Wednesday Feb. 17, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Volkswagen Beetle
On this Day:
In 1972, the 15,007,034th Volkswagen Beetle came off the assembly line, breaking a world car production record held for more than four decades by the Ford Motor Company’s iconic Model T, which was in production from 1908 and 1927.
The history of the VW Beetle dates back to 1930s Germany. In 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany and announced he wanted to build new roads and affordable cars for the German people. At that time, Austrian-born engineer Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951) was already working on creating a small car for the masses. Hitler and Porsche later met and the engineer was charged with designing the inexpensive, mass-produced Volkswagen, or “people’s car.” Hitler’s plan was that people could buy the cars by making regular payments into a savings stamp program. In 1938, work began on the Volkswagen factory, located in present-day Wolfsburg, Germany; however, full-scale vehicle production didn’t begin until after World War II.
In the 1950s, the Volkswagen arrived in the U.S., where the initial reception was tepid, due in part to the car’s historic Nazi connection as well as its small size and unusual rounded shape (which later led to it being dubbed the “Beetle”). In 1959, the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach launched a groundbreaking campaign that promoted the car’s diminutive size as a distinct advantage to consumers, and over the next several years, VW became the top-selling auto import in the U.S. In 1998, Volkswagen began selling the highly touted “New Beetle” while still continuing production of its predecessor. After more than 60 years and over 21 million vehicles produced, the last original Beetle rolled off the line in Puebla, Mexico, on July 30, 2003.
The world’s original best-selling car, Henry Ford’s Model T, first went into production at a Detroit, Michigan, plant in 1908. Referred to as the car that “put the world on wheels,” the Model T revolutionized the automotive industry–and American society in general–by providing affordable, reliable transportation for the average person. In 1913, Ford Motor Company began employing the moving assembly line at its plant in Highland Park, Michigan, which reduced the assembly speed of a chassis from 12 hours and eight minutes to one hour and 33 minutes. The following year, Ford produced 308,162 vehicles, more than the output of all other carmakers combined. By 1924, the 10 millionth Model T came off the assembly line. When production finally ended, after 19 years, in May 1927, over 15 million Model Ts had been built (per History.com).
First, a Story:
What do an elephant and a Volkswagen beetle have in common? Trunk’s at the front.
Second, a Song:
The Love Bug (sometimes referred to as Herbie the Love Bug) is a 1968 American comedy film directed by Robert Stevenson and the first in a series of films made by Walt Disney Productions and distributed by Buena Vista Distribution that starred an anthropomorphic pearl-white, fabric-sunroof 1963 Volkswagen racing Beetle named Herbie. It was based on the 1961 book Car, Boy, Girl by Gordon Buford.
The movie follows the adventures of Herbie, Herbie’s driver, Jim Douglas (Dean Jones), and Jim’s love interest, Carole Bennett (Michele Lee). It also features Buddy Hackett as Jim’s enlightened, kind-hearted friend, Tennessee Steinmetz, a character who creates “art” from used car parts. English actor David Tomlinson portrays the villainous Peter Thorndyke, the owner of an auto showroom and an SCCA national champion who sells Herbie to Jim and eventually becomes his racing rival.
Dean Jones credited the film’s success to the fact that it was the last live action Disney film produced under Walt Disney’s involvement, released just two years after his death in 1966. Although Jones tried to pitch him a serious, straightforward film project concerning the story of the first sports car ever brought to the United States, Walt suggested a different car story for him, which was Car, Boy, Girl, a story written in 1961 by Gordon Buford.
Car, Boy, Girl; The Magic Volksy; The Runaway Wagen; Beetlebomb; Wonderbeetle; Bugboom and Thunderbug were among the original development titles considered for the film before the title was finalized as The Love Bug.
Herbie competes in the Monterey Grand Prix, which, except for 1963, was not a sports car race. The actual sports car race held at Monterey was the Monterey Sports Car Championships. The 1968 Monterey Grand Prix was in fact a Can Am Series race, and did not feature production cars.
Peter Thorndyke’s yellow “Special” is actually a 1965 Apollo GT, a rare sports car built in the United States by International Motorcars in Oakland, California. It used an Italian-designed body along with a small-block Buick V8 engine. This car exists today, is in the hands of a private collector, and has been restored as it was seen in the film with its yellow paint and number 14 logo.
Before the film entered production, the titular car was not specified as a Volkswagen Beetle, and Disney set up a casting call for a dozen cars to audition. In the lineup, there were a few Toyotas, a TVR, a handful of Volvos, an MG and a pearl white Volkswagen Beetle. The Volkswagen Beetle was chosen as it was the only one that elicited the crew to reach out and pet it.
The Volkswagen brand name, logo or shield does not feature anywhere in the film, as the automaker did not permit Disney to use the name. The only logos can be briefly seen in at least two places, however. The first instance is on the brake pedals during the first scene where Herbie takes control with Jim inside (on the freeway when Herbie runs into Thorndyke’s Rolls Royce), and it is shown in all the future scenes when Jim is braking. The second instance is on the ignition key, when Jim tries to shut down the braking Herbie. The later sequels produced, however, do promote the Volkswagen name (as sales of the Beetle were down when the sequels were produced). The VW “Wolfsburg” castle emblem on the steering wheel hub is also seen throughout the car’s interior shots. Within the script, the car was only ever referred to as “Herbie”, “the small car” or “the Bug”—the latter, although a common nickname for the Beetle, was not trademarked by Volkswagen at the time of filming.
