- “They make 10,000 cars, they make 'em exactly the same way...and one or two of them turn out to be something special.”
- ―Jim Douglas
Herbie is a sentient, anthropomorphic 1963 Volkswagen Beetle featured in several Disney motion pictures starting with the 1969 feature film, The Love Bug. He has a mind of his own, is capable of driving himself and has been a serious contender in auto racing competitions.
Throughout most of the franchise, Herbie is distinguished by red, white and blue racing stripes from front to back bumper, a racing-style number "53" on the front trunk lid, doors, and engine lid, and a yellow-on-black '63 California license plate that says, "OFP 857."
One exception to this is his introduction in The Love Bug, where he initially appears as a nondescript white vehicle with a gray colored fabric sunroof (a.k.a. "ragtop"), the style of sunroof offered on VW Beetles produced throughout 1963.
Herbie is cheerful, energetic, has a sense of humor and likes to play practical jokes on people. Initially, no one seemed to know exactly how he is alive, but he seems to run his best with the love that people give to him. (He always repays that love with a little extra on top.)
Interestingly, how he got life in the first place didn't really seem all that important to them. Despite being incapable of verbal speech, there is apparent communication between him and humans or, at times, other cars.
He is, for the most part good-natured. Although aggressive and competitive, he is nevertheless sensitive to the feelings of the humans he drives and will not comply with them if abused. He was named after Tennessee's Uncle Herb after being reminded of him. As his nickname indicates, he seems to have a knack for matchmaking.
Behind the Scenes
Before production of The Love Bug began Herbie wasn't always going to be a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle to begin with. In order to find the right car to play Herbie they had a casting of cars parked outside the studio, they had Toyotas, a TVR, a handful of Volvos, an MG and a pearl white Volkswagen Beetle.
At lunch the producers would come outside and watch people's reaction towards the cars. They would see them kick the tires or grab the steering wheel to see how it handle but when they approached the Volkswagen they reached out and petted it as if it was like a friend, so out of all the other cars the Volkswagen Beetle was chosen to play the role of Herbie.
Herbie's racing number "53" was chosen by producer Bill Walsh, who was a fan of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball player Don Drysdale (Drysdale's jersey number, later retired by the team, was 53).
Herbie first appears as a pearl white Volkswagen when he rolls into the show room of Peter Thorndyke's Car Agency after being returned by his previous owner (He originally belonged to a upstairs maid but was returned due to having some difficulties.) Peter Thorndyke openly showed a dislike for the little car and often kicked him in the fenders. Jim Douglas showed some disapproval for this kind of behavior and stood up for him. It was then that Herbie decided he wanted Jim to be his new owner and followed him home. When Jim is charged with suspicion of grand theft because Herbie snuck out of the car agency, Thorndyke's assistant, Carole Bennet, decides they should sell the car to him in order to settle the matter.
As Jim starts driving him, Herbie starts to display his shy and yet freewill behavior when he refuses to drive onto the freeway and turns around. When Carole has a go at driving to inspect the car he behaves normally until a couple in a hot rod challenges Jim to a race. The moment the traffic light turns green he shoots off displaying his incredible speed that he outruns the hot rod. He also tries to match up Jim and Carole by taking them to a drive in or to a romantic spot in the park, making Carole late for her date with Thorndyke.
