By LAUREN KURZ
Pocono Record Writer
Joe Radzierez wasn't hot for David Hasselhoff when "Knight Rider" hit the small screen in 1982.
Radzierez was panting for the car. The Henryville man was 18 when "Knight Rider" debuted.
Immediately, he was a fan. Not so much of the show. Oh, no -- for Radzierez, it was all about the car. Then and there he decided he must have KITT.
"I was a man on a mission," he said.
KITT (which stands for Knight Industries Two Thousand) was the cool ride of Michael Knight (played by Hasselhoff).
Eight years after the fateful moment when he knew he must have KITT, Radzierez' wish became a reality. He bought a KITT (a 1982 Trans Am) in 1990 and can boast of having one of four remaining cars that appeared in the series.
Always a car fanatic, Radzierez buffed KITT out. He made the famous red lights and switches work. He talks to the car and makes the car talk back (someone assists in a nearby booth) at the hundreds of car shows he goes to, awing children and adults alike.
"It was the world's most famous car in the 1980s," he said. "The car has just got this massive following."
Just as KITT aided Michael Knight, the car led Radzierez to a career. Formerly an excavator, Radzierez began doing more and more part-time auto customization work. For the past three years, he has been a full-time car restoration specialist; four months ago, he opened a new shop in Brodheadsville -- Biltrite Restorations.
While Radzierez works on all manner of cars, especially muscle cars and hot rods, he also spends a considerable amount of time working on Hollywood cars.
After purchasing KITT (and subsequently one of the 17 original General Lees from "The Dukes of Hazzard"), Radzierez met George Barris, the car man behind vehicles ranging from the Munsters' family car to the Monkee Mobile.
Barris was impressed with Radzierez' work on KITT, another of his creations.
Making the Hollywood connection has given Radzierez the opportunity to work on Barris creations including the 1960s Batmobile.
"We've done so many," he said when trying to recall the cars he's worked on.
A recent project was to take a "Starsky and Hutch" car (from the 1970s TV show) and trick it out in nine days for use in the recent film version of "Starsky."
It meant nine night and days filled with sweat, paint and grease. Radzierez even had his wife, Jenn, in on the act, sanding and working away to take the car from god-awful to great, as evidenced by stunning before-and-after photos.
"It was real popular when the movie come out," Radzierez said of publicity stops with the Starsky car, which is known for its red color and white stripe. They took the car on the "Today" show and any other venue where it was beckoned. Radzierez knew it was big when younger people began to recognize the car as they towed it on the back of a trailer; camera flashbulbs went off in passing cars.
Busy with his five-bay custom shop in Brodheadsville, Radzierez is still trying to find the time to work on the General Lee he owns. It's partially gutted, but the orange frame is recognizable.
Sometimes, Radzierez is pained to see the condition of cars sent to him -- especially old movie cars, which, once done with, languish on back lots, gathering rust and age.
"The cars are just props for the movies," he said.
Radzierez is a movie car nut and a car nut, but in truth, the most honest description is a KITT nut.
He talks about his black 1982 Trans Am excitededly, like a child who just opened the best toy on Christmas morning.
He's even contemplating sharing a burial plot with KITT, which is not for sale.
"I'm going with that car," he said.
Even six-figure offers haven't tempted Radzierez too much.
"It's the nice one," he says, a grin splitting his face.
KITT's not street legal (no seat belts, etc.), but she's driveable. The car's interior is akin to a futuristic cockpit with strange whirring sounds, red lights, television screens and all sorts of buttons.
The 40-year-old took it even further than "Knight Rider" creators. According to Radzierez, some parts of the car's dashboard were just cardboard cut-outs.
"They're not everything you think you see on TV," Radzierez said.
He decided he'd make KITT everything it could be. Everything on the car works, and every part down to the tires is authentic. Finding the parts he needs is often the most difficult bit of custom work, but it's something that Radzierez doesn't shy from, even if it takes months to find four matching 1982 tires, as it did with KITT.
"Finding the parts for the old cars is the serious challenge.Sometimes it's just about impossible," he said.
Radzierez even got the ultimate fan thrill: the chance to let the original Michael Knight (Hasselhoff) drive his car when he brought it to a backlot at Universal Studios two years ago. The car was brought in for talks about a big-screen "Knight Rider" movie.
"His mouth just dropped. He was in complete awe," Radzierez said of Hasselhoff's reaction to seeing his old friend. They asked Radzierez to take it for a spin, but he wasn't about to drive KITT when Michael Knight was on the scene.
"Get him to do it," Radzierez told the Universal representatives. "They don't want to see me."
Hasselhoff and Barris have both signed the interior door of the car.
For Radzierez, it's all about the passion.
"I absolutely love cars," he said.
Evocation: I have been a fantom of this series ever since its initial airing, and it is easy to see why - Kitt is quite a Satanic-looking car! The man in black on a mission , martial artist, lover of women, sharp dresser, with an articifial human companion in the form of an automobile. All part of My inherent interests. ∞