As a child of the 80s and former member of the Knight Rider faithful (I happily toted the Rider lunchbox until third grade) it was nearly impossible to stifle my internal yelp of anticipation when first presented with the keys to the new KITT for an exclusive first drive. It's irrational, because I knew the car sitting in front of me wasn't the F-body KITT of my childhood dreams, but when those sweeping lights fired up in front for the first time, it was enough to make me giddy as a school boy. Especially because although it can't talk (at least not without help from the installed Mio GPS unit), this car's the real deal — a fire-breathing, bad guy-chasing weapon of fictional justice. That's because beneath the toys and cosmetic upgrades, this isn't the auto-tranny GT used for the made-for-TV movie, it's a 540 HP Shelby GT500KR.
But the cosmetics are still what makes this one-off car something special. Ford's turned this $80,000 Shelby into KITT thanks to a sweet-looking black-on-black paint job, the addition of 20" Shelby "Super Snake" wheels, 90% tinted windows all-around and of course, the Auto Indulgence 15" LED "Knight Rider" security scanner lightbar. Sure, it's all stuff you can buy off the rack — but when combined together, it makes this "King of the Road" look bad-ass. But what's great about this customized Shelby is when the novelty of cruising around in KITT wears out, and you've turned the lightbar off, you remember you're still driving a Shelby GT500KR. That said, there's now even greater incentive to pull to a stop, shift into first and floor it. Because when you do, your world shrinks into a tunnel of motion with only a pinpoint of clarity ahead, wild-eyed narration provided by an unnatural banshee wail emanating from the supercharger. You watch, almost from outside of your body, as time dilates and you are no longer subject to the rules of physics. You feel as though this motor will pull the stars from their places in the heavens. And then the rev limiter brings it all back to reality. A sideways grin spread across my face as my autonomic nervous system registers how close I just came to some form of fiery death. The manic rush, instead of acting like a deterrent, plays a powerful stimulant, and you do it again, and again, and again. That's because the GT500KR is a much better car than its predecessor, the Mustang GT500. The GT500 is a mean and nasty car, operating at the limits of the chassis — it's twitchy, overpowered and hard to live with. Driving it always makes you feel like you're toeing the line of control, even when toting the groceries. To be perfectly honest, the notion of driving a GT500 with more horsepower was, at the outset, mildly terrifying. But the GT500KR is much more refined — the extra power is met with a much better suspension thanks to upgraded KR-only dampers, springs and shocks. All of it works together to provide a far more confident drive than the GT500. No more skipping across expansion joints at speed on a sweeping freeway corner, only planted, firm and predictable driving over the bumps and potholes of Michigan roads. But, then why the taken-to-the-limits feeling? It's because that added confidence is underscored with the notion that instead of being more controllable, the razors edge has just been raised to a new and more frightening level. In spite of this knowledge, you smile like any man charming a Cobra; resigned to the danger, but addicted to the exhilaration of it. It doesn't matter if the car handles incredibly well for a solid axle design on a heavy car with monster mill, it doesn't matter if the interior has no upgrades over a standard 'Stang, it doesn't matter that the windows are tinted so dark you strain to see headlights in the night because none of that changes the mechanical the wail of obscenities the supercharger hurls at you as it takes over your world. People point. They stare. The silent back and forth sweep of the red light draws the questions of curious passers-by. Camera phones are wielded, friends are called over and disbelief removed. But in the face of the crushing power of this car, the tight hold that childhood memories maintain over the aura of KITT shrink, and become insignificant as you pull runs — again, and again, and again. The show may be in need of some "Turbo Boost," but this GT500KR has all the boost we need. Photo Credit: Alex C. Conley