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Talkin’ About Herbie

Updated September 29, 2013

Let’s take a moment and purge Lindsey Lohan from our minds. For just a moment, expunge the thoughts in your mind of redheaded divas, trussed up and drugged out, ruining timeless Disney classics for the sake of cheap and momentary modern updates. Done? I’ll wait. Alright, then. Let’s talk a bit about Herbie. An anthropomorphic 1963 Beetle with all of the heart of a puppy dog but none of the smarts.  Herbie first crash landed into the lives of the theater going public in 1968’s “The Love Bug”. In some ways, one could argue that The Love Bug is a love story between man and machine, with Herbie acting as the lovelorn partner who simply won’t take no for an answer in the face of overwhelming odds that are all pointing him towards the scrap yard.

A Quick Refresh on the Plot

In the opening scenes of the film, we see Jim Douglas, a washed out race car driver with a Peter Pan complex, come to the defense of the ailing vehicle as it takes a beating at the hands of Peter Thorndyke, who we come to find out will be the main villain of the film. In a classic scene of confusion, Jim wakes up the next morning to find the car has followed him home, but since the thing is all metal and rubber, and no one is the wiser to its sentience, poor Jim is charged with theft and escapes the long arm of the law only after he agrees to pay for the heap over the course of several months. Only after Herbie shows himself as a being of thought and not just an inanimate object, and wins a drag race in the process, does Thorndyke regret pawning off the vehicle.

As the film progresses, we see bumble minded Jim acquiesce and agree to sell Herbie off to Thorndyke, who offers him a brand new Lamborghini. It’s in this moment of replacement that we see Herbie for the love spurned being that he truly is as he smashes his replacement to bits in a fit of rage in a scene reminiscent of the opening of Down By Law when Tom Waits’ girlfriend smashes all of her ex-lover’s records and throws his clothing out the window. By the time Jim realizes his superficiality has gotten the best of him, Herbie has gone on a terror spree through Chinatown, leveling shops in his wake before finally coming to a halt at the Golden Gate Bridge to bid adieu to life.

At his core, Herbie is a complex being, the automotive end of his existence is only one facet – that he’s seemingly empowered by the faux spiritual leanings of Jim’s friend Tennessee, is another that lends such texture to his character.  During the rest of the film Herbie passes though the hands of several other owners and is eventually returned to the repentant Jim.

Magic Beneath the Hood

The Love Bug is an interesting film to watch when ruminating over the greater workings of why people stay with their hoopties, even after the rust buckets have all but fallen apart off on the side of the road. Next time you see a mongrel of a car sputtering across the turn lane, slowing you down on the way to Starbucks, re-think what you’re seeing – there may very well be magic going on beneath the layers of oil and grease that you can’t quite see, that latté can wait, one doesn’t see potential miracles everyday.

Casey Meehan is a fan of old cars and classic movies, he writes on behalf of Your Import Car Doctor (Auto Repair Colorado Springs).

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Calvin Escobar
About Calvin Escobar

The Car scene is so diverse Where I come from, most enthusiasts recognize the amazing engineering (particularly the engines). The bulk of the ridicule originates from the manner in which many of the vehicles are modded/maintained. Thus, the jokes and or hate tends to be aimed more at the owner rather than the machine. All of which makes seeing properly sorted old Toyota's and Hondas at car meets, auto shows, and track days all the more refreshing.

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