast, and had more whiz-bang features than any of Bond's Astons.

Fast forward to 2008 and blogging can keep me up to 1:00 AM or later, but my late night job has some serious benefits. I get to drive the cars of my dreams. About a week before this year's Woodward Dream Cruise, though, I had just such a vehicle drop into my lap. We got a call from Ford that a very exciting vehicle was available for the taking; a replica of the actual Ford Mustang GT500 KR that plays KITT in the upcoming television series. It's no Firebird and it certainly doesn't come from General Motors, but it just may be one of the coolest vehicles on the road today at any price. Hit the jump to read our starry-eyed rendezvous with KITT.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

First off, we're not nearly as excited about NBC's remake of the Knight Rider series as we are about the car itself. This particular one is essentially an all-black Shelby Mustang GT500 KR with seriously tinted windows, a base-thumping Shaker 1000 sound system, a fully functioning red LED light bar integrated into the hood, and a Knight Rider edition Mio nav screen with the voice of KITT giving you directions.

But that's it, because the interior of this replicar was not KITT-ed out, so to speak. There are no controls for launching rockets or the infamous "Turbo Boost" button from the original series, and unfortunately passenger seat ejection is not an option. If we were at all disappointed that these Hollywood-style gadgets didn't come with the car, Ford's supercharged 5.4L V8 sledge hammer was underhood to make us feel better.

Ford had originally planned to remove the already powerful stock blower of this GT500 KR and replace it with something more potent from the Ford Racing parts bin. Blue Oval management decided against it, however, because the resulting 605 horsepower and 570 ft-lbs of torque would have been too much power in the hands of amateurs. Regardless, KITT never lacked neck-wrenching twist while traversing the highways and byways of southeast Michigan while in our hands.

Besides, the unique exhaust note of the GT500 KR is our own personal siren's song, and we wouldn't want it messed. Then there's the wonderful, almost sinister whine of the stock Eaton supercharger. The first time we went wide open throttle, there were actual chills running down our backs. Don't worry, you'll get to hear how the GT500 KR KITT sounds a little later in a video we produced.

If you get a GT500 KR straight from the dealer, you'll be paying around $80,000 for an additional 40 hp more than the already beefy GT500 and a lot of carbon fiber to cut down on weight. That brings the blown V8's total to 540 hp and 510 ft-lb or torque. This jet-black KITT pony car has the same open air element, carbon fiber front splitter and wonderful short-throw Hurst shifter as the standard GT500 KR, but the lighter-weight hood is now burdened with the mechanicals required for the working light bar. When we lifted the hood ourselves, it felt like it was cast from a massive chunk of iron. The KITT 'Stang also came with chrome 20-inch rims and 255/285 Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber, which gave this GT500 KR a visual exclamation point and first class grip for cornering in one package.

On the road, KITT garnered plenty of stares. Big surprise, right? When the sun went down and we turned on the car's nose-mounted light show, there was more rubber-necking than a carbeque on I-75. We'd have kept it on all day long, but the red LEDs are virtually invisible until dark. And yes, we were dorky enough to purchase the Knight Rider theme song on iTunes, which was fun to jam at stoplights.

When we weren't drawing attention with the KITT car, we went searching for open road on which to flex NBC's favorite muscle car. As expected, the force-fed V8 had plenty of punch off the line, and even with massive 20-inch rims and low-profile tires, KITT was surprisingly comfortable on rough roads. We only had the car for a few days so we weren't able to test Ford's claim that it can achieve 1 G of lateral acceleration, but we were sure to have as much fun as possible without getting into serious trouble.

One thing we learned was that the GT500 KR's traction control should be turned off with extreme caution. The rear will step to the side a little during acceleration with the traction control engaged, but the system gently puts the 4,000-lb coupe back on a straight path. Without assisted traction, however, you can kiss the electronic safety net goodbye. Those race-ready Goodyear tires have little chance of maintaining contact with the pavement if you get on the petrol pedal of this live-axle pony car.

While we were in general thrilled with our time spent driving KITT, we did have a couple gripes. For starters, all that horsepower doesn't result in a much faster Mustang than the GT500 or even the Bullitt we drove earlier in the year. In fact, the lighter, less expensive Bullitt is the most fun to drive Mustang on sale today. Then there's the interior. It's just a regular old Mustang interior except for Cobra badging on the seats and steering wheel. Some irrelevant carbon fiber or maybe Recaro seats would have been nice in a car that costs $80,000, but they're not included.

Other than the red LED light bar, the only other KITT-specific item in our GT500 KR was the Knight Rider edition navigation system by Mio. It's basically a standard Mio nav system, but uses the actual voice of the original KITT, William Daniels. The system also greets you by name whenever you turn on the car and flashes red on the sides when KITT talks. The nav system does as well as any other in getting you from place to place, but it looks like KITT, talks like KITT and is therefore infinitely cooler than your garden variety Garmin or TomTom.

Regardless of whether or not the upcoming rehash of Knight Rider goes boom or bust, the car will always be an icon. And regardless of whether KITT is a 1982 Pontiac Firebird or a 2008 Shelby GT500 KR, if it's black, talks, fights crime and has a red light bar, it's still KITT. After spending time with this example, it's clear that NBC could have done far worse than using a bad ass Shelby GT500 KR as the 2008 version of KITT. It looks damn good (when not in Attack Mode), sounds even better, and is as fast as any car needs to be. And for the record, I stayed up past my bedtime every night KITT was parked in the driveway.

BONUS: Keep an eye out for the short.. ahem... film we produced starring KITT. It's at least as good as the new Knight Rider show will be.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

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