WATCH: Durban engineer’s KITT tribute that has become a TV star
Eye-catching Pontiac Trans Am featured in an advert for Chicken Licken.
Anban Pillay’s Pontiac Trans-Am tribute to Knight Rider’s KITT.
There is, somewhere in the past of every petrolhead, the car that got him (or her) hooked on four-wheeled machinery. For Anban Pillay, it was the menacing, all-black Pontiac Trans-Am which was the real star of the TV series Knight Rider.
The Durban electrical engineer used to scribble drawings of the car all the time as a laatie … and one day he realised that after having his older daughter attend her matric dance in one, that with a lot of work and perseverance, he could make that dream come true. But now, he’s done it … twice.
His first replica of the Knight industries Two Thousand (KITT) Trans Am (the hero car which starred alongside David Hasselhoff in the show), was a not-quite-correct 1986 model. The cars used in the series; he says, were all built from 1982 to 1985.
“Because of that it didn’t have some of the details of the earlier cars. It also started off life as white, no T-Tops and was a manual – although KITT is an auto…”
Over four years, Anban’s project gradually took shape – and the result was an almost screen-accurate looking car externally (missing a few minor details) and interior (seats, upholstery and trim) to match the screen car’s design and colour … including that ever-so-famous red scanner light and KITT nose up front.
The icing on the interesting cake was the fact that he, as an electrical engineer, was able to craft a lot of the clever digital dashboard features, including a voice generating system which was able to respond to comments and commands … just like KITT was.
Though his replica was incorrect because it had the five-speed gearbox manual, the car was “great to drive”, recalls Anban. In the actual show, many stunts were performed using the manual version as an auto would not have been able to pull them off.
Even while the KITT project was on the go, the Pillay household still remained “Car Fan Central”. A stunning car he bought new was a red Toyota 86, to which he then added a body kit and supercharger. That car was then sold to help fund the KITT project – but that didn’t stop him getting his hands on a superb original Toyota MR2, with a turbo, two-litre motor.
This current MR2 replaced one he had years ago. That car was a bit of a giant-killer on the Durban local racing scene. About that garage – he chuckles… “It started off as a carport for the cars. Then I decided to put up some half walls and I thought: ‘why not go all the way?’”
Now, it’s a fully-fledged “man cave” where he can hang out and look at all the cars. Most of them are covered even inside the garage … “that shows you how I look after them – you can still get a lot of dust inside a garage”.
His first KITT he sold – “for a ridiculously low price” as he needed to quickly raise funds – when he heard that the year-correct and auto model, owned by another Knight Rider fan/collector was on the market.
Anban never dreamed that he would one day be able to own it because this car had a rich history … built as an exact replica and being personally sat in and autographed (both the car and an extensive build manual) by David Hasselhoff himself when he visited South Africa all those years ago.
A truly rare part of Knight Rider history, it was owned by Neil Quantrill. Anban is eternally grateful to Neil for selling him the car and allowing him to continue living the dream.
As he was finalising the deal, Neil was contacted by people from Ola Films, planning to make a spoof on Knight Rider for Joe Public on behalf of its client, Chicken Licken. “The car was in Joburg and we just decided to leave it up there for the shoot,” says Anban.
The car had been parked off with mechanical issues for the last two years and it was a bit stressful getting KITT purring again – but none of the niggles stopped the Trans Am from, yet again, stealing the show, this time accompanying “Michael Nyathi” as he eased around the metropolis, the epitome of cool, looking for his “Chicken Licken Super Slider”. The advert even features an in-car video call with “The Hoff” himself.
With KITT, “people would stop and look, wave and shout – this just such a cool car recognisable car!” and now with the Chicken Licken ad …the attention/messages have not stopped for both Neil and Anban.