Home » The Creator Of ‘Knight Rider’ Used This Bonkers Peterbilt Truck In A 1980s TV Show And Now The Truck Is For Sale

The Creator Of ‘Knight Rider’ Used This Bonkers Peterbilt Truck In A 1980s TV Show And Now The Truck Is For Sale

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Gracing the pages on Craigslist right now is one of the weirdest semi trucks that you’ll find anywhere. This 1982 Peterbilt was built for a 1980s TV show that was a mix of Knight Rider with a dash of Mad Max. NBC’s The Highwayman may have lasted just a short nine episodes plus a pilot, but the awesome custom big rigs from the series have survived. This sort of “cab-under” truck is one of them, and you can own it.

The story about this wild truck–and its even wilder companion (we’ll get to that later)—goes back to the mid-1980s. TV shows featuring high-tech vehicles like Knight Rider and Airwolf were in vogue, and in 1987 America would get yet another. Knight Rider creator Glen Larson would join forces with director Douglas Heyes to create The Highwayman. In this show, which reviews suggest is like Knight Rider with a splash of Mad Max, the “Highwayman” roams around in his truck, solving crimes and mysteries in a dystopian reality. This show features multiple cool trucks, and this one is one of them:

Screenshot (122)
Craigslist

The show is probably best described through its own opening narration, voiced by William Conrad:

There is a world, just beyond now, where reality runs a razor-thin seam between fact and possibility; where the laws of the present collide with the crimes of tomorrow. Patrolling these vast outlands is a new breed of lawman, guarding the fringes of society’s frontiers, they are known simply as ‘Highwaymen.’ And this is their story.

Here’s a look at the vehicles in the show; the truck above is featured prominently in this clip:

 

And heck, if you want to see a full episode, complete with 1988 car commercials, here you go:

The “Highwaymen” do their crime-fighting out of massive futuristic semi-tractors. The hero truck (below), driven by lead character Highwayman played by Sam Jones, started life as a 1980 Kenworth cabover with a Detroit Diesel 8V92T. It reminds me of a crazy Luigi Colani creation, but it isn’t.

According to Hemmings, the truck was converted by Jon Ward Motor Sports of Alpine, Texas into what appeared on the TV screen. The $287,000 conversion involved sticking part of an Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopter onto the front of the truck.

The Highwayman 80s Tv Series (1)
NBC

This functions as the truck’s cab, which features Knight Rider-style computers. In the show, the helicopter portion of the cab can detach and fly away, and the trailer can deploy a Lotus Esprit. The truck is also armed and can even cloak, at least in the show. After filming, Jon Ward Motor Sports reportedly held on to the rig and performed part of an RV conversion on it. In 2009, the shop listed it for sale. As of 2015, it was owned by The Highwaymen USA Ink, a tattoo firm.

While not the hero truck, this rig is still pretty cool. It was driven by the Highwayman’s sidekick, Australian outback survivalist Jetto, played by Mark “Jacko” Jackson. This truck’s party trick was detaching and becoming a car. I’ve done a lot of digging and could not find information about who built this rig for the TV show, but it is clear that it hasn’t fared as well as the hero truck.

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It’s currently for sale in North Hollywood, California and the seller does give us some hints about its past.

According to the listing, the truck’s paperwork says that it’s a 1982 Peterbilt, and despite its visual condition, it runs and drives. If the sound effects in the show are anything to go by, the original truck was powered by a two-stroke diesel. Two-stroke 12.1-liter Detroit Diesel 8V92 V8s were an option for Peterbilts in the 1980s, so it’s possible. It isn’t said what this truck was originally powered by, but at some point, it gained a new Detroit Diesel. That engine apparently has six cylinders, makes 700 HP and is accessed through hatches with Ferrari-style bodywork. Currently, the most powerful engine offered by Detroit is the 15.6-liter DD16, a six-cylinder offering up to 600 HP. Whatever Detroit Diesel is powering this rig, the seller says it has just 5,000 miles on it.

