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The Love Bug
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Stevenson
Screenplay byBill Walsh
Don DaGradi
Story byGordon Buford
Produced byBill Walsh
StarringDean Jones
Michele Lee
David Tomlinson
Buddy Hackett
CinematographyEdward Colman
Edited byCotton Warburton
Music byGeorge Bruns
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release dates
  • December 24, 1968 (1968-12-24) (limited)
  • March 13, 1969 (1969-03-13) (wide)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$51.3 million [2]

The Love Bug is a 1968 American comedy film directed by Robert Stevenson and the first in a franchise by Walt Disney Productions and distributed by Buena Vista Distribution that starred an anthropomorphic pearl-white, fabric-sunroofed 1963 Volkswagen racing Beetle named Herbie. It was based on the 1961 book Car, Boy, Girl by Gordon Buford.[citation needed]

The movie follows the adventures of Herbie, Herbie's driver, Jim Douglas (Dean Jones), and Jim's love interest, Carole Bennett (Michele Lee). It also features Buddy Hackett as Jim's enlightened, kind-hearted friend, Tennessee Steinmetz, a character who creates "art" from used car parts. English actor David Tomlinson portrays the villainous Peter Thorndyke, the owner of an auto showroom and an SCCA national champion who sells Herbie to Jim and eventually becomes his racing rival.


Dean Jones in The Love Bug
Dean Jones in The Love Bug

Jim Douglas is a miserable race car driver, reduced to competing in demolition derby races against drivers half his age. Jim lives in an old fire house overlooking San Francisco Bay with his friend and mechanic, Tennessee Steinmetz, a jolly Brooklynite who constantly extols the virtues of spiritual enlightenment, having spent time amongst Buddhist monks in Tibet, and builds "art" from car parts. After yet another race ends in a crash (and Tennessee turns his Edsel into a sculpture), Jim finds himself without a car and heads into town in search of some cheap wheels. He is enticed into an upmarket European car showroom after setting eyes on an attractive sales assistant and mechanic, Carole Bennett. Jim witnesses the dealership's British owner, Peter Thorndyke, being unnecessarily abusive towards a white Volkswagen Beetle that rolls into the showroom, and defends the car's honor, much to Thorndyke's displeasure. After Jim leaves, the car follows him home on its own, and parks itself outside his house. The following morning, a police officer informs Jim and Tennessee that Thorndyke is pressing charges for grand theft. A heated argument between Jim and Thorndyke is settled when Carole persuades Thorndyke to drop the charges if Jim purchases the car on a system of monthly payments.

Jim suspects Thorndyke has conned him when the car, scared of the freeway, goes completely out of his control. Tennessee, however, believes certain inanimate objects to have hearts and minds of their own and tries to befriend the car, naming it Herbie. Jim's feelings about his new acquisition soon improve when it appears that Herbie is intent on bringing him and Carole together. He also discovers Herbie to have an incredible turn of speed for a car of his size and decides to take him racing. After watching Jim and Herbie win their first race together, Thorndyke, himself a major force on the local racing scene, offers to cancel the remaining payments Jim owes on Herbie if Jim can win a race where they will both be competing at Riverside later that month. Jim accepts, and despite Thorndyke's underhanded tactics, he and Herbie take the victory. Over the next few months, they go on to become the toast of the racing circuit, while Thorndyke suffers increasingly humiliating defeats. Thorndyke finally loses his composure and persuades Carole to take Jim out on a date while he goes to Jim's house. After Tennessee gets drunk on his own Irish coffee recipe, Thorndyke proceeds to tip the remainder of the alcoholic coffee and whipped cream into Herbie's gas tank. At the following day's race, an apparently hungover Herbie shudders to a halt and backfires while Thorndyke blasts to victory. However, as the crowd admires Thorndyke's victory, Herbie blows some whipped cream out of his exhaust pipe, covering Thorndyke.

