In the early comic books the acronym S.H.I.E.L.D. stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division. But in 1991 that changed to Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate. In the movie The Avengers, which opens May 4, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ever-evolving name means Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division. The Marvel universe may be full of superheroes, but it's not necessarily consistent.
Whatever it stands for, the world's most powerful force for good can't arrive at showdowns with supervillains in old Crown Vics. After all, S.H.I.E.L.D. is run by Nick Fury. And in The Avengers, Nick Fury is played by Samuel L. Jackson and Nick ain't the sort of guy who would send his agents out in something without some style. So it's Acura TLs with the "Technology Package" that S.H.I.E.L.D. drives. Plus, of course, there's that lucrative Acura product placement deal.
The Products Placed
Product placement, the art of integrating goods into movies and TV shows as part of the drama itself, has been an important marketing tool for decades. Steve McQueen drove a Mustang in 1968's Bullitt because Ford had a standing arrangement with Warner Bros. to feature its vehicles in films. A company called Hadler Public Relations made sure Kowalski drove a Dodge Challenger in 1971's Vanishing Point. And if you go back even further and you'll find Thomas Edison made a movie in 1897 that consisted of little more than 50 seconds of a group of men enjoying some butts in front of an Admiral Cigarettes billboard.
But until now, Acura and Honda haven't played the product placement game. While Chevrolet paid big bucks for the Camaro to be Bumblebee in Transformers, BMWs were all over Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and the Sex in the City movies were crushed under a mountain of Mercedes, if a Honda or Acura showed up in a movie it was happenstance.
No more. Acura is determined to be in front of movie viewers at least as effectively as the other automotive luxury brands. And The Avengers is a big commitment for Acura. Besides signing up as the "official vehicle" of S.H.I.E.L.D. (first seen in last year's Captain America and Thor films), the car company paid Marvel Entertainment, the film's production company, to help with filming expenses and has signed a co-promotional agreement. It's the promotional agreement that had a S.H.I.E.L.D. Acura MDX on display at the New York auto show and why there was a fleet of Acuras disgorging celebrities at The Avengers premiere at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.
Throw in the development of the SHIELDops.com Web site and the cost of the Acuras that actually appear in the film is small potatoes.
Driving the Dream
Drive The Avengers Acura TL for just a few yards and you quickly realize that it may look meaner than any production Acura, but it drives like, well, a production TL. That means comfy seats, a sweet ride, solid handling and satisfying thrust from the 3.5-liter SOHC 24-valve, VTEC V6 spinning out 280 horsepower through a six-speed automatic transmission. In other words, Nick was too damn cheap to even supply his team of do-gooders with TLs equipped with SH-AWD, the 305-hp 3.7-liter V6 and a six-speed manual transmission.
From the driver seat the only apparent difference between the S.H.I.E.L.D. Acura TL and an unmodified one is that you look over a hood covered in flat-black paint and the top of the windshield and rear window are covered in lights. But the modifications do work some magic.
Somehow, during our brief drive around a not-so-secret test track in the California desert, this TL feels meaner and more aggressive than a store-bought unit. After a few minutes behind the wheel you realize this TL is the automotive equivalent of a dark suit, mirrored sunglasses and a skinny tie. Suddenly all the details of your life are on a need-to-know basis and you can't choose between the Glock G22 or the G23 as your carry weapon. So you decide you need both.
The Cop Parts
The modifications were performed by Cinema Vehicle Services (CVS), a North Hollywood, California, company that's in the business of prepping cars for movie stardom. CVS was tasked with modifying five brand-new TLs for their appearance in The Avengers, but the company quickly learned that there isn't a ready source of parts for turning TLs into law enforcement rigs.
According to Sam Salerno, the shop foreman at CVS, each Acura TL was stripped down and painted flat black using a PPG paint over the scuffed Acura factory finish. Unusual for onscreen cars, that included painting the door jambs, and under hood and under trunk lid edges on four of the five cars. All five movie cars were then fitted with Acura's "diamond-cut" 19-inch accessory alloy wheels and 245/35R19 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires. The only parts of the wheels not painted flat black are the super-shiny Acura logos on the center caps. There's no reason to place a product if no one knows what it is.
For the front push bar CVS raided the Go Rhino! product catalog and picked up Road Defender 5000 series push bars originally intended for use on Chevrolet Impala police cars. CVS modified the Defender bars by shortening them so they didn't wrap under the front bumper, widening them to clear the Acura grille and moving the top crossbar so it didn't cover up the critical super-shiny Acura logo in the center of the grille.
More law enforcement gear came in the form of Whelen Engineering "Inner Edge" internal LED emergency lights mounted along the top inside edge of the windshield. Once again CVS started with parts originally intended for use on Impala cop cars and then shaved and modified their housings to fit the contours of the Acura glass. More Inner Edge units from Whelen were mounted along the back glass as well.
Throw in some appropriate graphics and the result is one mean-looking Acura TL that lights up and looks good on camera.