Home » The New Significance Of Herbie’s Number: Cold Start

The New Significance Of Herbie’s Number: Cold Start

Cs 53 Herbie1
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My birthday happened over the weekend, and somehow my age is now the same as the racing number of the most famous sentient Volkswagen in Western letters: 53. How did this happen? I don’t feel like whatever vague concept I have of a 53-year old man in my head. In fact, while doing some member drawings the other night, I had that Batman Begins movie on, and in part of the dialog they state that a particular character was 52 years old. This guy right here. That’s 52? Man, Gotham is some hard living, that’s for sure. I looked it up, and that actor would have been 57 at the time, so they are taking some liberties. Still, my basic point still stands: how am I 53? How do I reconcile that with the sort of barely-adult-dipshit that seems to live inside this body? I’m not sure I can, so instead we may as well talk about the car with the number 53, Herbie the Love Bug and the movie that made him famous, Disney’s 1969 classic, The Love Bug.

I’ve written about the impact of this movie before, and how it’s really a great car-lovers’ movie and, while definitely a product of its time, managed somehow to be a bit less reprehensible in re-watching decades later than many of its contemporaries. For example, the main female lead is portrayed as someone independent and a skilled mechanic, and while she does get objectified every now and then, is an actual character with valuable things to add to the movie. There are asian characters portrayed in some stereotypical ways, but it’s somehow a bit more respectful than you may expect and they’re played by real asians and not, say, by Mickey Rooney in a wildly offensive caricature as seen in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a movie released just eight years before it.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

It’s got some dark stuff in there, too. At one point Herbie, feeling slighted and rejected, smashes up another car (a Lamborghini 400GT that magically becomes a very smashed Jaguar E-Type) and then attempts to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate bridge, until he’s stopped by his driver, Jim Douglas:

That’s dark. What other Disney movies have the main non-human character attempting suicide?

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Most of the movie, though, is much more upbeat, with lots of great footage of ’60s-era SCCA-type racing on all kinds of legendary tracks, all set to that music that might have been stolen:

That montage also has a very deep-cut inside joke in there; when they show the newspapers, one of the headlines notes that Herbie (the “Douglas Car”) has been disqualified from racing in the Indianapolis 500 because the VW’s intake manifold was too small:

Cs 53 Paper

This is an inside joke because

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“… Andy Granatelli, president of STP, plays the race official, and the newspaper article saying Herbie wouldn’t run at Indy because his intake was too small was an inside joke, because the year before Granatelli was disqualified from Indy because his intake was too big.”

Also, and I’ve mentioned this before and happily bring it up any chance I get, The Love Bug contains one of the finest extended bear jokes in all of cinema:

It’s how the bear realizes they’re an out-of-control car and tries to wake Thorndyke (the driver of that Apollo GT and the main antagonist of the movie, played by the wonderfully despicable David Tomlinson) that really makes the scene, I think. Gold.

Thorndyke as a villain is a huge part of what makes it all work; he’s a caricature, sure, but a fun one, and at one point in the movie, just before doing something deeply unsportsmanlike and dangerous in a race, states that “there are times that I don’t like myself very much,” which strikes me as a remarkably raw and revealing statement for a Disney villain to make.

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I’m told the number “53” was selected for Herbie because one of the producers was a fan of Don Drysdale, the baseball player who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and wore that number. All I know is that now my age matches the number on that little car that was so influential for me as a kid getting into Volkswagens and cars in general.

Cs 53 Herbie2

Beau has in his collection one of the best original movie-used Herbies, one that was once fitted with a hotter engine (some used Porsche 356 engines) for the racing scenes, and I’d like to drive it and do a whole video about the car. Maybe I can do that this summer? I think it could be fun.

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DysLexus
DysLexus
1 month ago

Best birthday line I ever heard came rather unintentionally this year. In my mom’s memory care unit, they were celebrating a fellow resident’s birthday. So I asked the usual:
Me: “So how old are you?”
Him: “Very”

I’m going to use that one until the day I die. Hehe.