That evening, Carole comes to Jim's house to help Tennessee repair Herbie, having quit working for Thorndyke. While waiting for Jim to return, Tennessee tells Carole his thoughts about Herbie having a mind of his own, and she believes him. Jim arrives in a brand new Lamborghini 400GT for the upcoming El Dorado road race, intending to sell Herbie back to Thorndyke to pay the remaining installments that he owes on it. Tennessee and Carole angrily confront Jim to make him realize that Herbie was winning the races while Jim had very little to do with it. Herbie, feeling betrayed, proceeds to damage the Lamborghini, finally proving his sentience to Jim. Herbie then runs away just as Thorndyke arrives to collect him. Jim refuses Thorndyke's money, and sets off into the night hoping to find Herbie and make amends. After narrowly escaping being torn apart in Thorndyke's workshop, and a destructive spree through Chinatown, during the Chinese New Year's parade, Herbie is about to launch himself off the Golden Gate Bridge when Jim reaches him. In his attempt to stop Herbie from driving off the bridge, Jim nearly falls into the water. Herbie pulls Jim back to safety, but is then impounded by the San Francisco Police Department. There, Tang Wu (Benson Fong), a Chinese businessman whose store was damaged during Herbie's rampage, demands compensation that Jim can no longer afford. Using the Chinese language he had learned while in Tibet, Tennessee reasons with Wu, and learns that he is a huge racing fan who recognizes Herbie from the racing magazines. Wu is willing to drop the charges in exchange for becoming Herbie's new owner. Jim agrees to this, as long as Wu allows him to race the car in the El Dorado. If Jim wins, Wu can keep the prize money, but will have to sell Herbie back for one dollar. Wu replies to this proposal in clear English: "Now you speak my language."

The El Dorado runs through the Sierra Nevada mountains from Yosemite Valley to Virginia City and back. Before the start of the race, Thorndyke persuades Wu to make a wager with him on its outcome. Thorndyke (with his assistant Havershaw acting as co-driver) initiates every trick known to man to ensure that he and his "Thorndyke Special" are leading at end of the first leg of the race. As a result of Thorndyke's shenanigans, Jim (with Carole and Tennessee as co-drivers) limps home last with Herbie missing two wheels and having to use a wagon wheel to get to the finish line. Despite Tennessee's best efforts, it looks as if Herbie will be unable to start the return leg of the race the following morning. Thorndyke then arrives and claims that this makes him the new owner of the car. Wu regretfully tells Jim of the wager and that in accordance with its terms this is true. Thorndyke, thinking he is Herbie's new owner, gloats to Jim about what he is going to do to Herbie and kicks Herbie's front fender, and punches Jim, but Herbie then unexpectedly lurches into life and chases Thorndyke from the scene, showing that he is more than willing to race on. Thanks to some ingenious shortcuts, Jim is able to make up for lost time in the second leg and is neck and neck with Thorndyke as they approach the finish line. In the ensuing dogfight, Herbie's body begins to crack between the front and rear seats. Tennessee attempts to repair these on the fly with a welder, but the cracks appear faster than he can mend them and on the final dash to the finish line, Herbie splits in two. The back half (carrying Tennessee and the engine) crosses the line just ahead of Thorndyke, while the front (carrying Jim and Carole) rolls over the line just behind, meaning Herbie takes both first and third place.

In accordance with the terms of the wager, Wu takes over Thorndyke's car dealership (hiring Tennessee as his assistant), while Thorndyke and Havershaw are relegated to lowly mechanics. Meanwhile, a fully repaired Herbie chauffeurs the newlywed Jim and Carole away on their honeymoon.


Production notes

Story and development

Dean Jones credited the film's success to the fact that it was the last live action Disney film produced under Walt Disney's involvement, released just two years after his death in 1966. Although Jones tried to pitch him a serious, straightforward film project concerning the story of the first sports car ever brought to the United States, Walt suggested a different car story for him, which was Car, Boy, Girl, a story written in 1961 by Gordon Buford.

Car, Boy, Girl; The Magic Volksy; The Runaway Wagen; Beetlebomb; Wonderbeetle; Bugboom and Thunderbug were among the original development titles considered for the film before the title was finalized as The Love Bug.

Herbie competes in the Monterey Grand Prix, which, except for 1963, was not a sports car race. The actual sports car race held at Monterey was the Monterey Sports Car Championships. The 1968 Monterey Grand Prix was in fact a Can Am Series race, and did not feature production cars.