There have been questions about the origins of this truck for years. A popular theory, and one that Hemmings speculated back in 2009, is that this is a modified Steinwinter truck. Of course, if it’s weird and German, you can bet that Jason has written about it. I’ll pass the mic to him:

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Jason Torchinsky

If you described a carmaker’s logo that has a yellow shield with a prancing horse on it, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that anyone would think you were describing Ferrari’s logo, because, well, that’s Ferrari’s logo. But it’s also the logo of an odd little carmaker you’ve likely never heard of, but I bet you’ve seen at least one thing they’ve made. And I think Ferrari never bothered with them because it might have revealed a possibly uncomfortable truth about the origin of Ferrari’s famous badge.

The carmaker is a German company called Steinwinter, and you can see their logo and Ferrari’s logos side-by-side up there.

Steinwinter was known for oddball creations. Notably, Jason points out that the company took Fiat 500s and Fiat 126s, tossed out their original engines, and replaced them with engines of half of the size. Steinwinter also had a bizarre wedge-shaped 50cc car and a dune buggy. But relevant to what you’re reading right now is Steinwinter’s truck concept. I’ll pass it back to Jason:

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Steinwinter

That’s the Steinwinter Supercargo, a revolutionary new concept for a tractor-trailer truck design, shown first in 1983. Manfred Steinwinter was the eponymous engineer who came up with the concept, and while it seemed very futuristic and clever, it was actually quite flush with conceptual and design problems that prevented it from ever becoming anything more than a cool curiosity.

The Steinwinter Supercargo 20.40 concept was unveiled at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show. This truck of the future was supposed to be easily maneuverable, comfortable, and able to be converted from a semi to a bus. The project was road-tested, but never made it into production. In his piece, Jason also pointed out that the Steinwinter truck was reused five years later in The Highwayman after modifications. But to my eyes, these are actually different trucks following the same concept.

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NBC

It’s said that the Steinwinter truck was built on a Mercedes-Benz chassis and powered by a Mercedes-Benz OM422 four-stroke diesel. The cab of the truck in The Highwayman has a different profile, doors from what seems to be a Chevy S-10, and it also sits up higher than the Steinwinter.

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If the seller is correct in that this is a Peterbilt underneath, it’s unlikely to be the Steinwinter. Since The Highwayman first aired in 1987 as a movie, then in 1988 as a nine-episode TV show, perhaps this truck was inspired by the Steinwinter truck.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this is that the concept of a “cab-under” truck wasn’t limited to Steinwinter or whoever built this Highwayman truck. As the Australian vehicle history site Historic Vehicles writes, there have been a number of trucks built with the idea of having the cab under the cargo. Bussing had a truck like this in the 1960s, and in the 1970s, U.S. trailer manufacturer Strick Corporation developed a semi where the trailer was on top of the cab.

Cab Under
Commercial Car Journal via Reddit

Ultimately, this Peterbilt is perhaps one of the weirdest trucks that you could own in America, well, aside from the show’s hero truck. The seller claims that $500,000 was spent to construct it, but no proof is provided. They also say that the truck had sponsors for its restoration, but it didn’t happen. It was also listed for sale at Jingle Truck a year ago for $10,000 with a similar description. I’ve reached out to the seller for more details.

As of right now, the asking price is $65,000, which I’d almost say is worth it just for something so out there. It would probably be impractical for a semi, but imagine turning this thing into an RV!

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If you know anything definitive about this truck, drop me a line at mercedes@theautopian.com. I’d love to solve this mystery once and for all!

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50 Responses

  1. I just keep seeing a kickass RV. Is it just me ? Imaging unhitching that thing in an RV park and then taking the “truck” into town for a grocery run.

  2. My bet for the repower is a Detroit Diesel Series 60, rather than the DD16. The DD16 entered the market in the mid 2000’s, while the Series 60 debuted in 1986 and was produced into the 2000s. I’m not aware of an on-highway variant of the Series 60 making the power claimed here, but some non-road versions were pushed pretty hard. Of course, aftermarket tuning is also an option.

    1. The seller states that the truck has a “new” engine, and that’s the unit making 700 HP. That’s where my guess of a DD16 comes from. I suppose it could be a tuned Series 60 (which would be really cool), but it would be weird to go all in on tuning and leave the rest of the unit with rust holes.

