On July 9, 2019, the final Volkswagen Beetle ever made—a Denim Blue coupe—rolled off the production line in Puebla, Mexico. After 80 years of the iconic bugs, VW announced in 2018 that the next year’s model would be its last. And, to bid farewell, our team provided a brief buggy history dating back to the 1930’s. This year, to commemorate the love bug, we’re racing through the bug’s biggest hits in Hollywood—the Herbie films. Grab some popcorn and buckle in, we’re going on a slug bug bon voyage through the coupe’s most classic moments.
1969: The Love Bug
Known for his red, white and blue racing stripes and prominent “53,” Herbie made his debut in the original Love Bug movie, adapted from the Gordon Buford novel Car, Boy, Girl in 1969. In the film, a down-on-his-luck racecar driver finds success when he meets a 1963 Pearlweiss (pearl white) VW Beetle with a mind of its own. The first film used a total of 11 identical beetles, but only a handful of the originals are still around today. At least one of these cars was equipped with a Porsche Super 90 engine, and others had modified transporter engines.
Fun Fact: The number “53” is said to have come from producer Bill Walsh’s favorite baseball player—Don Drysdale of the L.A. Dodgers.
1974: Herbie Rides Again
In the second film, Herbie Rides Again, the bug got a few new updates for his 1974 role. Herbie had a new set of tires, earned some hubcaps and even got a fresh paint job. While the original movie-star car had a thick, light blue stripe and white running boards, the new version boasted a thinner, darker blue stripe, black running boards and an added fog light. Though his exterior may have seen some new features, Herbie’s interior remained the matte gray interior in order to avoid any reflection from the bright camera lights. Surprisingly, one of the versions in the film was a 1965 model, a fact that was given away by the noticeably larger windows.
1977: Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo
The third installment featured Herbie racing in the Trans-France Race, based on the Monte Carlo Rally that still takes place today. This film also presented a first for the franchise: Herbie falls in love. The love interest is a powder blue 1976 Lancia Scorpion, although the international version is known as, you guessed it, a Lancia Montecarlo. In Herbie’s third return to the big screen, his makeover included pear-shaped mirrors, new wheels, custom high back seats, and—most importantly—the inclusion of an external fuel filler cap that serves as the secret hiding place for a diamond.
1980: Herbie Goes Bananas
In this stunt-filled fourth movie, 23 cars were required for filming, with most of them demolished during production. One of these beetles, in the “walk the plank” scene, was cast overboard into sea and never recovered. However, of the survivors, a verified 1963 Bug featured in both Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo and Herbie Goes Bananas was auctioned off in 2018 for $128,700, beating its own previous record from three years prior. Also during the production of this film, Herbie didn’t just break a leg, he broke a record—The Guiness World Record, to be exact—as the first car to travel across the Panama Canal.
1997: The Love Bug
The 1997 version of The Love Bug is both a remake and a sequel, featuring Herbie’s first new appearance in 15 years. In this edition, an all-black, evil antagonist—“Horace the Hate Bug”—made his debut. Horace, the custom-built Beetle, received several modifications including a larger, dual front bumper, oval-shaped windows and a fictional aresenal (such as his tire-slashing drill, lasers and grenade launcher). On Herbie’s end, despite the 15-year hiatus, only small changes were made including the relocation of the front hood “53”, tweaks to the racing stripes, a white sunroof and the car’s standard seats instead of the previously used gray bucket seats.
2005: Herbie: Fully Loaded
In the final Herbie film, Herbie’s personality became more pronounced with emotions and even “outfit” changes from scene to scene. The 30 cars used to create this rendition all featured unique twists to adapt to their respective scenes, something not yet seen in Herbie films before. When Herbie street-races, he sports a new, bright white paint job, a whale-tail spoiler, air intakes on the fenders, and a lower suspension. During the demolition derby, Herbie is stripped down to his most basic state, and also receives a new paint job donning two red bullseye targets. Finally, in his penultimate NASCAR look, Herbie adopts sponsor decals, a new spoiler and even a rollcage.
Nearly 100 Herbie cars made their appearance in a total of six films, one 5-episode TV series, and numerous parades, stunt shows, theme parks and even Disney on Ice programs. Unfortunately, only about 50 known cars survive today, as many were destroyed in stunts during the film. While Herbie might have stunt-doubles and backup car bodies, we understand that smash hits can come when you least expect it. If you find yourself bugged out and in need of repair, your pitcrew here at Caliber Collision is always here ready to get you back on the road—Restoring the Rhythm of Your Life®.