Peter Thorndyke's yellow "Special" is actually a 1965 Apollo GT, a rare sports car sold by International Motorcars of Oakland, California. It used an Italian-built body and chassis from Intermeccanica paired with a small-block Buick V8 engine that was installed in Oakland. This car exists today, is in the hands of a private collector, and has been restored as it was seen in the film with its yellow paint and number 14 logo.[3]


One of the original cars used during the filming of The Love Bug
One of the original cars used during the filming of The Love Bug

Before the film entered production, the titular car was not specified as a Volkswagen Beetle, and Disney set up a casting call for a dozen cars to audition. In the lineup, there were a few Toyotas, a TVR, a handful of Volvos, an MG and a pearl white Volkswagen Beetle. The Volkswagen Beetle was chosen as it was the only one that elicited the crew to reach out and pet it.[citation needed]

The Volkswagen brand name, logo or shield does not feature anywhere in the film, as the automaker did not permit Disney to use the name. The only logos can be briefly seen in at least two places, however. The first instance is on the brake pedals during the first scene where Herbie takes control with Jim inside (on the freeway when Herbie runs into Thorndyke's Rolls Royce), and it is shown in all the future scenes when Jim is braking. The second instance is on the ignition key, when Jim tries to shut down the braking Herbie. The later sequels produced, however, do promote the Volkswagen name (as sales of the Beetle were down when the sequels were produced). The VW "Wolfsburg" castle emblem on the steering wheel hub is also seen throughout the car's interior shots. Within the script, the car was only ever referred to as "Herbie", "the small car" or "the Bug"—the latter, although a common nickname for the Beetle, was not trademarked by Volkswagen at the time of filming.

Donald Drysdale's number 53 was retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1984.

The car was later given the name "Herbie" from one of Buddy Hackett's skits about a ski instructor named Klaus, who speaks with a German accent as he introduces his fellow ski instructors, who are named Hans, Fritz, Wilhelm, and Sandor. At the end of the skit, Hackett would say "If you ain't got a Herbie (pronounced "hoy-bee"), I ain't going."

Herbie's trademark "53" racing number was chosen by producer Bill Walsh, who was a fan of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball player Don Drysdale (Drysdale's jersey number, later retired by the team, was 53).

Walsh also gave Herbie his trademark red, white and blue racing stripes presumably for the more patriotic color and came up with the film's gags such as Herbie squirting oil and opening the doors by himself.[4]

Benson Fong, who played Mr. Wu, said that when he and the others were dragged along the dirt by Herbie, it was like being pulled by 40 horses. The 1961–1965 Volkswagen Beetles actually were rated by the SAE at 40 horsepower (30 kW) in factory configuration (though only 34 horsepower (25 kW) by the European DIN system which measured engine output as installed in the car with cooling fan and exhaust system attached).

Herbie has his own cast billing in the closing credits, the only time this was done in the entire series of films.

Today, only a handful of the original Herbie cars are known to exist. Car #10 was recovered from a warehouse in Pennsylvania, and has been preserved—still sporting its original paint from the film.[5]

Deleted scenes

The bonuses on the DVD provide two deleted scenes named "Used Car Lot" and "Playground".

A scene shot, but not included in the final cut of the film, featured Jim calling at a used car lot prior to his visiting Thorndyke's auto showroom. This missing sequence has long since been lost, and all that remains is the script and a single black-and-white photograph of Jim talking with the salesman at the lot.

An unfilmed scene at the end of the story that was scripted and storyboarded was to have shown Herbie playing with children at a nearby playground prior to taking the newly married Jim and Carole off on their honeymoon.

Stock footage

The opening scene of the demolition derby cars is footage from the film Fireball 500. Parts of this scene can also be found in a 1966-model year dealer promotional film by Chevrolet, titled Impact '66.

Shooting locations

Some of the racetrack scenes were shot at the Riverside International Raceway in Riverside, California.[6] Others were filmed at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, Willow Springs Raceway in Willow Springs, California and Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, California. Additional scenes depicting the El Dorado race were filmed near the San Bernardino Mountains in Big Bear City, California.[7]

Cast and crew

Andy Granatelli, who was popular at the time as a presence at the Indianapolis 500 as well as the spokesman for STP, appears as himself as the racing association president. Announcer Gary Owens (of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In fame) and Los Angeles Lakers play-by-play man Chick Hearn also appear as themselves. The driving scenes were choreographed by veteran stunt man Carey Loftin.

Drivers in the film billed in the opening credits include Dale Van Sickel, Reg Parton, Regina Parton, Tom Bamford, Bob Drake, Marion J. Playan, Hall Brock, Bill Hickman, Rex Ramsay, Hal Grist, Lynn Grate, Larry Schmitz, Richard Warlock, Dana Derfus, Everett Creach, Gerald Jann, Bill Couch, Ted Duncan, Robert Hoys, Gene Roscoe, Jack Mahoney, Charles Willis, Richard Brill, Roy Butterfield, Rudy Doucette, J.J. Wilson, Jim McCullough, Bud Ekins, Glenn Wilder, Gene Curtis, Robert James, John Timanus, Bob Harris, Fred Krone, Richard Ceary, Jesse Wayne, Jack Perkins, Fred Stromsoe, Ronnie Rondell, and Kim Brewer.

