EDISON PARK — George Nikolakakis has loved the old "Knight Rider" TV show since he first watched it as a 5-year-old.
That adoration hasn't lessened a smidgen in the 32 years since, and Nikolakakis' obsession is represented by the car he drives.
Nikolakakis has his very own version of KITT — the virtually indestructible car that could talk and used numerous gizmos and gadgets to defeat the enemy.
"It's a car that talks and jumps and drives itself. It's the coolest car ever," said Nikolakakis of Edison Park, a Mather High School graduate.
It turns out there are a few other Chicagoans who care about Knight Rider as much as Nikolakakis does. Chris Balke, of Edison Park, and Alex Del Lano, of North Park, also have created KITTs, spending thousands of dollars to add LED red-light scanners, special hubcaps, cowl hoods, TV monitors and multicolored buttons to the dashboards. The group calls itself the "Chicago Knights."
"It’s good to be able to find other Knight Rider fans and make friends with them and share experiences with them and be able to relive the shows and be able to help them finish their replicas," said Del Lano, 39, an Amundsen High School alum who works in public safety at Weiss hospital.
"Knight Rider," starring David Hasselhoff, ran from 1982-86. It featured Hasselhoff as crime fighter Michael Knight, while actor William Daniels played the voice of KITT, which stood for Knight Industries Two Thousand. Nikolakakis has a picture of Michael Knight autographed by Hasselhoff and Daniels, but he has never met either. Neither has Del Lano, and both he and Nikolakakis said they have a one-on-one discussion with Hasselhoff and Daniels on their bucket lists.
"Why do I want to meet him? Because he's Michael Knight," Nikolakakis said. "I don't care about 'Baywatch' and all that other stuff, but he's Michael Knight."
Balke, 54, has shaken hands with Hasselhoff twice. He still speaks fondly of the time he and his nephews posed for a photo with Hasselhoff at a Chicago car show while "Knight Rider" was in its heyday. Balke, a Holy Trinity High School graduate, said he's invested about $4,000 in his 1984 Pontiac Trans Am to make it look more like KITT.
"It's something I would like to hand down to my son, George," said Balke, who noted the 30-year-old George has helped him soup up the car in Balke's garage.
Del Lano has done the refurbishing of his KITT by himself, putting down an estimated $17,000 to "be as completely identical to the real KITT as you can get in a replica."
Unlike Balke and Nikolakakis, who use their KITTs as everyday vehicles, Del Lano's is taken only to car shows. And he stressed that as much as he enjoys KITT's technological innovations on the show, he appreciated its "compassion for human life" even more.
"My interest in the car from the very beginning was the humanity in it," Del Lano said. "It always saved the day, it always would do right from wrong. The message behind the show was always standing up for what you believe in, and for justice."
Del Lano's favorite Knight Rider episode was "Knight of the Juggernaut" — a two-hour special that was filmed here and showcased Lake Shore Drive and the Chicago River. His KITT car's trunk is filled with Knight Rider memorabilia, including a yellow-and-blue California "Knight" license plate, several Hasselhoff pictures and toy models of KITT.
And he's always on the lookout for other superfans of the show. Del Lano was driving his "regular" car — a Toyota Camry — when he randomly spotted Balke and Nikolakakis' KITTs on separate occasions. He immediately pulled over, asked them about "Knight Rider" and offered his assistance to help them craft their own KITTs.
"He literally stopped me and beeped at me," Nikolakakis said of their meeting at the intersection of Addison Street and Cicero Avenue about four years ago. "I started going to his garage after that, and it was a big help."
Nikolakakis said improving the car is a good stress reliever from his job as an EMT. He also said his 2-year-old son, Max, gets a kick out of playing with the buttons and listening to KITT speak to him.
Of course, Max is on a tight leash when he's in his father's ride.
"He knows it's Daddy's favorite car, so he better not mess with it," Nikolakakis said.