Building on a career as a Transportation Coordinator since the 90s and a long time love of cars, Ted Moser opened Picture Car Warehouse in 2003. Five years later he is the man behind the construction of the new KITT in the new Knight Rider airing this Sunday. We spoke to him about the process of bringing conceptual drawings to drivable machines.
We also have an exclusive gallery of the cars being constructed - and will post that later today.
KRO: How did you get involved with the project?
MOSER: Harold Belker was the designer on the project. I'm not sure who contacted him. Then he recommends... Because I do a lot of work with him on the custom-built stuff they made with me. We hooked up with Ford, and we actually did a bunch of work with Ford since then so it's been a great marriage so far.
KRO: You've been building cars for a while?
MOSER: Yeah, I've been a Transportation Coordinator since 1990 in the movie industry. I did 2 Fast 2 Furious for Universal in '02, and then I opened Picture Car Warehouse right after that, so we've been in business 5 years. We started building custom stuff with Harold in '04.
KRO: You built the Minority Report Car?
MOSER: No, that we didn't do. Pretty cool looking car though. He does some great stuff. We did the taxi for Queen Latifah, and then xXx GTOs and xXx2 with the rocket launcher and the chop-top and the chrome paint.
KRO: So you're familiar with the original Knight Rider.
MOSER: Uh huh.
KRO: Was there anything as a car-builder that you appreciated from the original?
MOSER: You know, it was kind of funny that the writers wanted to go in a completely different direction, so there wasn't much comparison. Plus, these cars have a whole lot more horsepower than the original car. But the heartbeat in the hood was probably the main... Technology has changed so much since then that it would be hard to get by with just flashing lights. This is going to be an evolution, that we'll do more to the KITT car as we go along. Which will be cool, we'll add gadgets and all kinds of cool stuff. But those cars are awesome.
KRO: How long did it take you to build them?
MOSER: I started mid-October on the project and then once we got the cars, we actually delivered the first car in less than 5 days. We had a lot of help from Ford. Actually, without them we couldn't have done it. Because what we would do is I call JWT, and they call Galpin Ford, and they call Shelby... Because these cars don't exist yet. It's really hard to come up with parts. It was a great collective enterprise so to speak. Everybody was so excited about doing the project. I'd call them and 24 hours later I'd have parts hardly off the assembly line.
KRO: Did you follow Harold's designs exactly or were there things you were able to improve upon?
MOSER: We have a really good respect for each other's work. So what he'll do is shoot me a rendering, and then I'll go over it and call him back and say hey, I think they should do this a little bit different or that a little bit different. So then he'll send me refinements. You've seen the Attack car, right?
I'd hire a prop-maker, and we'd build the items out of wood. And he'd go I want to move this line a quarter inch, or I want to move that line a quarter inch, or we want to tilt the side skirts out a little bit. So basically the first week is just refining the molds. We're just building a buck that we can make a mold out of. Then once we make the mold, we send it to a fiberglass shop, they make the parts and they send the parts back to us.
Then we have to prep them and paint them and install them in the car. Normally something like this would take 6-7 months. Basically we were working 24 hours a day. It was a very collective-type effort. And nothing went wrong. You know what I mean? It wasn't like we had one thing that didn't work that just totally turned the apple cart upside down.
KRO: You built a handful of cars?
MOSER: We numbered them K-1 through K-6. K-1 was a radio-controlled car.. what was K-2... The pod car was K-2. I think K-3 was the Attack car. And then 4 5 and 6 were the normal cars. What ended up happening in the pilot is a lot of the filming was done in the normal car instead of the Attack car. That's when it goes into "super" mode, where It runs 180mph. The Attack car really is a great progression of the GT500KR. Being a car guy, I'm just so impressed with the car to begin with.
KRO: So the transformation from regular KITT to attack KITT is all CGI, there are no moving parts on attack KITT?
MOSER: Yeah, what they do is they take the normal car and then take a photo of the attack car and then they'll CGI from one to the other.
KRO: The technology, like the dual scanner, the pod, the remote control... Is that stuff you have guys in-house build?
MOSER: Well the pod car was built by a camera car company, I'm not sure of the pronunciation but it's "Alan Polarford" and then the radio controlled car was built by David Wayne. I worked with him on 2 Fast 2 Furious and it's really an amazing concept. What he does is tie into the hydrolics of the streering and then does electric controls from a joystick. so you sit in a car behind it and drive it. Then we shaved the door handles so it looks like there's no way to get into them, then hit a button and the doors pop open.
KRO: So the car actually has no door handles on it?
MOSER: No. Not in the Attack mode. It's bulletproof in the Attack mode. What you have is you have normal mode, which is KITT driving around every day, and it can be damaged. And then when it goes into the attack mode is when it's fully armored.
KRO: Interesting.. It's kind of an "on/off" armoring.
MOSER: I can't remember the issue of Automobile Magazine... I think that was the magazine this was in... but they're talking about this metallurgy process where cars will actually repair themselves. It was really a neat article.
KRO: We've heard something about that... that this car has self-healing. The interior: is it a stock interior or is it modified?
MOSER: No, it's completely modified. It's got a Momo steering wheel and then the Sparkos seats. Then the back panels, we custom built rear seats with a control panel in the middle of it and then a custom console that comes up the front, in between the seats. The interior is stunning; it really came out well. And then we cut all the shifters off, they're hide-away shifters.