PlatinumZJ
PlatinumZJ
1 month ago

Happy Birthday!!

The only thing I dreaded about turning 40 was concern about dealing with my office’s tradition of ‘decorating’ a person’s office with black crepe and tacky over-the-hill themed crap, or everyone dressing in black. Somehow, the people in charge or organizing such things completely missed my 40th birthday. No complaints here.

Rob Schneider
Rob Schneider
1 month ago
Reply to  PlatinumZJ

My office did not. Came in to find my cubic hell plastered with pictures of every character Rob Schneider ever played. Every exposed surface other than the floor was completely covered.

Deuce Bigalow and the seemingly blind-in-one-eye guy from 50 First Dates were over represented.

Took me about 15 minutes to clear away enough just to be able to work, and probably another hour or so at the end of the day to take down the rest and peel up all the tape. Didn’t get much help with the clean up. They all kept saying “you can do it!”

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
1 month ago

Happy Birthday and please do that story on Herbie.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
1 month ago

DUDE! This is your year of nirvana and enlightenment! As has been foretold, the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is 42, then you crank it up 11, and ascend to 53! HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Use your powers wisely.

Fredzy
Fredzy
1 month ago

Happy Birthday man!!

AlterId
AlterId
1 month ago

Happy birthday, Torch! I’m a bit further into my model run and wonder the same thing, and add to that wondering why I seem to have failed to gain any of the advantages that come with age. But really – who wants emotional and financial stability, anyway? Just because there’s a “k” in “401k” doesn’t make them punk.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 month ago

Happy Birthday Torch!
Glad you hung on to see another year man.

As an old fart here, some advice. Age is societies way of screwing with our brains.
Don’t let it get you. The way to stay young is to be young in the mind. And a couple of daily bong hits also helps. And to do crazy shit every now and then.

Yeah the Herbie movie was a trip. And so was Don Drysdale.

A suicidal VW bug? Poor Herbie. I can think of a shitload of cars that need to die now.
Looking at you Nissan…

Last edited 1 month ago by Col Lingus
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
1 month ago

Happy Birthday Jason!

In honor of your auspicious milestone (and the upcoming Tour de France) I’d like to present you with a special ‘53 Renault Goélette.

Bon anniversaire!

Ixcaneco
Ixcaneco
1 month ago

Happy Birthday and thanks for all the great articles!

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
1 month ago

Happy Birthday Torch!

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 month ago

Happy birthday, Jason! I drew you a picture of Herbie for your birthday! (OK, I had help from DALL-E)

https://i.ibb.co/Pr9mPm8/Designer-1.png

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
1 month ago

If you’re looking around wondering how it is you’re 53…it’ll be no different when you turn 73.

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
1 month ago

Happy Birthday!
This guy drives a Herbie replica around the Philly area on a great mission of suicide prevention.

Hamish48
Hamish48
1 month ago

looked him up. total admiration for him and his mission

10001010
10001010
1 month ago

When I was a kid my dad had a white beetle and I loved the Herbie movies so one day when I was around 5 I got busted adding the red and blue stripes with some sort of approximation of “53” to what I could reach of the hood of his car with my crayons.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 month ago
Reply to  10001010

We did that crap to my Dad’s bug too.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
1 month ago

Happy birthday! All the more reason to celebrate such a connection with Herbie after this past year with the medical stuff (!!) and all.
Speaking of connections to Herbie, apropos of this comment “but it’s somehow a bit more respectful than you may expect and they’re played by real asians and not, say, by Mickey Rooney in a wildly offensive caricature as seen in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a movie released just eight years before it,” just two years later, in the 1963 film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Mickey Rooney would go on to drive a lovely red ca. 1954 VW Beetle convertible with Buddy Hackett who would later go on to play the hippie/beatnik mechanic Tennessee Steinmetz in The Love Bug.
http://imcdb.org/vehicle_20266-Volkswagen-Convertible-Typ-1-1954.html
At least Rooney didn’t sully The Love Bug and subsequent Herbie films with his presence (that we know of) so there’s that. And one does wonder if Hackett took the role in The Love Bug based at least in part on account of his experiences with the red Beetle convertible in IMMMMW especially since that Beetle seemed absolutely wrung out to the maximum on those mountain roads in a fine display of its roadhandling capabilities which were actually perfectly cromulent, rear swingaxle suspension notwithstanding, and which just added to the Beetle’s appeal.