Jim at first disliked the little car until he saw how fast he can go and decides to enter him in racing. Giving him red, white and blue racing stripes and racing number 53. Over time, Herbie makes a lot of successful wins making Jim famous and Thorndyke look like a loser. However in one race, Herbie feels drunk due to being fed Irish Coffee by Thorndyke. He conks out in the middle of the race leaving Thorndyke to win the victory. Tennessee and Carole managed to fix him but to his disgust, Jim has bought a new car and plans to sell him back to Thorndyke. Upset and angry he smashes Jim's new car proving once and for all to him that he has a mind of his own. While no one is looking Herbie runs away and Jim goes out into the foggy city to find his little friend. Herbie ruins his paintwork and wrecks his front. When he gets to the golden gate bridge he tries to commit suicide with only Jim to stop him. Jim slips and nearly falls off the bridge holding onto Herbie's bumper. Seeing his friend in trouble and sorry, he reverses and pulls him to safety as the police show up. Herbie becomes impounded by charges pressed by Tang Wu. Tennessee tries to reason with the Chinese gentleman to drop the charges which he does after showing he's a huge racing fan of Jim and Herbie. Wu willing drops the charges in exchange for becoming Herbie's new owner which Jim accepts, as long as he's allowed to race him in the El Dorado. If Jim wins, Wu will be able to keep the prize money but has to sell Herbie back for a dollar.
At the El Dorado, Herbie is repaired and races against the other cars with Jim, Carole, and Tennessee as his crew. However Thorndyke attempts to make sure the little car fails and uses all sorts of nasty tricks to keep him from winning. After being slicked with oil, flipped upside down and having his wheels knocked off, Herbie manages to limp to the finish last. Despite Tennessee's best efforts, it looks as if Herbie will be unable to start the return leg of the race. Thorndyke also shows up claiming that he is now his new owner and plans to do terrible things to him angering Jim and everyone else. Herbie then unexpectedly lurches into life and angrily chases Thorndyke, showing he is more than willing to race on. Thanks to some ingenious shortcuts, Herbie and his friends become neck and neck with Thorndyke as they approach the finish line. In the ensuing dogfight, Herbie's welded-together body splits in two. His back half crosses the line while his front rolls over the line just behind, meaning He takes both first and third place. At the end of the film Herbie is fully repaired and chauffeurs the newlywed Jim and Carole away on their honeymoon.
Herbie continues to live in the old firehouse with Mrs. Steinmetz (Tennessee's aunt) and Nicole Harris while his driver is in Europe driving foreign cars. Herbie first met Willoughby Whitfield when he came over tried to convince Mrs. Steinmetz to move out so Alonzo Hawk can proceed with construction of his new building. Both Herbie and Nicole took a dislike towards him especially when he didn't believe Herbie was a alive. Willoughby's tone towards Herbie soon changed when he took him for a joyride and entered a chicken jousting tournament. They made up and became friends when Willoughby came back the next day and gave him a gentle pet.
Hawk tried to kidnap him, little did he know the little car was alive and imminently stopped in the middle of the street when he called him A Cylinder Hair-dryer. The police tried to tow him and Hawk out of the streets but Herbie challenged them in a tug of war and drove off the moment the rope snapped. He drops Hawk outside his office building and drives off home. He arrives home in time to take Mrs. Steinmetz to market but is pursued all around San Francisco by Hawk's lawyers. While shopping for some broccoli, Herbie attempts another one of his matchmaking tricks by taking Willoughby and Nicole to the beach. While there they fall in love and share their first kiss. When they arrive home they find the house empty and head for Hawk's storage warehouse to get back Mrs. Steinmetz furniture. For a while they are pursued by Hawk and his security until he takes them on a detour around a city block and causes them to crash into one another.
He accompanies Mrs. Steinmetz while she goes to Hawk's office to give him a piece of her mind. Instead he gets a piece of Herbie's mind when he makes him so angry and chases him around his building. When Hawks makes a final attempt to tear down the firehouse, Herbie goes out for help. He picks up Willoughby and Nicole and races back to the firehouse with other Volkswagens in follow. He arrives with an army of beetles and chase off Hawk and his diggers. Like in the first film, Herbie drives the newly-wed Willoughby and Nicole away on their honeymoon.
Herbie, Jim Douglas, and their new partner Wheely Applegate journey to Paris to enter the Trans-France Race. Once there Herbie becomes in possession of a priceless diamond stashed in his gas tank by two jewels thieves and falls in love with a beautiful Lancia named Giselle. As it goes Herbie becomes more interested being with Giselle than racing which bothers Wheely while the two jewel thieves, Max and Quincy, try to get back the diamond but all their attempts failed.
