20 November 2008
Tony McGoldrick remembers the loveable Volkswagen Beetle famous for its role in the 'Herbie' films. ...
The Love Bug was first released as a Disney comedy film in 1968, starring Dean Jones and David Tomlinson (who also starred in ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’). It was one of those special films made by Disney using little or no animation, but experimenting with ground-breaking special effects for the time.
The basic storyline involved Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) as a racing driver who buys the unique Volkswagen Beetle from an unscrupulous car dealer called Thorndyke (David Tomlinson). The car has a mind of its own and can do tricks, like open and close its doors, flick his headlights, honk his horn, pop wheelies, drive himself and even split in two when necessary. Thorndyke later realises the potential of the car and wants it back.
The story is a mixture of ‘Wacky Races’ and ‘The Cannonball Run’. Incredibly, the film was one of the highest grossing films of 1969, beating such classics as ‘Easy Rider’, ‘Paint Your Wagon’, ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and ‘Hello Dolly’.
There were several cars used in the making of the film, since special effects at that time was more sleight of hand than computerised effects. The basic car was a typical 1960s Volkswagen Beetle model, which was produced virtually unchanged between 1957 and 1973. The car was sprayed white, with white wheels, normal tyres, a canvas sunroof and had racing stripes painted up the middle of the bonnet and boot, with the number 53 on the doors. Possibly, it is one of the easiest film-related cars to reproduce.
Herbie was such a success in his first film outing that Disney went on to produce four sequels – ‘Herbie Rides Again’ (1974), ‘Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo’ (1977), ‘Herbie Goes Bananas’ (1980) and ‘Herbie: Fully Loaded’ (2005). There was also a five-episode TV series of ‘Herbie the Matchmaker’ in 1982 and a re-make of ‘The Love Bug’ in 1997.
Herbie is also a huge attraction at the Disney theme parks, particularly in Disneyland, California. To coincide with the 2005 release of ‘Herbie: Fully Loaded’, the Disney VW was driven to 60 cities, across 19 states and had up to 10,000 VW beetle lovers joining the tour.
In terms of collectables, there tends to be a strong similarity between the models as they are all VW Beetles, and usually in the traditional cream colour with racing stripes and No 53. However, there are some unusual ones out there for the determined collector. Licensed items include scale models in kit form, diecast and plastic. There was a very nice model kit made by Revell, as well as diecasts from Polistil, Polytoys and Tekno. More recently Herbies have been made by Vitesse, Solido, Schuco and Wiking, along with current releases by Playing Mantis and Johnny Lightning.
In terms of models available, Johnny Lightning is the biggest producer of Herbie diecasts. They have produced a nice range of cars including single models, carded dioramas and gift sets. They range from about £5 to £12, and are generally easily available. The models are well produced and nicely packaged and are available in small scale (1:64) and larger scale (1:43 approx). They have produced versions from ‘The Love Bug’, ‘Herbie Goes Bananas’ and ‘Herbie: Fully Loaded’.
Hallmark Keepsake brought out a very good little replica of the Disney model, which is hard to find and usually comes from the USA. It costs around $20 but is a nicely boxed model. Schuco, like Johnny Lightning, has produced Herbie models in normal scale and small scale. It’s a bit confusing as both models are sold under the Schuco Junior line. They also produced a model from the film ‘Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo’. Polistil also produced a nice gift set from the same film, which included Scorpion as well as Herbie. Definitely one to look out for as it can sell for around £40.
Slot car fans are not left out as a model of Herbie was produced for the race track by Bauer, though the model is missing its racing stripes. There is also a nice radio controlled model of Herbie produced at the time of the ‘Herbie: Fully Loaded’ film.
There are a few nice larger scale models of Herbie produced by Playing Mantis and Burago. The Burago example can command a price of around £45 in mint and boxed condition. Possibly some of the most collectable models are from the early days of ‘The Love Bug’. There was an unofficial model kit produced by Tomica which was clearly meant to be Herbie, but had the No 55 on the door instead of No 53. The official plastic kit was released by Revell models and can sell for around £30.
My favourite Herbie collectable is a tinplate model released around 1968. I think it was Japanese, but I may be wrong. It is a Bump ‘n’ Go model of the car and, despite not having a sun roof, is clearly meant to be ‘The Love Bug’. Again, it was not officially licensed, but is still a very desirable toy. I’ve not seen one for sale for some time, but I’d expect it to sell for around £60 in mint and boxed condition.