Last edited 1 month ago by Collegiate Autodidact
Hamish48
Hamish48
1 month ago

Rooney makes Breakfast at Tiffany’s unwatchable. disgusting

Musicman27
Musicman27
1 month ago

Haha Jason 53 go BRRR

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 month ago

Happy Birthday Torch!

Richard O
Richard O
1 month ago

Happy birthday, Torch! You’re old enough where you might want to give people your age in hexadecimal (base 16) instead. That would make you only 35!

Sam I am
Sam I am
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard O

I do that too, but it confuses people when I say I’m 3D.

Richard O
Richard O
1 month ago
Reply to  Sam I am

I had to abandon that for a few years myself. Fortunately, I turned 40(h) last year.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 month ago

Happy birthday! I think that’d be a fine way to celebrate. And just think, you’ve got a dozen years or so to get your VW back on the road in time to make a run down Route 66, which is how I celebrated that milestone (or maybe millstone). Or you could borrow a Corvette, I suppose. Just remember:

If growing up means I must be
Anything that I don’t want to be,
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up,
Not me, not me, not me!

Last edited 1 month ago by Canopysaurus
Mechjaz
Mechjaz
1 month ago

I’m pretty sure that clip compares Herbie the Love Bug to Jesus. I bet a good HD transfer would be rich technicolor gorgeousness; our VHS tape was well worn.

A belated happy birthday, Torch! Who’s gonna draw a car for you?

Data
Data
1 month ago
Reply to  Mechjaz

There is a Blu-ray, though it was a Disney Movie Club exclusive. With DMC having closed on 5/20, I suppose you’d have to pay scalpers prices on E-Bay now. Sony is suppose to take over physical media production for Disney, but I don’t know what that means for the former DMC exclusive titles.

Stephen White
Stephen White
1 month ago

Happy Birthday Torch! Starting when I was a kid and into my early 20s, I had a great-uncle who would never acknowledge his age (mid-80s?) to anyone and so every year he would just pronounce it as his 29th birthday, since he said that’s how old he felt. He passed away at a pretty ripe age and I still have no idea how old he was at the time. I think once I hit 50 (next year) I may just start doing the same.

Turtle Racer
Turtle Racer
1 month ago

Happy Birthday!

The first Herbie movie is still my favorite car movie. And the attempted suicide scene made me tear up the first time I saw it. I still get choked up decades later and won’t watch the movie with other humans around.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
1 month ago

Fellow 53 year old here! High five!

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 month ago

Happy belated birthday!

How do I reconcile that with the sort of barely-adult-dipshit that seems to live inside this body?

I think a lot of us ask that very question. About ourselves, I mean. Not about you.

Okay, maybe a little bit about you. 🙂

Drew
Drew
1 month ago

I’d like to drive it and do a whole video about the car. Maybe I can do that this summer?

I hope you can do it sometime before your next birthday, or you’re gonna need to find a car with a higher number. Happy birthday! May the next year only require routine maintenance and no more major repairs for you!

Max Headbolts
Max Headbolts
1 month ago
Reply to  Drew

New birthday tradition! Each year Torch drives a historic racecar with his age on the roundel!

Tim Cougar
Tim Cougar
1 month ago
Reply to  Drew

Anyone know where Car 54 is?

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Cougar

There’s a holdup in the Bronx,
Brooklyn‘s broken out in fights;
There’s a traffic jam in Harlem
That’s backed up to Jackson Heights;
There’s a Scout troop short a child,
Khrushchev‘s due at Idlewild;
Car 54, Where Are You?”

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 month ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

Fred Gwynne is a national treasure.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 month ago

Not familiar to me but there’s my next rabbit hole.

Slower Louder
Slower Louder
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Cougar

Will David know what this refers to?

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