Pretty much every gearhead knows about Herbie the Love Bug, right? Sure we do! Still the most hardcore, unashamedly car-loving of all Disney movies, this film about a sentient 1963 Volkswagen Beetle that becomes an unlikely but wildly determined race car was incredibly important to the process of learning to love all things automotive for many people, myself included. The movie’s script was adapted from a short story by a writer named Gordon Buford, titled Car-Boy-Girl. The original story was never actually published, with Disney buying film rights to it before publication. Incredibly, the story was lost, and as far as I know, there’s no text of it surviving anywhere or even anyone still around who seems to remember any of it.
Well, until now, at least that’s what it looks like. Recently on eBay a number of items from the estate of Bill Walsh, a well-known Disney producer, were put up for sale, and one of those appears to be an original copy of Car-Boy-Girl.
Here, watch the trailer. It’s got almost no speaking, just music and cars, lots of cars, including an Apollo 3500GT (the main antagonist’s car, in yellow), lots of old Jaguars and Triumphs and Corvettes and MGs and all sorts of good stuff:
This is a big deal for Herbie fans, because while the title of the story (actually, it looks like it’s a screenplay, I had always thought it was a short story) has been known for decades, the actual content of the story and how it may be similar or different to the eventual movie – which later led to a series of movies – was not known. The eBay auction listing – which was ended by the seller, and I’m unclear if it was sold – has pictures of the first and last pages of the script, and I’m wildly curious to know more.
There’s fascinating details right from the get-go, as a sticker on the front of the binder holding the manuscript gives the title, along with a previously unknown alternate title: THAT HAVERSON FELLOW.
Haverson? The main antagonist, Peter Thorndyke, has a lackey named Havershaw, but that’s the closest name I can think of from the movie. The first page shows that the car was intended to be a VW Beetle from the very beginning, complete with footage of the car being built in the factory at Wolfsburg, but it was to be a maroon/cherry red car instead of the ivory color Herbie is known for:
The final page ends with lots of kissing in a driver-less VW that seems to be driving over fences, sending wooden planks flying:
Claud and Adonna? Those names definitely didn’t make the cut. I’m dying to read this, and I hope whomever ends up with it at least makes the text publicly available, because I’d love to know how this whole cultural icon got its start. The only other real hints at the story came from a short article Buford wrote for Volkswagen’s corporate magazine, Small World, from Spring 1970:
There’s some interesting bits in Buford’s article, though they don’t reveal too much about the original story:
“But to go from a fairly simple premise of a car that drives itself to a feature-length story is a big step and I was not without some pangs of doubt as I was writing the script. Why was this car so special? How had it achieved such an exalted existence over its millions of brothers and cousins? And why a Volkswagen out of the hundred or so cars in the world?
“The original ‘Love Bug’ story was a satire on American megalomania and worship of technology. This passion for bigness manifests itself in a broad cultural sense in the automobile. By 1959, the tail-fin craze in body style had reached its nauseating zenith. Even some European cars tried to stick a little fin here and there.
“Volkswagens up to that time were owned by a type of person that was considered eccentric at best, suspected of all kinds of dark things at worst. In the age of tail fins, the Volkswagen just couldn’t be for real. The car was the absolute pole, the very antithesis of American products and American tastes.”
Buford only wrote one other short story, about a dog who was a thief, which was also bought by Disney and became the 1969 (same year as The Love Bug) movie My Dog, The Thief.
This is a significant find for those of us interested in Herbie, and I’m sort of surprised I haven’t heard more about it.
Since we’re talking about The Love Bug already, I’m going to take a moment and remind everyone that the movie contained what may be one of the finest bear gags in all of Western Letters. Just watch:
What makes this such a stellar Bear Gag for me is how the roles get reversed between bear and hapless human. At first, the bear is the terrifying one, but once he causes Thorndyke, driving, to faint, then the bear begins to get scared in the out of control car, and the way the bear attempts to shake Thorndyke awake with his big bear paw for me is the punctum of it all. So, so good.
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I loved Herbie as a kid, and I’m happy to say I’ve passed on my Herbie enthusiasm to my two boys, though the younger one seems to have an affinity for Bananas, which, like Rides Again, is garbage since there is no racing. I hope to correct this with a nuanced argument the next time we pick a Herbie movie to watch (I’ll lose the argument, he’s 4).
I prefer the version with Lindsey and her Lohans.
Herbie, and the book “Small Wonder” are THE primary reasons I have a horde of VWs. Herbie Rides Again, where Herbie recruits all the Bugs to chase down Alonzo Hawk, is why I believe all cars can have personalities and why I feel I need to *save* even the worst examples around.
