Hollywood Cars: The Love Bug

Cover of "Meet the Volkswagen" brochure. Click to view the item in its entirety in the Hagley Digital Archives.

As the most famous Volkswagen Beetle in history, The Love Bug, or Herbie as he’s more affectionately known, warmed the hearts of millions with his adorable antics and innocent personality. Painted pearl white with off-center blue and red racing stripes and the number 53, Herbie was not only a likeable character, but a racing legend.

Herbie made his debut in the 1969 flick, The Love Bug, where he helped racing driver, Jim Douglas, get back into the racing circuit. He also starred in other films such as Herbie Rides Again (1974), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), Herbie Goes Bananas (1980), and Herbie Fully Loaded (2005). Though Herbie never said a word in his films, he acted on his intentions by taking control of his steering wheel and pedals and producing quirky car noises.

Herbie’s story began when racecar driver Jim Douglas purchased Herbie from Peter Thorndyke’s dealership. Once Douglas and his comedic partner, Tennessee, fixed up Herbie, Douglas entered and won race after race until Thorndyke made it his prerogative to buy Herbie back for his own use in racing. Meanwhile, Douglas started to fall in love with Thorndyke’s assistant Carole Bennett, and Herbie became determined to connect the two lovebirds.

After several failed attempts to buy Herbie back, Thorndyke sabotaged Herbie prior to a race, which caused Herbie and Douglas to lose. Frustrated, Douglas decided to purchase a Lamborghini and sell Herbie back to Thorndyke. A distraught Herbie then destroyed Douglas’ new Lamborghini and drove away in despair. As soon as Herbie had gone missing, Douglas realized how much he needed Herbie and ran in search of his beloved car. After a wild goose chase Douglas and Herbie are reunited and are set to win the final race in the climax of the film.

Herbie, starring in Walt Disney World's Lights, Motors, Action! stunt show. Photo by Emily Cottle.

Following in the tradition of Herbie, Hollywood created its own cast of star cars. Most recently, the release of the third film in the Transformers franchise brought back most of the favorite Transformers cars including Bumblebee, a Chevrolet Camaro (who we will feature in a future blog post). Bumblebee and Herbie, among other cars, became stars in their own right and drove into the hearts of moviegoers everywhere.

Do you have a favorite Hollywood car? Share it in the comments section below and maybe it will become a topic for a future Hollywood cars post!

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile (2 Volume Set) Volume 1: A-L; Volume 2: M-Z. Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000.

Smith, Dave. Disney A to Z: The Official Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. New York: Disney Editions, 2006.

Walsh, Bill, and Don DaGradi. The Love Bug. DVD. Directed by Robert Stevenson. Walt Disney Productions, 1968.

Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

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