Home » The Most Expensive VW Beetle Ever Sold Is A Ratty ‘Herbie’ From The Ceiling Of Planet Hollywood. Check It Out

The Most Expensive VW Beetle Ever Sold Is A Ratty ‘Herbie’ From The Ceiling Of Planet Hollywood. Check It Out

Herbie Top

My first car was a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle painted the color of chewed Wrigley’s gum, and it cost me $600. Beetle prices have stayed pretty reasonable for decades, even after the car became less ubiquitous and more collectible over the ages. VW just built sooo many. Lately, air-cooled VW prices have been rising higher and higher, especially Microbuses that trigger money-flinging nostalgia from rich ex-hippies, but Beetles have been getting up there, too. Recently, though, it seems we’ve hit a new record for expensive Beetles, as the priciest Beetle ever sold just went for $212,500. It’s got all kinds of holes cut in it, and it’s really a bit of a mess. But that’s okay, because it’s also a movie star: a genuine Herbie the Love Bug.

Herbie Auct

Yes, $212,500: enough for a decent house in many of the less-in-demand parts of the country, or a fantastic house in a great city so many years ago it doesn’t even matter anymore because you’re not finding shit that cheap now. But, for a Beetle, this is a huge price! The previous most-expensive Beetle record of $128,700 was also a Herbie, used in the movie Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. And this one is nearly twice that price. Why?

Herbie Inconsis

Well, honestly, I’m not sure! Looking at this Herbie, even I can tell it’s not nearly as well sorted as the $128,700 one; the font used on the 53 gumballs is wrong, the indicators are amber (Herbie was a ’63, which had clear ones), the paint is coming off in places, revealing some rusty-looking underlayer, and the overall condition of the car isn’t as good. What’s going on?

This car was previously owned by Planet Hollywood, the casino in Las Vegas, and was suspended from the ceiling of one of its restaurants, as you can see here:

Herbie Ceiling

That picture was sent to me by Tory Alonzo, an air-cooled VW expert and Herbie collector, and he gave me his thoughts about this milestone Herbie sale:

“I’m kinda in shock honestly. My friend Dan even said the same thing. We are just shaking our heads. It’s the Planet Hollywood car which was a quickie inaccurate resto at best for display.”

The friend he mentioned, Dan, is Dan Miller (Dan owns a VW restoration shop called Red Barn Restorations, just so you know), arguably the world’s leading Herbie the Love Bug movie car authority, having worked on restorations of the previously highest-selling Herbie and 13 or 14 other genuine Disney movie Herbie restorations as well. The man knows what he’s talking about.

That’s not to say Dan is upset by this massive payout; quite the contrary:

“I think it’s surprising to see an original Herbie go for this figure – but I’m glad to see it get more recognition than we’re used to seeing. It’s not just an old Volkswagen, it’s a movie prop, and a pop cultural icon. How much is a used baseball? Fifty cents? But a baseball signed by Babe Ruth? That’s a very different thing.

Other movie cars like the Back to the Future DeLorean have gone for higher prices, but Herbies have often not because “they’re just a VW.” Clearly, they’re not just that, and I’m glad to see this changing.”

This particular Herbie seems to be a “blind driver” car, which means it was designed for a hidden driver to use it, giving the illusion that the car was driving itself. As a result, it has all sorts of hacked-up modifications, including a shifter relocated to the rear of the car, all kinds of holes hacked in the wheel wells and trunk, and various dents and weird part swaps, like what looks like a fuel tank from a portable generator.

Herbie Mods

But, these all actually add to the value, because those hacks and mods were done by Disney engineers, and are what make this old (in this case, a 1961) VW a real, hardworking movie car.

What’s questionable is the restoration attempts that were made to make the car look presentable for ceiling-hanging above diners at Planet Hollywood. This Herbie is very likely one of the “rusty Herbies” from the 1980 movie Herbie Goes Bananas, which involved Herbie spending some time floating in salty ocean water before making it to Mexico where, among other things, he participated in a bullfight. Here, look:

Dan and Tory both believe that the Herbie just sold likely started as a Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo car, and was then re-used in Herbie Goes Bananas, after being painted to look all rusty. You can see some of the rusty underpaint in pictures of the Planet Hollywood car.

Of course, if Planet Hollywood wants to hang a Herbie from the ceiling, they want one more recognizable than what most people would just see as a rusty old Beetle. So, they re-painted it and added new graphics, but the accuracy of those is pretty poor.

Herbie Rear Side

Still, as Dan said, this is an exciting development for Herbie collectors, because it shows that Herbies might now command the prices expected of other movie cars. The new owner has not yet been revealed, and my experts didn’t have any guesses, but I’ll hope whoever it is might consider replacing the gumballs and other details with more accurate ones, and leaving all the period mods and hacks intact.