On the day of the big race, Herbie is told by Wheely that Giselle has dumped and took off into the race like he never excited (when in fact she been waiting for him until Wheely lied to her about him dumping her.) Herbie charges into the race and as they race on they end up making a few stops.
Their first stop is when Max and Quincy put them off course and end up on a mountain road. Herbie ends up half buried in rocks by Wheely's yodeling echoes but manages to escape Max and Quincy again and buries them under rocks by yodeling another echo with his horn. Their second stop is when the diamond in Herbie's gas tank starts clonking around and Jim and Wheely investigate. When they find the diamond they finally understand why those two thieves were after Herbie and engage Max and Quincy in a fist fight. Jim, Wheely, and Herbie win the fight and tie them up. Their third stop is when they see Diane and Giselle in river. At first Herbie refuses to help until his friend Jim tells him the truth about Wheely's lies. He quickly turns around the the three of them rescue Diane and Giselle. Herbie refuses to leave Giselle until Diane encourages him to finish the race for his friends and for Giselle. He allows Jim to get in but doesn't allow Wheely too until he gets down on his knees and apologizes for lying to him.
Herbie makes it to Monte Carlo and catching up with the leading race driver Bruno von Stickle. After a few failed attempts to pass him, he manages to get into first place by driving upside down in a tunnel and wins. When Inspector Bouchet tries to get away with the diamond threatening to kill anyone who tries to stop him, Herbie outsmarts him by rolling onto his foot and smacking the gun out of his hand. With the diamond safely returned to the museum executive Monsieur Ribeaux, he rewards Herbie with a kiss on the hood and goes all red. Herbie is last seen watching the fireworks with Giselle happily flashing their headlights.
After Jim Douglas retires from racing, Herbie is passed onto his nephew, Pete Stancheck, who plans to enter him in the Grand Primeo of Brazil. At first he shows no confidence in the little car until Herbie displays his incredible speed while helping Paco escape. Once on board the Sun Princess Herbie and his new friend Paco who calls him "Ocho" (which means "eight" in Spanish. Paco simply added together the individual numbers in Herbie's 53.) start causing mischief which gets them into trouble with Captain Blythe. When they trash the costume party, Herbie is sentenced to be dropped into the sea.
Herbie manages to swim all the way to Panama and is rescued by Paco and local fishermen. Being in the salt water for so long has caused his body to go all rusty and becomes completely exhausted that he collapses from his wheels. At first Paco believes he's dead until he springs into life and they race off together before the fishermen could catch them.
Paco turns him into a taxi but they are caught up by Prindle and Quinn who demand for the return of their missing film and threaten to cut up Herbie if Paco doesn't. Herbie and Paco manage to get the film but instead of handing it over they make a run for it. With the two men in hot pursuit, Herbie drives into a bullring where they end up inside the ring with a mean bull. As Herbie and Paco try to leave with Blythe and Aunt Louise Trends as their passengers, Herbie becomes blinded after accidentally being covered up by a bull cape. The bull starts to bash him around while trying to get away but has no choice but to fight. using his hood he manages to the remove the cape from his headlights and uses it against the bull. He successfully defeats the bull and the crowd applause to Herbie and Paco. However they make a quick exit when Prindle and Quinn try to catch them. Prindle, Quinn, and Shepard manage to lure Herbie and Paco out of the woods and successfully capture Paco. Herbie tries to save him but they get away and so he goes to find Pete, D.J., Louise, Melissa, and Blythe for help. They drive through the stormy rainforest and find Paco in the Inca ruins. They manage to steal the gold the three men found and drive off to hand it in. In order to be undiscovered, Herbie gets covered in bananas from bumper to bumper.
