TruckTrend was recently given behind-the-scenes access to the vehicles (or more accurately, the characters) that star in the upcoming movie "Transformers," slated for a July 4 release. For those who don't know much about its history, Transformers started as a Japanese toy line in the mid-1980s, then became a comic book and Saturday morning cartoon, not to mention a popular line of toys in North America.

The film is about competing alien forces that make Earth their final battleground. Autobots (the good guys) fight alongside humans against the Decepticons (the bad guys). If that isn't hokey enough, the Autobots hide among us as General Motors cars and trucks (GM ponied up a huge chunk of sponsorship money to be part of the movie), while the Decepticons hide as military and enforcement vehicles--a fighter jet, a helicopter, and a Saleen-built Mustang police car.

Normally, we don't get too involved with Hollywood affairs, but how could we resist after seeing Ironhide, a mean 2007 GMC TopKick?

Ironhide started as a GMC C4500 4x4 Crew Cab TopKick before it went to the buildup company responsible for the vehicles for the movie. Of all the cars and trucks, says Jeff Mann, the vehicle designer, Ironhide was the least modified. Two fully functional identical black TopKicks were made, allowing the crews to shoot scenes simultaneously at separate locations. It also provided them with a backup plan in case anything disastrous happened. Mann wanted to give the commercial-looking medium-duty truck a more "normal" appearance, so the builders lifted the suspension a few inches with spring blocks and re-arched springs, and fit 40-inch Nitto Mud Grappler tires underneath.

To make it look more like a butch half-ton truck, a set of custom, hugely offset steel wheels were made for the rear axle (TopKicks normally have dual rear wheels). The tall wide stance of the truck and its all-black color give the vehicle a strong and menacing, yet honest demeanor, not unlike the robotic character the truck changes into when it doesn't need to blend into the streets of Los Angeles. Other accents include two chrome big-rig smoke stacks and a pair of matching horizontally mounted smoke-stack-like sidesteps. The only giveaway that each Transformer is more than it appears is the Autobot or Decepticon emblem somewhere on the vehicle. For the Camaro (named Bumble Bee), it's located in the center of the steering wheel; Ironhide's is on the tailgate. The most significant customized details on this vehicle, in true rugged-truck fashion, are the two massive Road Armor front and rear bumpers, made from hardened 3/8-inch steel and coated with a bedliner-type spray. When the massive, tough front bumper and grille fill up a rearview mirror, the intimidation factor is high.

The vehicle had to be a runner and easily serviceable, so the builders decided not to modify the Duramax 6.6-liter turbodiesel V-8, but did have to relocate the battery shelf. Additionally, they went with Suburban side mirrors to make the truck look even more massive than it already is.

Because the movie studio still plans on using the vehicles for several promotional events, and we'd expect to see all the vehicles at this year's SEMA show in Las Vegas, they wouldn't let us drive the rig or take it to the track for testing. Still, we did have a driver take it over curbs and through a deserted lot. It's impressive, especially when you see how small it makes our driver look--and he's not a small guy. It caused people (mostly guys in 3/4- and one-ton pickups) to pull over just to watch. No doubt they'll get the same enjoyment watching the cars and trucks smash through buildings, fight with bad guys, and transform into mechanized superheroes. The director, Michael Bay, is said to love a great chase scene and action sequence. This just might be a movie to see with a few buddies and leave the girlfriend at home. Sweet destruction and mayhem await.