There was a Herbie movie in 1977, I can’t remember the name. I begged my parents to take me, and they weren’t too keen on it. They wanted to see Star Wars, along with my older sister. I prevailed, we saw Herbie. The next week or so, we saw Star Wars. And everyone was amazed, it was so good, the special effects, everything about the movie was incredible.
And yet I had made such a stink about going to see Herbie that even though I knew that the Star Wars movie was one of the greatest films of all time, I still had to maintain that the Herbie movie was better, just so I could justify the prior week’s sh-t fit over seeing Herbie…
Herbie goes to Monte Carlo with Don Knotts. I remember seeing this for a birthday party in the summer of ’77
I didn’t enjoy Herbie as a kid, and I still don’t “get” VW as a whole.
Having read that they build the entire car in just 12 seconds on the first page of the script, which is wildly misunderstanding the actual achievement of completing a car every 12 seconds, I’m pretty sure adult me wouldn’t be able to sit through the film.
Disney sure enjoyed buying the rights to Herbie, Dog Thief and everything that wasn’t nailed down. I can’t wait to see their reaction once these titles wind up in the public domain like Winnie The Pooh and Bambi.
If you thought Blood and Honey was wild, hold out for the Bambi flick, where that cute little deer turns into a homocidal maniac.
I have another Herbie script hidden away in
my basementa secret undisclosed location. “Memoirs of a Volkswagen or my life in fast company”.
Herbie dictated it to me himself, so I know its the real scoop. Did you know it’s possible to make love in a VW Beetle if you fold the rear seat down?
Change the word “in” to a “to” in your last sentence, and it suddenly takes on a whole new meaning…and introduces so many questions that I don’t want answered.
It appears to have been re-listed. Anybody got an extra 12k just sitting around?
Plus $10 shipping…don’t forget the shipping cost…$12,010!
Seeing the clips of that old movie reminds me of how TERRIBLE movies used to me…
Forever that jaunty theme will be associated with The Dwarves.
After a particularly short set, filled with the usual bloody mayhem, house lights go up & they start playing that song.
Childhood memories, out the window
I’d love to poll the audience here for suitable alternatives to the VW Beetle for the role of Herbie.
The Subaru 360 certainly would have been a great contender. Toyopet Model SA 2 also.
Supposedly, a Volvo PV544, an MGB, a TVR Grantura, and a Toyota Toyopet Crown were all considered for the role
As a fan of Mouse Hunt, I can vouch for the little Volvo’s screen presence. Great alternative.
Classic Beetle love stretched large and wide.
This is a must see for all autopians, Beetle fan or not. This totally chill dude owns a metal fabrication shop, and a minty 63 beetle. In a 3 year labor of love, digitized and enlarged to fit a 2010 Ram chassis. Yah, its got a hemi. Perhaps this was already brought up for the V8s in beetles article. I was blown away when i saw it 5 years ago, and my memory wasn’t jogged till i saw herbie. The link is clean and working, checked before and after post. It’s under 3 min. David should look this guy up since he’s in the area. I wonder what else he’s done.
This is absolutely hilarious and unnecessary. I want 10 of them! Thanks for introducing me to this gem.
Your quite welcome. After the initial BUT WHY? I settled into admiring respect for the masterful execution.
These movies are some of my earliest memories, and I literally wore out my VHS tapes. They creak so bad I’m worried they’ll snap if I ever play them again. They’re the reason I became obsessed with aircooled VWs.
I loved these movies as a kid, and at 30 Herbie’s theme music still makes me smile. As a direct result of Herbie, I’ve had a 1972 Super Beetle since I was 11. Herbie absolutely got me into cars, and the movies were always my favorite as a kid. I didn’t even watch most of the Disney cartoons until I was an adult, all I wanted to see as a kid was Herbie.
I wholeheartedly loved this movie as a kid. All of them. My first car was a ’74 Bug because of it. It transcends car nerdery though- this is why I always root for the underdog machine. I dabble in cameras, and I always choose the plucky weirdo instead of the more established, recognized leader of the pack. Rolleiflex? No thanks, I shoot the Yashica TLR instead, and it’s fantastic. Canon/Nikon DSLRs? Nope, give me the Pentax so I can find lenses at thrift stores and pawn shops. Hasselblad? Give me the Bronica any day of the week (a Kiev is a little too quirky even for me). I’m cheap, so that’s part of it, but I think these machines have personality and appreciate that I actively choose to use them. My fountain pens are semi-disposable knockoffs that make me happy because I need to interact more with them to make them work. My kitchen knives take maybe too much maintenance to keep them serviceable but I love them more for it. I dare say “Ocho” imprinted this on me more than my poor financial decisions.