      Well, there have been weirder things. lol

      1. I saw all the rust holes as well, and assumed that when they said “new” engine, they really meant “newer” or that it had an engine update earlier in its life. I’m assuming it’s not a recent swap.

        You could drop a Series 60 in no problem, as long as you had space. But a DD16 was only ever sold with aftertreatment systems and a vehicle CAN, which makes retrofitting into something of that vintage a pain, even before you get to the hack & whack modifications. The Series 60 had an electronic engine controller, but it was very self contained.

    2. My 6V92 in my 1984 American LaFrance has unknown numbers. What I’ve found out after owning it is some engines going to utility commercial and military had different builds making them more powerful….but….. No numbers on horsepower were ever given. From a dead stop I can outpace anything up to my buddies 1000 hp Cummins ram… Literally pull a single wheel up on this monster…power? ALL OF IT! It could very well have some high horsepower….700? Is a bit of a stretch unless it was two of them…

  3. I don’t hate it and a good jump point for a RV/Toy hauler. Sure my the time you are done modifying it you could buy a new one, this would be very custom indeed.

    And I would not do a wet bath with a sh!tcase toilet either, You have the room and weight for a real one. Along with a generator, solar package, bedroom, living room with sofa bed, washer/dryer etc and you have the luxury unit You might be able to get away with no slides, though the option is there,.

    I see this as a 5th wheel oddity. Park it, hit the leveling jack, detach and have an around the town vehicle.

    1. 80s TV logic was great. Like the A-Team being able to build a getaway vehicle out of spare parts, but completely unable to hit anyone in a gunfight.

      Nice to the Steinwinter concept getting another mention. I’d guess drivers wouldn’t want to sit all the way down there, but maybe the idea could work if we ever get driverless trucks.

  4. Ah, the era before Google when only nerds like me who read too much Jane Austen would have been aghast that the show would call their highway semi patrols after the 17th and 18th century term for bandits. At least Fast and the Furious would take a few movies to “earn” that character turn.

  5. In my car-crazed youth, I watched a few of the episodes back then. I remember them running Jacko’s Energizer battery ads as part of our ’80s Australian fad (“For some reason, the Aussies thought this would last…”)

    But honestly, for my car-adjacent tv, I was more entranced with Stingray, a much slicker production/concept.

    1. The Simpsons were totally on point with that observation, I think Outback Steakhouse (founded 1987) is the only lingering reminder of the 1980s Australian fad that swept the United States, and they’ve toned down their attempts at stereotypical Australian decor and marketing in recent years

        1. Um except for Paul freaking Hogan in an official Australia tourism campaign. Though as I recall what he actually says is “So come to Australia, we’ll put another shrimp on the barbie for ya” or something like that while actively cooking.

      1. 20 minutes into the future.

        You made my day with that reference to such an insane, ahead of its time show. And to bring this around full circle, how cool was back then when Coke then picked up Max as a spokes, er, head?

        “Coke. Ca-ca-ca-ca-catch the wave!”

        1. You can stream Max Headroom on Tubi. But, I tried to watch it, and damn it’s a terrible show. I barely got past the first episode and just stopped in the middle of the second.

  6. The main titles of the show, the dramatic spelling of the name, “H”… “I”…then “W”.. “AY”.. “MAN” wait, what happened there? they spelled h-i-g-h-w one letter at a time then ran out of money? No time to squeeze in the other 5 letters one at a time? I’m sure it’s not the only WTF of the show, but this is in the first 10sec!

  7. My childhood in the 80’s/90’s was filled with watching any show that had a hero vehicle and I don’t recall this show ever existing. (My adulthood has similarly been filled with taking in any media that has vehicles too). The front end reminds me of my family’s 87 Toyota van, just widened.

  8. Shouldn’t this be the Autopian company truck to pick up rusty vehicles and attend car rallies around the country? Maybe the logo along with a caricatures of Beau, David, and Jason on the side…just saying.

  9. How I never heard of this show is beyond me. The truck is cool as hell, though. I can see it working as a camper. Makes me flash back to that camper that fit over a Volkswagen with the hitch on the roof.

    1. Found it a 1974 VW Beetle gooseneck trailer. The beetle could turn 360 degrees while hooked up to the trailer. Couldnt copy the link but on autoevolution vanessa huggins.

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