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The love fest for this bug is in overdrive

June 20, 2005|Susan King

Among the major films of 1969 were the X-rated, Oscar-winning best film "Midnight Cowboy," "True Grit," starring John Wayne in his Academy Award-winning role, the Paul Newman-Robert Redford western "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and the seminal biker movie "Easy Rider," which turned a "B" movie actor-writer named Jack Nicholson into a major Hollywood player.

But the box office champ of that year was none other than "The Love Bug," the G-rated Disney comedy about an adorable 1963 Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own.

Disney stalwart Dean Jones played a race car driver who becomes a champion when he gets behind the wheel of plucky No. 53, named Herbie. Michele Lee, comic Buddy Hackett and David Tomlinson also starred. Robert Stevenson directed.

The franchise has had real wheels for Disney. Over the years, "The Love Bug" has spawned 1974's "Herbie Rides Again," 1977's "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo," 1980's "Herbie Goes Bananas," the 1982 TV series "Herbie, the Love Bug" and a 1997 TV movie, "The Love Bug."

Now, Disney is hoping to get a lot more mileage out of the little VW Bug with its highly hyped update, "Herbie: Fully Loaded." The family comedy, starring current teen queen Lindsay Lohan, opens Wednesday.

This time around, Herbie is saved from demolition in a junkyard graveyard to become a NASCAR champion.

But the Volkswagen Bug wasn't the initial choice for the original film. About a dozen cars and models -- including the pearl white Beetle -- auditioned for the role of Herbie. During their breaks, crew members were invited to examine the cars. The crew would kick the tires and check out the steering while test-driving each model.

The Beetle soon became the crew favorite, and a star was born.

For "Fully Loaded," picture car coordinator Randy White had to find three dozen vintage Beetles -- one for each of Herbie's "looks" in the film. Several of the cars were tracked down from a website devoted to Volkswagens.

White even managed to find the original Herbie, which, though retired in Ohio, had recently been given a new high-performance engine and transmission by its owner. Herbie's owner also parted with a red 1963 VW ragtop, which appears as one of the "trick" Herbies.

-- Susan King

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