One man might be enough to make a difference, but one Trans Am certainly wasn't enough to keep Knight Rider a hit TV show between 1982 and 1986. That's why NBC had to build around twenty. And although we've talked about KITT's curious origins before, the fact that Jay Leno just drove the most original of the five remaining cars calls for further turbo boosting.
Look at it this way: a quarter of the fleet has survived. By movie standards, that's not bad at all. The problem is that it wasn't necessarily the jumps that got to the rest.
It won't shock you to learn that in its debut year, demand was very high for Pontiac's hottest sports car. This meant NBC could only get four cars to do Knight Rider's entire first season. Then, they got lucky. In 1983, a car transporter derailed in California, and although the cars were fine, GM sold 10-12 Firebirds off that train to the studio for a dollar each, with the condition that they had to be destroyed once the cameras stopped rolling. Universal honored that request by dropping a wrecking ball on them, but not before buying another six cars to ensure could be a thing.
KITTs were made out of 1982, 1983 and 1984 Trans Ams, as well as base Firebird hardtops. Transmissions got swapped for Turbo 350 3-speeds, brake line locks were added, as well as some additional bracing, while the team used as much body filler as the panels would take.
The second-to-last KITT ever built started out as an '84 base hardtop before taking up the role of a disposable stunt car. Yet after the show, NBC chose this example to be retrofitted with their sound stage dashboard, T-tops, and all the things children would expect to see once they put it on display at their theme park.
Ten years and many thousands of excited visitors later, this KITT went into storage, then to Universal's trash list, only to get saved from the junkyard by some real enthusiasts.