Nobody ever forgets their first love or their first car. Mine was an old, beat-up 1971 Toyota Corolla given to me by my parents. My dad made sure that all its parts were in working order, but there was no doubt the car had some mileage on it. One time, while trying to make it through a mountain pass, I had to move over into the right lane, turn off the air conditioning, and alternately turn on the heater (in 90 degree weather) so that the engine wouldn’t overheat. Regardless, I loved that car so much that I named it Herbie after my favorite movie star car of all time. My Herbie looked like a little yellow banana, and just like the Herbie in the movie, I felt my Herbie always looked out for me.
I loved the Herbie films growing up. Watching them again now on DVD with my daughters, I see that their humor and charm have definitely endured after all these years. I find myself still laughing and cheering when I watch The Love Bug. Now with five sequels under its belt (Herbie Rides Again, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Herbie Goes Bananas, The Love Bug, 1997 — which actually IS a sequel and not a remake — Herbie: Fully Loaded, and a short-lived television series) Herbie has had a film career spanning 36 years. My favorite will always be the original classic that started it all.
Starring Dean Jones as Jim Douglas, David Tomlinson of Mary Poppins fame as the villain Peter Thorndyke, Buddy Hackett as Jim’s best friend Tennessee Steinmetz, and the beautiful Michele Lee as Carole Bennett the woman Jim falls for (with Herbie’s help), this film has an amazingly strong cast. Its storyline — an arrogant and sometimes foolhardy man learning a lesson of humility and true friendship — it may not be new, but given it was a buddy film starring a man and his car? That certainly was novel. People loved it, and in 1968 when it was originally released, it was the third highest grossing movie of the year.
The Herbie movies, similar to the more recent Cars, captures the American fascination with cars as extensions of our own personalities. In the way that I felt about my own first car, Herbie, and many cars since, we like to think that our cars look after us as much as we look after them. There is some instinct we have to project living qualities and human-like emotion on these metal beasts — they are our protectors on the road, and our companions who take us from one place to another. They help us move, haul important things (our families, our stuff) provide places of intimacy, an enclosed space for communication, they grant us freedom. In the modern world, they sometimes serve as full entertainment centers with DVD players, surround-sound speakers, and the likes. They even serve as mini-restaurants (just look on the floor of the back seat of any dad and you’re likely to find the remains of a meal or two.)
My oldest daughter Eve was 8 when Herbie: Fully Loaded came out. Now she is reaching the age when she will soon have her own car. As with any dad, my heart beats fast as I think about this reality. I will look to that car more than ever to look after her, keep her safe, give her freedom and all the rest — another Herbie to add to our family tree.