Proprietors of the Volo Auto Museum took customer service to a new level Wednesday with a special gift to a severely disabled Wisconsin woman who had come to regard one of their cars as a symbol of fairness and hope.
Auction bidding already had reached $20,000. But rather than sell KITT, a modified Pontiac Firebird Trans Am made famous in the 1980s television show "Knight Rider," the Grams family decided any proceeds weren't worth the potential anguish to Dawn Kennison of Pardeeville, Wis.
"It's not like we needed to sell it to keep the lights on," Museum Director Brian Grams said. Instead, the shiny black exhibition model, which had been in storage the past two years, will be put back on display and dedicated in Kennison's honor.
"Their story was very touching," Grams added.
Kennison, who turns 20 next month, is confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia. She can't walk and struggles to speak. But the TV show and KITT for years has been a diversion.
The attraction began about nine years ago, when her mother, Naomi, played for her daughter episodes of the old series that she had enjoyed.
The premise of the series is of a special agent played by David Hasselhoff, fighting for justice. He drives and is assisted by the technically advanced Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) voiced by actor William Daniels.
"She thought it was just the greatest thing," Naomi Kennison said.
The character represented by KITT was a standard of fairness and protection of the weaker members of society, she explained.
"The fact that he stands up for justice," Dawn said as she prepared for a ride in KITT with Grams at the wheel.
The museum acquired the 1983 KITT exhibition car about 14 years ago but this standard model was replaced on display by a Super Pursuit Mode KITT. On Nov. 1, Naomi thought a trip to the museum from their home north of Madison would brighten Dawn's spirits. She phoned first.
"The news that KITT had been removed pending auction was upsetting," Naomi said. "I could barely tell her."
Despite knowing she couldn't afford it, Naomi asked Grams to pull it from the auction and sell it to her directly. Grams arranged for a special viewing.
Dawn cried and was inconsolable. Grams said seeing her anguish and seeing what a car can meant to them led him to reconsider. The final sale price likely would have been $35,000 to $40,000, he added.
Grams said he asked if the family would be happy if the old KITT was put back on display. They were ecstatic, he said.
On Wednesday, Dawn, Naomi and family friend, Linda Brock, arrived for the rededication.
Grams fired up the 305-horsepower, crossfire fuel injected engine to give Dawn a spin around the grounds.
"Are you going to cry?" Naomi asked as she helped her daughter out of her specialized wheelchair. "She's so happy."
Brock said a lot of people are intimidated by Dawn's disability and are reluctant to help her.
"This is probably one of the most exciting days she's had by far. Ever," she said.