the love bug

Remembering The Love Bug  


October 2023

Did you know that one of the most famous Volkswagen products to appear on the big screen wasn’t originally cast to play its now iconic role? Or, that VW didn’t initially give permission for its logos to appear on the star car in any of its now legendary scenes?

Adapted from the Gordon Buford book Car, Boy, Girl, the story of Herbie, the lovable Volkswagen Beetle with a very real personality debuted on the big screen on 13 March 1969 in the movie titled, The Love Bug. Eventually chosen as the car to play the role due to its likeable character and popularity among the crew on the set of the movie, the Pearl White VW would arguably steal the show in what would prove to be the highest-grossing film of 1969.

A Walt Disney Production, The Love Bug follows the story of Jim Douglas and his industrious friend Tennessee Steinmetz (played by Buddy Hackett) who set out to make the best of their situation – including being handed temporary custodianship of a second-hand VW Beetle – to win both a local series of cross-country races, but also the heart of Douglas’ love interest, Carole Bennet.

Standing in their way are the exploits of a jealous rival in the form of an unscrupulous car salesman, Peter Thorndyke, who will stop at nothing to ensure that he crosses the finish line ahead of the spirited Beetle and its crew.

Early in the film, we realise that Herbie possesses a cheeky personality of its own and a healthy turn of pace once a finish line is in sight.

While there’s talk that more than 20 examples of the VW Beetle were used during the filming of the original movie, some of these were in fact retrofitted with a Porsche motor for increased performance during the more fast-paced scenes. Other cars were fitted with a roll cage, skid plates and heavy-duty suspension to cope with the various stunts. The number 53 was chosen as Herbie’s racing number to match the playing kit of producer Bill Walsh’s favourite LA Dodgers baseball player, Don Drysdale.

Together with patriotic red and blue racing stripes, Herbie’s famous “OFP 857” California number plate was said to have been chosen to commemorate director Robert Stevenson’s first working deal with Walt Disney. It stands for, “Our First Production, August 1957.”

With The Love Bug eventually grossing $51 million, Volkswagen quickly reconsidered its decision to not allow its famous badging to appear on Herbie. In all subsequent films and television shows – including a 2005 reboot – the car proudly wears its maker’s logo. 

The love bug