Haute Super Hero

When America’s most haute superhero reappeared across movie screens last Friday, his travel wasn’t confined to the armored flying suit that earned him the title of Iron Man.  As it turns out, sometimes Robert Downey Jr.’s fictitious Tony Stark prefers to drive, and with his collection of automobiles, who could blame him?  The assembly of top-notch collector cars at Stark’s fingertips is more than the product of a single loan, though.  Picture car coordinator John Armstrong had to mull every automobile used in the film, carefully preparing a pool of possibilities from which the final selection was made.  In a recent conversation from the high desert of New Mexico, where he was working on the shoot of next year’s Thor, Armstrong revealed some little known details concerning the automotive content of Iron Man 2.

As in the original Iron Man, Marvel entered a deal with Audi that provides each company with a series of cross-marketing opportunities and guarantees.  If you turned on your television even once over the last week, you probably saw a current Audi commercial that begins in the guise of an Iron Man 2 ad.  Though exact details remain confidential, it’s likely that Audi footed much of this cross-marketing bill in exchange for certain guarantees of product placement in the film.  Put it this way…you won’t see Tony Stark behind the wheel of any car that doesn’t have four rings on the hood.  As TV ads have since amply clarified, that sleek two-door convertible he jets around in is the new Audi R8 Spyder.  During filming, the car was so new that it was one of only two prototypes yet in existence.  Even Audi’s product point man on set, a representative specifically responsible for the R8 model, had not previously seen the Spyder in person.

What could never be clear from the film is that Marvel was initially leaning away from re-upping with Audi.  With the mandate that everything about the sequel should be bigger and badder than the original, Armstrong initially courted Mercedes-Benz in hopes of landing the SLS AMG supercar that debuted at the Frankfurt International Motor Show last September.  The timing, however, was too early for Daimler-Benz, who insisted the car should be properly unveiled at a major auto show.

Armstrong also entertained the idea of using Mercedes’ super luxury brand, Maybach, as Stark’s preferred limousine.  In addition to making perhaps the world’s finest luxury limousine, Maybach offers an emblem that visually mirrors the design of the Iron Man suit.  It seems that in this go round, Iron Man is having troubles with the performance of his nuclear-powered heart, which he ultimately re-designs into a different shape.  “Fast forward to his final suit in the movie, now he’s got a triangular heart piece,” recounts Armstrong.  “It goes from round to triangular.  How great was that?  Maybach’s emblem is a triangle!  And it was like, hey, this is perfect, c’mon guys.  I love it when that stuff works out.” Unfortunately for Armstrong’s sense of continuity, it didn’t actually work out in the end.

Further consideration was required for Tony Stark’s workshop, which doubles as a garage littered with beautiful automotive set pieces.  This time, Tony’s garage is bookended with the R8 Spyder and a neat little billionaire’s toy called an ICON A5.  The amphibious, retractable-wing, 2-seat aircraft is leading the wave of a new class of recreational planes, and can be towed behind a car like a boat.  In between the ICON A5 and the Audi is director Jon Favreau’s flame-painted Deuce roadster, a 1932 Ford hotrod.  Initially it appeared as if these three vehicles would constitute a bulk of the automotive eye candy, until a few days before shooting was scheduled to begin, at which point the producers changed their minds and let Armstrong know he had three days to come up with a couple more scintillating cars for the Stark garage.  And so a mad scramble began…

Cashing in a favor from the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, Armstrong raided their collection and came up with a customized 1949 Mercury, and a 1953 Cadillac 62 with a Ghia body.  One of two ever produced, the Ghia-bodied Cadillac was originally given to Rita Hayworth by her husband Ali Khan.  This arrangement marked the first time the Petersen Museum ever lent out a car for film shoot purposes, and the prospect left some daunting economic questions temporarily unanswered.  As the museum is a non-profit, it took some creative thinking to come up with a form of compensation that would be appropriate for all parties.  Leave it to Armstrong’s sense of conservation to provide an answer.  While cutting up two Rolls-Royce Phantoms that had been specially ordered and purchased from Rolls (and were scheduled to be cinematically destroyed by Mickey Rourke’s bad guy Whiplash), Armstrong realized that the unique 6.7 liter V-12 Phantom engine might be an enticing form of barter to the Petersen, one that wouldn’t require any extra investment from Marvel.  Armstrong conferred with contacts at Rolls, Marvel, and the museum for approval and, to his delight, all parties agreed that the “donation” of the engine would be a mutually beneficial and cost-effective solution.