A Volkswagen Beetle is given its name by an enlightened mechanic named Tennessee Steinmetz (Buddy Hackett) in Disney’s 1969 movie ‘The Love Bug’ (from an original story by Gordon Buford). His uncle Herb who was a middleweight boxer had a broken nose which he said resembled the front of the car.
Herbie’s creator was Dr. Gustav Stumpfell of Pomona, California. Sometime after World War II the U.S. Military heard about his work in Germany and insisted he came over to discuss it with them. It turned out that the U.S. Military misunderstood these People’s Cars and had this crazy thought that these were actually cars that were alive and they wanted such a car for themselves. Stumpfel as a young man took them seriously and began work on building the car.
He spent years trying to find a way to make a living car possible and realised the design didn’t matter only the metal it was made from was. He tried every known alloy he could find but all led to a dim failure until one day an accident happened. A precious photo of his loved one “Elsa” fell into the mixture. However that accident took a turn and Stumpfel believed that the strong feelings he had for his loved one somehow transmogrified into the metal itself making it possible to create a living car, resulting in the birth of Herbie.
Unfortunately he was aware that the U.S. Military would plan to use the little car for evil so he decided to hide him. He told the military he had failed and once they were convinced he snuck the little car out and set him free. He kept in touch after Herbie found a home and a racing career with Jim Douglas.
Herbie is based on a L87 Pearl White 1963 Model 117 Volkswagen Type 1 Deluxe Sunroof with yellow-on-black California license plates OFP 857. Several Beetles were used in ‘The Love Bug’ filming but the race car was built by EMPI. This #H2 Herbie was fitted with a Porsche 356 Super 90 engine (1600cc twin Solex), Porsche finned drum brakes, Koni shocks all round, uprated front anti-roll bar and Empi rear camber compensator. Internal four-point roll bar. Racing speed was reportedly 115mph/185km/h. Disney purchased several cars from EMPI.
Race number 53 was supposedly chosen because it was Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale’s uniform number (as commented by a member of the original film’s production staff).
Principal cars used:
H1 Principal Car
H2 Porsche Engined Race Car (built by EMPI)
H3 Breakaway Car for interior shots
H4 Lightweight Bodyshell
H5 Split Front and Rear (2 cars)
H6 Drunk Effect Car
H7 Rear Driver Car
Herbie in movies and TV: ‘The Love Bug’ (December 1968 – limited US release; March 1969 – full release), ‘Herbie Rides Again’ (1974), ‘Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo’ (1977), ‘Herbie Goes Bananas’ (1980), ‘Herbie The Love Bug’ (TV, five episodes – 1982), ‘New Herbie The Love Bug’ (TV, part of ‘The Wonderful World Of Disney’ – 1997), ‘Herbie: Fully Loaded’ (2005).
See also 1974 The Love Bug, Herbie, New Beetle Herbie, Edition 53, 1997 Horace.
Information courtesy WikiPedia LoveBugCentral.com HerbieMania.com