Oh man, Herbie going down Lombard Street and that upbeat music! Thanks for the boost 😎
I’ll go out and saturday morning drive the 356 with car loving friends, with a big smile on my face!
Herbie vs The White House Parking Garage
The Love Bug has some cool footage of Willow Springs…renamed “Jackrabbit Springs” in the movie if I’m remembering right.
Ok, I challenge anyone on this site to not be in a good mood after hearing Herbie’s theme music.
A version from Fully Loaded can be found on iTunes. Should be first up on anyone’s commuter playlist.
This movie and the Dukes of Hazzard are responsible for the automotive catastrophe my life has become. I regret nothing. And I will swear my oath on, “There’s a lot of gloop been written about, uh, the bond between a man and his automobile – and how he hates it sometimes, mostly how he loves it. He showers gifts on it in the way of accessories and all that. He gets hysterical if somebody scratches the paint or – makes it lose face on the freeway. Maybe some of those feelings got into the machinery.”
I think there’s an I-70-through-Kansas straight line from Love Bug to Hazzard to F&F.
I’m waiting for Torch to talk about the cartoon, “Suzie the car” before the Herbie movie which features a car with eyes on the windshield decades before “Cars” came out.
I’m assuming the assembly-line scene was cut because of Herbie being “born” with empty eye sockets – it was common for European cars bound for America to be shipped with tarpaper over their headlight holes, with it being the dealer’s responsibility to install sealed beams before delivery to customers. From what I’ve seen, even VW used the tar paper despite the aero glass lenses over the light holes being shipped installed.
Also, they had no product placement deal with Volkswagen in the first movie, the Beetle is never referred to by it’s actual name, always as either “the little car” or Herbie, and they took some effort to remove or not film most VW logos (aside from the keys and the pedal pads). I assume the lack of cooperation from VW would have made filming at the factory difficult and even limited access to stock footage of Wolfsburg
The funny thing is, the “little car” is actually quite large compared to many of the cars it’s racing against.
Where were the “oh shit” handles in the Apollo 3500GT race car because that bear was definitely saying to himself, “Oh Shit”, in Bear of course, as this is his internal dialogue.
The second best part is the co driver slamming the door and half heartedly trying to get Thorndyke’s attention, Like I am not getting paid enough for these if he dies he dies
It’s Thordyke’s face popping out from the glovebox that always gets me.
Ruby Red. The best color. Why? Because mine was that color.
2nd best is yellow, because G1 Bumblebee.
Disney+ has all of the original Love Bug movies in full HD glory (no 4k remasters yet). The first two are essential watching. Come for the Wally Boag cameo, stay for cringe takes on hippie culture! Flute and 12-string guitar laden theme music!
Do they hold up? Better than a lot of stuff from that era. But don’t expect Hitchcock (or Mary Poppins).
You know what, I have Disney+ so fuck it, I’m watching right now.
I note that it categorized as Sports, Family, Comedy, Action-Adventure. Sports eh?
I have watched the movies on VHS (and later, DVD) my whole life, so seeing them in full HD was pretty damn cool.
Okay, re-watched for the first time in over 40 years. Not a bad movie. Not great either, but fun enough. Some of the practical effects were impressive. The mechanics must have had an absolute blast.
I was also amused by the obvious inclusion of token blacks totaling at least 3 full seconds of screen time and some of the rather cringey Asian depictions. Thank Jobu there was minimal hippie adoration like so many of the movies of the era which seemed to think everyone was magically going to become one some day. Like, square man.
On the plus side, the Asian characters were at least played by Asian actors, as opposed to just Mickey Rooney in yellow makeup
I think Tang Wu Enterprise sparked Trump’s 27% tariff on Chinese automobiles.
Love Bug and Monte Carlo are the only two I will accept in my personal head canon.
I gotta watch this movie again finally. I saw it in the theaters as a kid and did thoroughly enjoy it. I suspect it may not hold up. Lol
Na, it’s great.
It holds up. It’s no cinematic masterpiece, but it is really fun and the racing footage is genuinely great. Plus it just gets the emotional aspect of cars better than any other car movie. This movie is a love letter to cars all the way through and that’s what makes it special.
“The Love Bug” actually had a script?
Seriously underrated comment.