There’s Just Something About Herbie…

Were you ever been bitten by the Bug? 

You’re a baby boomer.  You know what I’m talking about… 

Our collective, massive passion for the Volkswagen Beetle.  Officially named by Volkswagen as the Type 1—the original Volkswagen—“The People’s Car” born of the visions of Ferdinand Porsche and the leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler.  The Volkswagen Type 1 has touched our lives in ways we haven’t even fathomed.  It has affected our subconscious.  It has driven right smack into our souls.  There’s no getting it out of our minds. 

Virtually everyone and anyone you’ve ever known has driven a VW Beetle. 

If my street back home in the 1960s was any indication of a good cross section of America, there was at least one Volkswagen Beetle on every block.  Any shopping center parking lot across America had dozens of them at any one time.  Their puttering pancake air-cooled four-cylinder engines could be heard anywhere.  If it wasn’t a VW Beetle, it was a dune buggy concocted from a Beetle.

If you need help understanding this one, consider how far reaching this cultural icon has been since it was first conceived in pre-war Nazi Germany in 1938. Hitler saw a very definite need for a simple affordable automobile for the masses. It was a terrific idea that sold well for decades.  It was produced from 1938-2003. 

More than 21.5 million were produced worldwide. 

The VW Beetle has been so far reaching that Walt Disney Productions did a comedy film, “The Love Bug” in 1968 starring Dean Jones, Michelle Lee, David Tomlinson and Buddy Hackett about a 1963 VW Beetle race car named “Herbie” that takes on a life of its own in a wild and crazy comedic film that roars to the very extent of our imaginations.  It is truly a typical silly Disney fantasy flick that made viewers fall in love with Herbie.  I personally would like to know what happened to VW Beetle sales in the wake of “The Love Bug.” 

Herbie got his legendary “53” racing number from the film’s producer, Bill Walsh, who had a great appreciation for Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose retired number was 53.  Herbie even received billing in the closing credits, which was undoubtedly the first time an automobile was ever credited in a movie.  Herbie was credited in every “Love Bug” sequel to follow. 

Every so often, one of the real Herbie Bugs shows up at a car show somewhere around the world.  And, goodness knows how many Herbie replicas have been built since the 1968.  C’Mon…you know you want a Herbie replica.  This insanity is on a par with untold thousands of 1967 “Eleanor” Mustang replica fastbacks that have been built since “Gone In 60 Seconds” hit the big screen 20 years ago.

Seems everyone has a VW Type 1 story, including those who claim the world’s record for the greatest number of people crammed into a Bug when they were in college when a phone booth just wasn’t enough.  Or, how many sports jocks it took to pick up a Bug and move it.  I had a buddy in high school who liked to take his VW and chase people off sidewalks around town.  He was slightly left of plum mentally and enjoyed tormenting others.  He also enjoyed moving VWs from one parking spot to another several rows away with the help of a couple of buddies. Just release the parking brake and put it in neutral. It was easy with help from friends.  This was a very popular stunt in the high school faculty parking lot, which kept a lot of educators wondering where their Bugs went, only to discover they were in a different spot.

How many thought they were losing their mind?

The Volkswagen Type 1 was a hot seller for all the years it was produced in at least 21 assembly plants around the world.  Brazil was a big producer of VW Type 1s with 3.35 million Beetles alone.  Sales of the Type 1 ended in the United States when these air-cooled transporters failed to meet even tougher federal emission and safety standards.  They continued to be produced and sold around the world long after sales ended here. 

One of the greatest elements of Volkswagens was the hysterical television commercials that aired in the United States in the 1960s.  There were so many it is impossible to remember them all.  One American carline that gave the Type 1 a run for the money was the 1970 Ford Maverick, base sticker priced at $1,995.00 against the Beetle’s base sticker of $1,829.00.  The Maverick was considered more car for the money and college-bound baby boomers snapped them up like crazy.  The 1970 Maverick outsold even the original classic 1965 Mustang by a wide margin at well over 579,000 units that first year.  In sharp contrast, Volkswagen produced 378,222 Beetles that year.  To spur Type 1 sales, Volkswagen stretched the Beetle two-inches and gave it a better optional suspension system and called it Super Beetle for 1971.

Whether you liked your Beetle standard or stretched, one thing is certain, the collective passion for classic Beetles along with great memories remains strong and not likely to go away any time soon.  Attend any car show across the continent and the Beetle’s continuing popularity will speak for itself.  The Volkswagen Beetle and its corporate cousin Type 2 bus remain hot commodities some 82 years after the Bug’s original introduction.

What about your VW Beetle memories? 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s