The New Significance Of Herbie's Number: Cold Start - The Autopian
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The New Significance Of Herbie’s Number: Cold Start

Cs 53 Herbie1
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My birthday happened over the weekend, and somehow my age is now the same as the racing number of the most famous sentient Volkswagen in Western letters: 53. How did this happen? I don’t feel like whatever vague concept I have of a 53-year old man in my head. In fact, while doing some member drawings the other night, I had that Batman Begins movie on, and in part of the dialog they state that a particular character was 52 years old. This guy right here. That’s 52? Man, Gotham is some hard living, that’s for sure. I looked it up, and that actor would have been 57 at the time, so they are taking some liberties. Still, my basic point still stands: how am I 53? How do I reconcile that with the sort of barely-adult-dipshit that seems to live inside this body? I’m not sure I can, so instead we may as well talk about the car with the number 53, Herbie the Love Bug and the movie that made him famous, Disney’s 1969 classic, The Love Bug.

I’ve written about the impact of this movie before, and how it’s really a great car-lovers’ movie and, while definitely a product of its time, managed somehow to be a bit less reprehensible in re-watching decades later than many of its contemporaries. For example, the main female lead is portrayed as someone independent and a skilled mechanic, and while she does get objectified every now and then, is an actual character with valuable things to add to the movie. There are asian characters portrayed in some stereotypical ways, but it’s somehow a bit more respectful than you may expect and they’re played by real asians and not, say, by Mickey Rooney in a wildly offensive caricature as seen in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a movie released just eight years before it.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

It’s got some dark stuff in there, too. At one point Herbie, feeling slighted and rejected, smashes up another car (a Lamborghini 400GT that magically becomes a very smashed Jaguar E-Type) and then attempts to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate bridge, until he’s stopped by his driver, Jim Douglas:

That’s dark. What other Disney movies have the main non-human character attempting suicide?

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Most of the movie, though, is much more upbeat, with lots of great footage of ’60s-era SCCA-type racing on all kinds of legendary tracks, all set to that music that might have been stolen:

That montage also has a very deep-cut inside joke in there; when they show the newspapers, one of the headlines notes that Herbie (the “Douglas Car”) has been disqualified from racing in the Indianapolis 500 because the VW’s intake manifold was too small:

Cs 53 Paper

This is an inside joke because

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“… Andy Granatelli, president of STP, plays the race official, and the newspaper article saying Herbie wouldn’t run at Indy because his intake was too small was an inside joke, because the year before Granatelli was disqualified from Indy because his intake was too big.”

Also, and I’ve mentioned this before and happily bring it up any chance I get, The Love Bug contains one of the finest extended bear jokes in all of cinema:

It’s how the bear realizes they’re an out-of-control car and tries to wake Thorndyke (the driver of that Apollo GT and the main antagonist of the movie, played by the wonderfully despicable David Tomlinson) that really makes the scene, I think. Gold.

Thorndyke as a villain is a huge part of what makes it all work; he’s a caricature, sure, but a fun one, and at one point in the movie, just before doing something deeply unsportsmanlike and dangerous in a race, states that “there are times that I don’t like myself very much,” which strikes me as a remarkably raw and revealing statement for a Disney villain to make.

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I’m told the number “53” was selected for Herbie because one of the producers was a fan of Don Drysdale, the baseball player who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and wore that number. All I know is that now my age matches the number on that little car that was so influential for me as a kid getting into Volkswagens and cars in general.

Cs 53 Herbie2

Beau has in his collection one of the best original movie-used Herbies, one that was once fitted with a hotter engine (some used Porsche 356 engines) for the racing scenes, and I’d like to drive it and do a whole video about the car. Maybe I can do that this summer? I think it could be fun.

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Lost on the Nürburgring
Lost on the Nürburgring
1 month ago

I saw a bug kitted out exactly like Herbie in Snoqualmie, Washington this week. I wonder how many of these are rolling around…

Marlin May
Marlin May
1 month ago

Happy Birthday!

Gerontius Garland
Gerontius Garland
1 month ago

Happy birthday, Torch. Herbie is also the reason I love aircooled VWs. I saw The Love Bug so many times as a kid that I wore out the VHS.

Phil Layshio
Phil Layshio
1 month ago

Happy birthday Jason! Looking forward to good morning laughs for many more.

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
1 month ago

Harry b-day Torch!

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
1 month ago

Happy birthday! I hope you drew yourself an excellent picture. I like being 52, because I can say that I’m like a deck of cards.

Chris D
Chris D
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob Boxbody

53 is a deck of cards plus the Joker.

PunkyBrewstersHubby
PunkyBrewstersHubby
1 month ago

To any gearhead the movie is more technically accurate then you would think and the Granatelli inside joke is priceless! If you have never seen it it’s a much watch. The sequels are good too except the Lohan travesty.

Guido Sarducci
Guido Sarducci
1 month ago

Buon compleanno!

AJ
AJ
1 month ago

Happy Birthday, Torch!! Yomuledet sameach!

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 month ago

One of my very favorite movies, but how they got away with the music is beyond me. I like to point out that in 1969 this was the second highest grossing movie in the U.S. Did you know that the actor who said, “We all prisoners, chicky-baby,” was Dean Jones?

PunkyBrewstersHubby
PunkyBrewstersHubby
1 month ago
Reply to  Dodsworth

Yes and his sidekick in the bus with him was Tennessee himself.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 month ago

Score! I love trivia.

Fineheresyourdamn70dollars
Fineheresyourdamn70dollars
1 month ago

I’ll join you as a 53 in a few months, you old dog. I plan on celebrating by seeing if I can still pilot the Starblazer to bomb the IBCM on my Apple IIe!

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
1 month ago

The Herbie movies are tied with Cannonball Run as the movies that made young me into the car guy I am today.

As a fellow fan and someone who also seems to be older than I feel I should be, I wish you Happy Birthday, Torch.

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