The car was later given the name “Herbie” from one of Buddy Hackett’s skits about a ski instructor named Klaus, who speaks with a German accent as he introduces his fellow ski instructors, who are named Hans, Fritz, Wilhelm, and Sandor. At the end of the skit, Hackett would say “If you ain’t got a Herbie (pronounced “hoy-bee”), I ain’t going.”
Herbie’s trademark “53” racing number 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).
Walsh also gave Herbie his trademark red, white and blue racing stripes presumably for the more patriotic color and came up with the film’s gags such as Herbie squirting oil and opening the doors by himself.
Benson Fong, who played Mr. Wu, said that when he and the others were dragged along the dirt by Herbie, it was like being pulled by 40 horses. The 1961–1965 Volkswagen Beetles actually were rated by the SAE at 40 horsepower (30 kW) in factory configuration (though only 34 horsepower (25 kW) by the European DIN system which measured engine output as installed in the car with cooling fan and exhaust system attached).
Herbie has his own cast billing in the closing credits, the only time this was done in the entire series of films.
Today, only a handful of the original Herbie cars are known to exist. Car #10 was recovered from a warehouse in Pennsylvania, and has been preserved—still sporting its original paint from the film.
The Love Bug was the second highest-grossing film of 1969, earning over $51.2 million at the domestic box office. It received mostly positive reviews from critics, later earning a 76% “Fresh” rating from 17 critics on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.
George Edward Bruns (July 3, 1914 – May 23, 1983) was an American composer of music for film and television. His accolades include four Academy Award nominations, and three Grammy Award nominations. He is mainly known for his compositions for numerous Disney films spanning from the 1950‘s and 1960’s until the 1970s, among them were Sleeping Beauty (1959), One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Absent-Minded Professor (both 1961), The Sword in the Stone (1963), The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970), and Robin Hood (1973). Bruns also provided Herbie the Love Bug with his sprightly theme song, featured prominently throughout the series. (per Wikipedia).
Here is the Love Bug Theme set to scenes from the first Love Bug movie. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“If one does not fail at times, then one has not challenged himself.” – Ferdinand Porsche
Jack Irwin of West Vancouver, BC, Canada coincidently wrote concerning some interesting automobile history. We thought this would be a fitting place to include this. Thanks Jack!
Where did the name ” Pick Up Truck” come from?
You must Read ’till the end to learn…
Q: What was the first official White House car?
A: A 1909 White Steamer, ordered by President Taft.
Q: Who opened the first drive-in gas station?
A: Gulf opened up the first station in Pittsburgh in 1913.
Q: What city was the first to use parking meters?
A: Oklahoma City , on July 16, 1935.
Q: Where was the first drive-in restaurant?
A: Royce Hailey’s Pig Stand opened in Dallas in 1921.
Q: True or False? The 1953 Corvette came in white, red and black.
A: False. The 1953 ‘Vettes were available in one color, Polo White.
Q: What was the first car fitted with an alternator, rather than a direct current dynamo?
A: The 1960 Plymouth Valiant
Q: What was the first car to be offered with a “perpetual guarantee”?
A: The 1904 Acme, from Reading , PA. Perpetuity was disturbing in this case, as Acme closed down in 1911.
Q: What car was the first to have its radio antenna embedded in the windshield?
A: The 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix.
Q: Where was the World’s first three-color traffic lights installed?
A: Detroit , Michigan in 1919.
Two years later they experimented with synchronized lights.
Q: What type of car had the distinction of being GM’s 100 millionth car built in the U.S.?
A: March 16, 1966 saw an Olds Toronado roll out of Lansing , Michigan with that honor.
Q: Where was the first drive-in movie theater opened, and when?
A: Camden , NJ in 1933
Q: What autos were the first to use a standardized production key-start system?
A: The 1949 Chryslers
Q: What car was the first to place the horn button in the center of the steering wheel?
A: The 1915 Scripps-Booth Model C. The car also was the first with electric door latches.
Q: What’s the only car to appear simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek?
A: The Mustang
Q: What was the lowest priced mass produced American car?
A: The 1925 Ford Model T Runabout. Cost $260, $5 less than 1924.
Q: What is the fastest internal-combustion American production car?
A: The 1998 Dodge Viper GETS-R, tested by Motor Trend magazine at 192.6 mph.
Q: Who wrote to Henry Ford, “I have drove fords exclusively when I could get away with one. It has got every other car skinned, and even if my business hasn’t been strictly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V-8”?
A: Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie and Clyde ) in 1934.
Q: What car was the first production V12, as well as the first production car with aluminum pistons?
A: The 1915 Packard Twin-Six. Used during WWI in Italy, these motors inspired Enzi Ferrari to adopt the V12 himself in 1948.
Q: What was the first car to use power operated seats?
A: They were first used on the 1947 Packard line.
Q: Which of the Chrysler “letter cars” sold the fewest amount?
A: Only 400 1963 300J’s were sold (they skipped “I” because it looked like a number 1)
Q: In January 1930, Cadillac debuted it’s V16 in a car named for a theatrical version of a 1920’s film seen by Harley Earl while designing the body, What’s that name?
A: The “Madam X”, a custom coach designed by Earl and built by Fleetwood. The sedan featured a retractable landau top above the rear seat.
Q: What is the Spirit of Ecstasy?
A: The official name of the mascot of Rolls Royce, she is the lady on top of their radiators. Also known as “Nellie in her nighty”.
Q: Where did the name ” Pick Up Truck” come from?
Trivia…Ford, who made The first pick-up trucks were shipped to dealers in crates that the new owners had to assemble, using the crates, as the beds of the trucks.
The new owners had to go to the dealers to get them, thus, they had to: “pick-up” the trucks.
And now you know the “rest of the story.”
Have a great day!
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky