NOTE: Originally published on OAFE.net.
First off, let’s get one thing straight–in theory, that pasty, blobby white shape in the picture is intended to resemble the face of actor David Hasselhoff, circa 1983. In theory. In practice, the only clue that this is Mr. Baywatch is the distinctive wind-blown coiffure. With its lipless, tepid smile, beady eyes fixed in a zombie-like stare, and milky, translucent-looking skin, this figure resembles an albino frog more than every German’s favorite actor.
I offer you this photo of an albino frog for comparison. I think you’ll find the similarities disturbingly apparent.
But as a child, I was very fond of this figure–or rather, the Kenner toy set he was a part of. The appeal of Knight Rider 2000 Voice Car, as the toy was apparently called (I called it “KITT car and Michael Knight,” I believe) was not the cheap Michael Knight figure, but rather KITT, the talking Trans Am and true star of the television series Knight Rider. Let’s face it: KITT (whose voice was provided by William Daniels, who later became Boy Meets World‘s Mr. Feeny) was not only more interesting than Michael Knight in that he was a talking car that was impervious to bullets and could leap over other cars, but he also had more acting skill in his aural equalizer than David Hasselhoff has in his entire body.Really, when I was a kid, nothing was cooler than a talking black sports car that could also drive itself if necessary. I remember wishing for a Knight Rider/A-Team crossover; could Mr. T’s van outrun KITT? Though such a match-up never came to pass, I still enjoyed my weekly dose of KITT and his pet human. Like everything else from the ’80s, Knight Rider has witnessed a minor revival in the form of a recent computer game.
But in the ’80s themselves, this toy ruled. This was my first “bonus surprise,” meaning the gift I would get when my dad got a bonus at work. It cost $25–no small chunk of change to my parents at that time. But what a toy! This was no little Matchbox car. This was a full-size vehicle, complete with rolling wheels, a movable steering wheel, opening and closing doors, and best of all, it talked. When you pulled on the license plate, KITT said one of six phrases:
- “Engaging the infrared tracking scope.”
- “Scanners indicate danger ahead.”
- “I shall activate the turbo boost.”
- “Call me ‘KITT,’ for short.”
- “Your reflexes are slow.” [You’ve got to love a vehicle that rips on the lame action figure it comes with.]
- “What is our next mission?”
Those brainy Kenner toy designers even thought ahead–back in those days, toys that made sounds often suffered when a new or old battery was used. If it was new, the voice sounded too fast and high-pitched; if it was old, the voice was low and slow. But KITT had a little switch on the bottom that let a child correct this: one setting to slow the voice down, another to speed it up.
For a five-year-old kid, this was one heck of a cool toy. Yeah, the Michael Knight figure wasn’t the best, even by the standards of the day; but he wasn’t the important part of the set. KITT rocked.