Since June 22 is Worldwide VW Beetle Day, it’s a great time to look into the making of “The Love Bug,” released in March of 1969.
• In 1961, Gordon Buford published a short story called “Car, Boy, Girl” and shortly afterward, Walt Disney purchased the rights to it. Seven years later, “The Love Bug” went into production, based on Buford’s story. However, before production began, Disney set up a casting call for twelve different cars to audition, including Toyotas, Volvos, and an MG. The crew was most fond of a certain pearl white Volkswagen Beetle.
• The movie’s title was debated for a while, with “The Magic Volksy,” “The Runaway Wagen,” “Wonderbeetle,” “Beetlebomb,” “Bugboom,” and “Thunderbug” under consideration before settling on “The Love Bug.” It was the story of a Beetle with a mind of its own, capable of driving itself, and fond of racing. The film starred Dean Jones as a down-on-his-luck race car driver, Buddy Hackett as the crew’s mechanic, and Michele Lee as a car dealership employee who joins their team.
• The name “Herbie” came from a Las Vegas skit by co-star Hackett who joked about a ski instructor named Herbie. For the movie plot, Herbie’s name came from the middleweight boxer uncle of Hackett’s character.
• Herbie was a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle Deluxe Model 1200 Sunroof Sedan. The car was painted Volkswagen L87 pearl white for the exterior, and while other equivalent cars had white interior, Herbie’s was painted a non-reflective gray to keep camera and studio lights from reflecting off the surface.
• Herbie was embellished with red, white, and blue racing stripes from the front to back bumper, and the number “53” on the front luggage compartment lid, doors, and rear engine compartment door. Why was “53” chosen? The producer Bill Walsh was a huge Los Angeles Dodgers fan, and especially of the team’s pitching star Don Drysdale. Walsh chose to honor the Cy Young winner by memorializing his uniform number, 53.
• The car’s license plate was a yellow-on-black California plate with the number “OFP 857.”
• The Volkswagen Company would not permit Disney to use its name, so the brand name or VW logo is not featured in the film. However, there are two places where the logo can be spotted, the first on the brake pedals shown when Jones tries to slow down the stubborn, independent Herbie. The other spot is on the ignition key, when Jones attempts to turn off the car.
• When “The Love Bug” premiered, it became Disney’s second highest-grossing film to date, earning over $51 million at the box office, second only to “Mary Poppins.” It was #3 for the year overall.
• “The Love Bug” was Walt Disney’s final live-action film project. While he oversaw much of the production, Disney passed away before the movie was released.
•Four Herbie sequels were to follow – “Herbie Rides Again” (1974), “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” (1977), “Herbie Goes Bananas” (1980), and “Herbie: Fully Loaded” (2005). “The Love Bug” required 21 Herbies for the stunts and crashes, each outfitted with different abilities and effects. The overall franchise used more than 100 Beetles, a few of which still exist, one stationed in Disneyworld in Orlando. Another was sold at auction in 2015 for $126,500, setting a record for any VW Beetle ever sold.
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