My husband and I have been watching reruns of the 1982 TV series “Knight Rider,” which unless you lived under a rock during that time or are too young, probably know that a “talking car” is the premise of the series. As was David Hasselhoff’s nearly non-moving coiffed hair. We joked that the only time his moved was during the Great Hairdresser’s Strike of 1983, when all supplies of hair spray were embargoed and thus made temporarily unavailable.
I wouldn’t say the series has aged particularly well, but in many ways, it was ahead of its time! Today, we are just starting to see – and read about – self-driving cars, for one. That was definitely one of the coolest things that KITT could do on “Knight Rider,” after all. Even if you knew it was really being driven by a cleverly hidden stunt driver, that didn’t matter! It was still cool to see!
I was only 10 years old when the series debuted, and I loved it! Being the daughter of a “car guy,” it was hard not to enjoy seeing KITT’s stunts, hearing him “talk,” and especially – hearing the theme song! I liked that theme song so much, I used a portable tape recorder – powered by D batteries – to make a recording of the song! We didn’t have any streaming services let alone the Internet back then, so there was no such thing as “music on demand,” unless you bought the music in a store. Us Gen-X kids had to be clever and adaptable with technology, for sure! One joke I saw recently about this was in a meme where someone said, “How many times do I have to buy a copy of Nirvana’s “Nevermind?” I even used the car stereo in my pursuit of “music on demand.” I’d put a tape recorder in the car and record the music playing from the car stereo. It worked a lot better than it sounds!
But let’s get back to the subject of “Knight Rider” and talking cars, shall we?
Michael Knight was never alone when he was in his souped-up 1982 black Trans Am, on “Knight Rider,” because he had KITT (voiced in an uncredited capacity by actor William Daniels, whom was starring on “St. Elsewhere” at the time) talking to him. Sometimes KITT would provide backup as surveillance (which was visualized with his Cylon-like flashing front light), offer romantic advice – “Why do you have be involved with so many girls, Michael?” Or tell him how much time he had before a bomb fuse would blow (which means Michael would have to hit the “Turbo Boost” button so he could save the girl).
Were automakers at the time inspired by the success of “Knight Rider” and the talking car? I have no way of knowing that for sure, all I know is that I got a chance to ride around in a real-life talking car! And that car was a 1985 Chrysler New Yorker, which my boyfriend (now husband) had inherited from his dad.
His New Yorker would tell you to fasten your seat belts, for one. Upon reading more in Wikipedia, some drivers were so offended by this, that they removed the fuse for this, which also caused the deactivation of the fuel gauge. Later models would allow for the car voice features to be deactivated by simply flipping a switch in the glove box.
My husband, upon reminiscing about this car, said he didn’t mind that the car “nagged” him to buckle up, turn off his lights, or tell him when the doors weren’t all the way closed. He said he never felt lonely in his car! He took some long road trips in that car, including at least a couple of road trips from Michigan to Virginia, and a later trip from Michigan to Boston (I’ll get to that fateful trip in just a bit).
It became a running joke among our friends, though. My friend Michelle still remembers the car saying, “The door is ajar.” His younger cousins, whom are sons of a “car guy,” and also grown up “car guys” themselves, also fondly remember the talking car!
When it got cold outside, sometimes the voice function would go haywire a bit and go through the whole vocabulary – “Your engine oil pressure is low, prompt service is required,” “Fasten your seat belts,” “Your headlights are on,” “Your door is ajar,” and other commands I don’t recall exactly. But you had no choice but to just let them all play out!
Was this the best car in the world in terms of reliability? Awww, HELL no! We had to get “open heart surgery” on the carburetor, performed by a clever, determined mechanic who actually went online in the very early days of the Internet to figure out how to do it. The carburetor in that New Yorker caused the car to have a very distinctive “sound,” which I had trained my ears for very well when I was a college student at Central Michigan University, and I’d wait for my boyfriend to come pick me up to take me somewhere. I would hear that car long before I saw it show up! It’s not a very describable sound, the best I can do is say that it had a certain “chug.”
After college, the car again proved its unreliability when it happened to quit on us. In this case, it died when we were driving from Clio, Michigan to Boston – ON THE BLUEWATER BRIDGE between Port Huron and Sarnia! I had AAA service, so we got towed to a Canadian mechanic, whom was able to get us back on the road that day…for $500!
The rest of the trip was “relatively” uneventful, though the car did overheat near Albany, NY. We had to go into a K-Mart restroom to fill a water jug to cool the radiator. We had no more car-related shenanigans on the trip, though we did get our car searched at the Canadian border on our trip back (customs officials didn’t like my boyfriend’s longer hair), and I got a speeding ticket somewhere in New York. Neither of these things were the car’s fault, of course!
A couple of years later, the New Yorker tried to kill my husband when it refused to stop. His story of this incident is better than mine since I was not present for it, but he said it ultimately “Just chugged out on its own.”
“The air intake wouldn’t close, so it just kept fueling the engine,” he said, recalling the incident. “It finally choked out and stopped.”
We decided that this was the last straw for this car, and replaced it with a Ford Escort. Which, instead of verbally telling the driver to buckle up, had those automated seat belts that proved to be very unpopular with drivers! Oh, when would the automakers ever learn? 🙂
If I had the option of having a talking car now, I would like to use the voice of Idris Elba!