 

 

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32 Responses

  1. My first car in high school was a 1971 Super Beetle, purchased from a VW restoration shop. A few years ago, I had the idea that I’d get another (maybe a Standard sedan this time), and was shocked at the values now. Granted, simple inflation plays a role, but even Supers, which VW enthusiasts always kinda hated, are into the five digits for a really nice one now, unless you want to be dealing with rust repair and upholstery out of the gate. And Ghias or Type 3s, forget it

    It’s why I ended up with Chevys attempted competitor, thanks to some negative publicly, values have basically been totally flat for 15 years, felt like my money went a little further

  2. Such an absurd price, but whatever. I think there’s more reasons than just the base car itself accounting for the difference in value between a BTTF DeLorean and a Herbie VW. First, it sounds like there’s more of them as movie vehicles (aside from WAY more of them in general). Second, the BTTF car is a lot further removed from a stock one and harder to replicate. Third, I think the BTTF movies are probably more popular over a broader demographic of people who would spend that kind of money on a thing like this and appealing to the GP you want to show one of these off to. I loved Herbie movies until I felt I was “too old” for them somewhere around 1st grade and I don’t think I’ve seen them since. My nieces and nephews wouldn’t know those movies, but all but the 5-yo would know BTTF (if Herbie was named “Elsa”, though, that would be a different story with the youngest).

    1. Your nieces and nephews might like the Herbie movies if given a chance. My boys (6 and 3) love the Herbie movies, particularly, to my chagrin, Rides Again and Bananas.

    2. The Herbie movies are worth re-watching, particularly the first one. They have a ton of great vintage racing footage and are just great car movies overall.

    1. The biggest difference I see is the way the end of the 3 is parallel to the curve of the 5 it’s next to.
      I would like to hear a more complete breakdown of this, tho

  3. I was 5 when Herbie went bananas and infatuated with the car because my dad had a white beetle back then. His was a baja beetle and a brighter white than Herbie but that was close enough for me. The only thing missing was the red and blue stripes and the gumball but I fixed that shortcoming one day with a handful of crayons. Dad wasn’t too thrilled with my modifications but I remember my mom laughing about it.

  4. Well, why not? In 1969 The Love Bug was the second highest grossing movie only being beaten by Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid. The scene where Herbie tried to kill himself made me cry. Good acting, Herbie.

  5. Well i had to use the link today. Other days it recognized me.
    But as a person of target age when the 1st Herbie came out I can see it getting bank but not if it was restored with improper decals, colors, does it have a motor as most ceiling mounted cars dont.
    But what the younger crowd doesnt realize is Disney after premiering the movie ran it regularly on The Wonderful World of Disney. Back when there were like 3 Networks and Disney only had 1 theme park. So everybody in America at that time period saw it. While I enjoyed Back to the Future more no way did it have a wider viewing audience until maybe lately.

  6. I think I only ever saw the original Herbie movie. Need to rectify that. I did get to get a decent look at one of the ‘driverless’ Herbies at Disneyworld in the early 80s. It had a screen at the front of the frunk through which a very small person could see to pilot it. I want to emphasize small here: it would have been tight for my then-12yo sister. Sadly, I was so caught up in how small the space was that I don’t remember the actual driving controls. I’m not even sure it had been in any movies: could have been the parade car for the park now that I’m thinking about it.

    1. The shifter in the back seat has me scratching my head. Shifting gears is not the most important part of driving a car – where are the pedals and steering wheel? Maybe it was a two person operation with a navigator yelling instructions to the people operating the controls?

  7. Self-appointed Herbie expert here….

    This VW looks to be one of the Herbies from the 1997 made-for-TV movie “The Love Bug.” The “53” gumball was mounted too high on the hood with the numbers too close together, among some other oddities noticed only by us crazy people.

  8. Yeah, I should have kept all my old Beetles. But there were so many on the market and you could always find another running and driving early sixties (my favourite Beetle years) one for around $2000. Still have ’71 Type 15.

    Jason, thanks for tuning us in to “Rudolph the Red-nosed Raindeer” in one of your other articles. Watched it with the kids, and we loved it! Have a merry ‘end of the year days off season time’ with Otto and the missus 🙂

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  11. Tangentially related: one of the more notorious cases of radioactive contamination, the Goiânia incident, involving a stolen radioactive source, in Brazil in 1987 which resulted in four deaths and at least 249 people being contaminated, was precipitated by the abandoned hospital housing the caesium-137 therapy device being left unguarded on account of the guard reportedly taking his family to attend a screening of Herbie Goes Bananas.

  12. My first car was a ’61 purchased in 1970 for $150.
    Only sold it on because I couldn’t face another Wisconsin winter in it. It never got stuck but I froze my ass off in it.

    1. My first car was a ’67 purchased in ’78 for $366. The price included a crook-lock, 2 spares with wheels, and extra rust. The car was purchased from the Chairman of the Physics Department at Harvard. The price (being too old for Blue Book values) was determined by linear regression (him) and a semi-log plot (me). It got me home after late nights in the lab and writing my thesis. My first employer would not give me $300 for it, but instead paid to have it shipped in 1980 from MA to CA in a moving van with my other meager possessions. Drove it for a while and then sold it for $300 about 1 year later.

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