KRO: I think I saw a dropdown keyboard and a touchscreen?
MOSER: Yeah, but that's stuff that's coming in later for the pilot. We didn't have the time to build that stuff.
KRO: You just built what you needed for camera?
MOSER: Right. Once it goes to series, then we'll really get going on all the gadgets to go along with it.
KRO: Did you build the cool scanner, or was that something else you outsourced?
MOSER: The scanner?
KRO: The red light scanner, in the front of the hood.
MOSER: In the hood, the light. yeah a friend of ours built that, Auto Indulgence.
KRO: Is that LEDs?
MOSER: Yeah, LEDs. but they wanted a specific look. So it took 5 or 6 tries to get what they wanted. That was probably the biggest challenge of the whole thing. Because it's not... there again, technology has changed so much and you have to put it in a specific area, it's a custom one off. So those guys were working 24 hours a day to come up with something too.
KRO: So if the show goes to series, there will be more features and there might be more customized vehicles?
MOSER: Yup. I think the exterior is pretty well dialed in, it's just all the bells and whistles inside. It will be evolving through the series.
KRO: Do you store the KITTs?
MOSER: No they're stored out in Glendale, at some scenery warehouse.
KRO: I heard you had to drive to Vegas for parts?
MOSER: When they first started talking about doing this, it was right at SEMA. Are you familiar with that?
The Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association. For the first two weeks of October, and the last week of October, parts are almost non-existent. Everybody from Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, the wheel manufacturers, after-market accessories, everyone is at SEMA to look at the new products and to unveil their new products. We were trying to come up with a bunch of Shelby parts and couldn't get a hold of anybody because they were all in Las Vegas. So I jumped in the car on a Thursday morning and drove to Vegas to meet with everybody and get the parts going. So then the beginning of the next week the parts started flowing in. But that was the first of November and our first day of filming was the Monday after Thanksgiving.
KRO: Do you supervise the cars on set?
MOSER: No, not on this project I didn't. Because there again there was so little time and I was here trying to coordinate the building of the cars. Normally, once it went to series I would think yeah, we could certainly do that. There will be more gadgetry to take care of. I'm sure they'll be wrecking stuff right and left (laughs). To have any fun, they have to be banging them up.
KRO: I guess they'll have a stock of KITTs in the garage.
MOSER: Well yeah, just like Dukes of Hazard, stuff like that... part of the sell of the whole thing is the action. And with action, comes accidents. Plus, like at the end of this one, the Denali crashes into the side of the KITT car. We totaled this Denali. It hit a concrete wall at about 60 and just crumpled the thing.
KRO: Were you in charge of getting that done?
MOSER: Building the Denali? Yeah, and then David Wayne again built the remote so they could crash it into the wall with nobody inside.
KRO: One comment we saw with the Harold Belker interview, he said he was thankful he didn't have to watch the old Knight Rider, and ignored the previous stuff...
KRO:...which kind of upset the core fans. I was curious what your perspective on that was.
MOSER: Well, to tell you the truth about 6 months before Knight Rider came out, I bought the first year series. And for the time, I think it's great. There's always a big void, people come into the shop and they'll go we want a muscle car from the 80s. And that's the first tip-off that they don't know what they're talking about. What do we have? A Grand National and maybe a T/A like KITT? There's really no muscle cars in the 80s. I thought they did a great job. I enjoy watching. I think they can improve upon it with technology. It's like watching Bullit. Same type of deal. Can you improve on it? Certainly. You see the same green VW 16 times. But with that being said, if they do a remake of Bullit I would be disappointed if it wasn't better that the original... have you seen any of the footage?
KRO: We've seen the commercials, we have them on our website. It looks pretty great.
MOSER: I guess part of is that I'm a car guy, and I appreciate what they care about also. They don't make a T/A. They might make one in the future. If there's a bad-ass car out on the road right now, that GT500KR is the ultimate. One of the funny stories was that in the timeframe we were working on, we had this publicity thing where the actors and the cars went to Jay Leno's Tonight Show, and they did that media thing. Well we basically worked all night to have those cars ready. The head of NBC was so nervous that they called me like at 8:00 at night saying we got to pull this off. We got all the press there, we got all this going on, you gotta make sure this happens.
Here's a good story with that... What we did on the stunt cars was we built the second brake pedal because you have computers telling the cars don't lock up, don't let the wheels slide.. all the stuff that they want to do in the action sequences, computers are telling the car not to do. So what we did is went out and bought a Wildwood brake setup and we manufactured this second brake pedal. So what will happen is when the stunt guy comes in, we built these brackets and we basically on the rear caliper, or rear axle, put a second caliper on it. So you have your first brake pedal which has the ABS and everything hooked up to it, and then you have the second pedal which does nothing but stop those rear brakes. It's not going to the front and the rears, it's just on the rears. The system worked great. Well you saw the promo right, where the radio controlled car pulls up, doors pop open but nobody's in it. Then the actors drive up in the second car and then the attack car comes out. The guy does a 90 degree slide and then hammers it. He's smoking those tires and it's just a stock GT, so that's pretty impressive...
KRO: These are base GTs?
MOSER: Right. KR-6 has the Whipple Supercharger on it, so that car REALLY ran good.
KRO: That was a photo car?
MOSER: Right, that was a Hero, normal car.
KRO: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time!
MOSER: Oh sure!