Herbie and Paco catch Prindle, Shepard and Quinn trying to escape in their plane but the two friends give chase resulting in wrecking the men's plane. Herbie is last seen with his owner and friends aboard the Sun Princess, fully restored to his original racing colors on his way to the Grand Primeo of Brazil.
Herbie starred in the made-for-television remake/sequel of the first film starring Bruce Campbell, Alexandra Wentworth, John Hannah and features a special appearance by Dean Jones returning as Jim Douglas. The film delves into the origins of Herbie, explaining how he's alive.
How Herbie ended up with Simon Moore remains unknown, but after he failed to win any races for him he was sent to the junkyard where he was set up as one of the junkers in a mechanic contest. Hank Cooper chose him to enter and Herbie was overwhelmed as no one else did. He won the contest for Hank and over time, Simon grew curious about the little car's unbelievable capabilities. It was revealed by his creator Dr. Gustav Stumpfel that he was originally built to be a weapon of war but Gustav decided to set him free and found a happier life with Jim Douglas and a racing career.
At first Hank didn't believe Herbie was alive and became jealous of him because he was getting all the credit and after he wailed out, Herbie went looking for him. As it got dark he was ambushed and attacked by his evil twin, Horace, and died after Hank found him. His old driver, Jim Douglas, encouraged Hank to rebuild him, and using his original parts, he was brought back to life. However, Simon Moore challenged Herbie and Hank in a race against his own little car in order to get rid of Herbie. Despite all of Horace's nasty tricks, Herbie won the race and was last seen driving Hank and Alex away.
Following the events of the previous four films, Herbie's popularity and racing ability gradually waned and disappears from the public eye. After decades of being in obscurity, Herbie is then purchased by young auto racer Maggie Peyton in a junkyard.
Herbie appeared in a 2005 TV commercial advertising Disneyland's 50th Anniversary, where he is driven by Mickey Mouse to pick up Goofy, so they can join the other Disney characters at the park to celebrate.
Herbie has had some presence in the Disney parks, like in Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, where he had his own stunt segment.
- A car very similar to Herbie made a cameo in Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension when Ferb Fletcher is going after Perry the Platypus after the Robot Riot sequence of the movie.
- In the 1982 TV series, Herbie was known to beep his horn to the tune of the "Bridal Chorus", "Happy Birthday", and "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow", as well as a couple of famous Italian tunes.
- Since Herbie: Fully Loaded was released in theaters, Herbie completely lost his "OFP 857" license plate and gained facial expressions, particularly eyelids and the ability to smile or frown using his front bumper. He also gets to make new sounds in the movie, like purring and whimpering.
- Throughout the six films Herbie's appearance changes a lot. The most changes he makes is in Herbie Fully Loaded.
- Racing Stripes - In the Love Bug, his stripes started out red, white, and blue and in the later three films (along with the 1982 TV series) he had darker blue stripes that can be mistaken for black. In the 1997 television film and the 2005 film, his stripes are the original red, white, and blue.
- 53 Font - The font of his 53 remains the same in the first four films, large, round and bold but from the 1997 television film to the 2005 film it changes to smaller and thinner.
- Side Mirror - From The Love Bug to Herbie Rides Again, Herbie's side mirror is a round shape, from Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo to the 1997 Love Bug it changes to an oval mirror and returns to a round shape in Herbie: Fully Loaded.
- Rag-Top Roof - In the first four films, Herbie's rag-top roof always has the racing stripes across from the front to the back but in the 1997 Love Bug he has a white rag-top with no stripes across but returns to the gray color in Herbie: Fully Loaded but without the stripes.
- The prop Herbie dropped into the ocean was never retrieved. A total of twenty-six VW Beetles were used in Herbie Goes Bananas, by reason of the quantity of stunts and tricks.
- The Herbie used in the 1997 television remake and the NASCAR Herbie used in Herbie: Fully Loaded are preserved at the Petersen Automotive Museum.