Herbie, The Bug Everyone Loves

How the iconic Beetle raced his way into our hearts

by | Aug 21, 2019 | Culture

Lede Photo Credit: ATGImages

Herbie, The Bug Everyone Loves

How the iconic Beetle raced his way into our hearts

by | Aug 21, 2019 | Culture

Lede Photo Credit: ATGImages

An “icon” can be a tough title to achieve, let alone maintain, but the Volkswagen Beetle has rightfully earned that honor. With over 21 million units produced over the span of its 65-year production period, it’s hard to deny its impact on the world. 

Creating a movie around our irrational love of the Bug was an easy sell. The Love Bug is an underdog story of an aging race car driver, Jim Douglas, who is looking for a replacement race car. Douglas enters a high-end European car showroom and spots the Bug, out of place amongst Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces. The next day, the Bug suddenly appears at Douglas’ house, who is being threatened with grand theft. It is then that he discovers the Bug is not just an ordinary car.

As car enthusiasts, we all have emotional attachments to our cars, and sometimes these reasons are indescribable. We often personify these pieces of metal, glass, and plastic and give them names as if they were our own children. We even attribute emotional behaviors to them. The Love Bug told a story of an adorable car with a wonderful personality.

Multiple cars auditioned for the role of the talking race car, but the Beetle was the only one that made the crew pet it as if it were a living being. The Beetle’s successful sales also made it a great choice for mass appeal. Like I always say, “Everyone has a Beetle story.” 

Although the Beetle is unmistakably Volkswagen, Disney had to remove all the badging on Herbie since they were not given permission to use the name. The badges did return in later sequels as a marketing strategy to improve declining Volkswagen sales. One of the racing Beetles was fitted with the engine, brakes, and suspension from a Porsche 356. Even equipped with upgrades, it is clear that some movie magic was used to show the Beetle beating the likes of Corvettes, Camaros, 911s, and even the bad guy’s Jaguar XK-E and Apollo GT. Other camera tricks like speeding up the film helped create the perception that Herbie had such speed. 

Volkswagon Beetle known as

1961 Volkswagon Beetle “Herbie” from the film “The Love Bug” on display at the Burbank Car Classic July 26, 2014, Burbank, California. Photo Credit: Philip Pilosian


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Attending many major VW classic car shows, I’ve seen dozens of replica Herbie builds. The pearl white body with red, white and blue stripes always attract attention at shows. Some even go into great detail to leave out the famous number 53 from the passenger door. This was a famous production goof, and the stills used in all the major marketing images featured the numberless passenger side of the Bug. I haven’t seen the final movie, Herbie Fully Loaded, featuring Lindsay Lohan, but the NASCAR version is definitely my favorite look for the Beetle. The widened flairs, widened wheels, rear bumper removal, and rear spoiler give an aggressive look to the usually docile-looking Beetle. 

The Love Bug made us love the Bug even more. The personality given to Herbie was genuine, sweet and altruistic, which makes sense considering Walt Disney himself worked on the film (it was the last live action movie to receive his personal attention). This is often the same lovable personality many owners use to describe their Beetles. The movies have spanned multiple decades and won the hearts of many generations. The “Transformers” cartoons in the 80s even used the Beetle as the most lovable character of the series. 

It’s unfortunate that Volkswagen has stopped production of the Beetle. It’s bittersweet to see the social media requests to keep the Beetle alive, and somehow, Volkswagen hasn’t seen any increase in sales. Not to worry though. We have seen this happen before! When VW released the New Beetle, its sales were not as high as the Classic version, but it did help many owners relive their Beetle ownership with modern amenities. Many owners hope that VW is regrouping to release a new Beetle in the future— and hope that it will have a rear mounted engine. We are also due for a new Herbie movie, and it would be great marketing to feature a new model. 


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