Cars featured


During one scene in the film, Herbie has lost one of his wheels, and Tennessee is hanging out of the passenger side door to balance him. The door opens, and there is no "53" logo on the door. This image was used heavily to promote the film.


The Love Bug was the second-highest-grossing film of 1969, earning over $51.2 million at the domestic box office. It received mostly positive reviews from critics, later earning a 78% "Fresh" rating from 18 critics on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.[8]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times panned the film as "a long, sentimental Volkswagen commercial ... which has the form of fantasy-comedy, lots of not-very-special effects and no real humor."[9]

Variety wrote, "For sheer inventiveness of situation and the charm that such an idea projects, 'The Love Bug' rates as one of the better entries of the Disney organization."[10]

Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it

brisk, active, bright, technically impeccable, simple-minded, full of tricky effects and free of all but the most glancing resemblances to nasty old reality. It is a formula picture, and such troubles as there are arise mainly from the fact that the formula has known much stronger ingredients (Fred MacMurray and flubber, let's say) in the past.[11]

The Monthly Film Bulletin declared that "this very engaging mechanical fantasy is the best piece of work from the Disney studios for some time. The caper appears to have had the effect of injecting life into Robert Stevenson's usually pedestrian style, since with the exception of one glutinously sentimental episode the pace never lets up."[12]

Comic book adaptation


Four theatrical sequels followed: Herbie Rides Again, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Herbie Goes Bananas, and Herbie: Fully Loaded. Some parts of the racing sequences from the film were later reused for Herbie's dream sequence in Herbie Rides Again, responding to Grandma Steinmetz's telling Willoughby Whitfield that Herbie used to be a famous racecar.

A five-episode television series, titled Herbie, the Love Bug, aired on CBS in the United States in 1982. Directed by Vincent McEveety, the series acted as a continuation of the films, with Dean Jones reprising his role as Jim Douglas. In 1997, there was a made-for-television sequel which included a Dean Jones cameo, tying it to the previous films. The most recent sequel, Herbie: Fully Loaded, was released on June 22, 2005, by Walt Disney Pictures.

At Disney's All-Star Movies Resort at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Herbie has been immortalized in the "Love Bug" buildings 6 and 7.

Home media

The film was released on VHS on March 4, 1980. It was re-released on November 6, 1985, September 11, 1991 and on October 28, 1994 with Herbie Rides Again. It was soon re-released again on September 16, 1997 along with the entire Herbie the Love Bug film series. It was released on DVD for the first time on May 20, 2003. It was released again with its sequels in a four movie collection in 2012. A 45th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc was released on December 16, 2014 as a Disney Movie Club exclusive title.

See also

  • Superbug (1971–1978)—a knockoff series of West German films also about a sentient Volkswagen Beetle named Dudu.
  • Christine (1983)—a later supernatural horror film about an anthropomorphic autumn-red, hardtop 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine.


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 163, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  2. ^ "The Love Bug, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on December 25, 2011. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  3. ^ "The Thorndyke Special". 7 November 2013. Archived from the original on 2017-11-13. Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  4. ^ DVD commentary, The Love Bug, 2003
  5. ^ "The Love Bug Reunion". 8 November 2013. Archived from the original on 2014-08-03. Retrieved 2014-02-21.
  6. ^ Smith, Sam (May 2014). "Shelby, American". Road & Track. 65 (8): 65.
  7. ^ "The Love Bug: The Missing Eldorado Locations + 1". Archived from the original on 2017-11-13. Retrieved 2017-11-12.
  8. ^ "The Love Bug, Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on October 1, 2011. Retrieved March 3, 2022.
  9. ^ Canby, Vincent (March 14, 1969). "The Screen: And Now a Word From..." The New York Times. 50.
  10. ^ "Film Reviews: The Love Bug". Variety. December 11, 1968. 6.
  11. ^ Champlin, Charles (March 27, 1969). "'The Love Bug' Screening at Grauman's". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  12. ^ "The Love Bug". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 36 (425): 127. June 1969.
  13. ^ "Gold Key: The Love Bug". Grand Comics Database.
  14. ^ Gold Key: The Love Bug at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)

External links

This page was last edited on 25 July 2022, at 07:13
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