By on September 8, 2015

Actor Dean Jones died this past week from Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 84. Though he had a long and fairly successful career on both stage (he and Jane Fonda made their Broadway debuts as co-stars) and screen, he found his greatest success as the likeable star of a series of family comedy films made by the Walt Disney studio in the 1960s and 1970s. You’re reading about him at a car site because his best known role was portraying racecar driver Jim Douglas in the 1968 hit movie, “The Love Bug”.

LoveBug_GBQ

The plot of that film, if I recall it from the time I took my little sister to see it at the Americana theater that year, was that Douglas was down on his luck and had to resort to racing his VW Beetle, Herbie, who turned out to have wheelstanding power to go along with a mind and soul of its own. Jim went on to win the race and the girl.

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The Love Bug also starred Michelle Lee as Douglas’ love interest in addition to one of my parents’ favorite comedians, Buddy Hackett, as Herbie and Jim’s racing mechanic Tennessee Steinmetz. Racing and engineering legend Andy Granatelli had a cameo role. My seven-year-old sister loved it and my own 13-year-old car enthusiast self was entertained enough to not be too offended at the preposterous notion of a VW Beetle beating Stingrays, Cobras and XKEs (yeah, I know the correct nomenclature is E Type, but that’s what everyone called them back then).

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The film was so well, er, loved that, like the evergreen Disney animated classics, it was able to make money in sequential re-releases. The Love Bug also spawned moderately successful theatrical sequels like 1977’s “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo”, and television shows including a 1982 television series, “Herbie the Love Bug”, and a remake of the original as a TV movie in 1997. Jones reprised the Jim Douglas character for each of those productions but Bruce Campbell was the leading man and driver of Herbie for the made for TV remake. Jones did not appear in the first sequel, “Herbie Rides Again”, from 1974, nor the last, 2005’s “Herbie, Fully Loaded”, starring Lindsay Lohan at the wheel of Herbie. A total of six Love Bug/Herbie films have been made.

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The Love Bug didn’t just inspire sequels and TV shows. If you go to enough car shows, you’ll see Herbie replicas. I saw one a few weeks ago on Woodward at the Dream Cruise and a promotional Herbie made for the studio on display at a roadside car museum in rural Illinois last week. You can count on the Vintage VW Show in Ypsilanti to have at least a couple of Herbies every year.

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That’s where I photographed these replicas including Lynn Anderson’s 1965 VW based Herbie. Anderson writes for Dune Buggies & Hot VWs, a magazine popular with air-cooled VW enthusiasts for decades, and she’s proud of how accurate her personal Herbie replica is. Accurate enough to have been invited to participate in the prestigious Eyes On Design show, which last year featured movie and TV cars including some authentic, used-on-screen vehicles. Actually, Lynn’s car isn’t perfectly accurate. Her Herbie is a hardtop, whereas the original Herbie had a fabric sunroof, like the other Herbie at the VW show that day, though Lynn said that car wasn’t the correct year.

In case you’ve never seen The Love Bug and you’re wondering how an anthropomorphic automobile and Dean Jones’ affable nature could sustain such longstanding whimsical affection, the complete film can be seen in the video at the top of the post.

Photos of Herbie replicas by the author. You can see the complete photo gallery here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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23 Comments on “Herbie Loses A Friend – Dean Jones Dead at 84...”


  • avatar

    R.I.P. to Dean Jones, a class act and by all accounts a nice person. He was no Lindsay Lohan. Or, Lindsay Lohan is no Dean Jones.

    Also an R.I.P. to Martin Milner, who made his TV career in a Corvette (Route 66) and a series of Plymouth and AMC cop cars (Adam-12).

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    You don’t understand what happens, do you? They make ten thousand cars, they make them exactly the same way, and one or two of ’em turn out to be something special. Nobody knows why.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      “..they make them exactly the same way, and one or two of ’em turn out to be something special. Nobody knows why.”

      VW no have kaizen! No kaizen, no kakuitsu!

      Not a lot has changed, has it?

    • 0 avatar
      bfisch81

      Thank you for that. :)

    • 0 avatar

      There’s a bit of automotive lore behind that statement.

      If you’ve ever wondered what it means when an engine has been “blueprinted”, that means that it’s been built as designed, without consideration for normal manufacturing tolerances in mass production engines. Every part in a production motor is made to a particular size, plus or minus whatever tolerance is permitted. Blueprinted engines have only the minimal tolerances needed for parts to fit.

      Now and then the stars align and tolerances match up and a production engine comes close to being “blueprinted” and puts out more power and torque than the production specs say it should.

      I’m guessing that with modern quality control and digitally controlled machines, there’s a bit less variation from one engine to the next as there was back in the 1950s or 1960s.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        And Ronnie, I got a kick out of one episode of Home Improvement where Al was showing Tim his dark blue Mercury Colony Park wagon and bragged that the V8 had been “balanced and blueprinted” – the Tool Man was impressed by his sidekicks Panther.

  • avatar
    Scout_Number_4

    First movie I ever saw. And if that alone isn’t enough to make me old, I saw it at a drive-in from the back of my parents 1967 Ford station wagon. RIP, Mr. Jones.

    • 0 avatar
      davethebrave

      Me too! Also at a drive in, but in my parents 1964.5 Mustang notchback.

    • 0 avatar
      rockets

      One of my favorite movies as a kid – – and I really wished my dad’s ’64 beetle drove like that with it’s personality. We also had the Ford ’67 wagon, “Country Sedan” misnomenclature, root beer brown, sideways seats in back, 289 V8.

      • 0 avatar
        Scout_Number_4

        Ditto on the “Country Sedan.” That badge really confused me as a (very) young car enthusiast. Ours was beige with 390 and it became my driver once I got my license. Dad finally got rid of it in the mid-90’s, but it was still rolling around Portland as late as 2002 when a family member reported a sighting.

        • 0 avatar
          rockets

          Saw the sedan version of it (also that darker beige, maybe root beer was inaccurate) last year at “Cars and Coffee” Nebraska version. Funky dashboard with black and chrome “stripes” and blue ‘cold” and red ‘hot” engine temperature lights…same white/beige textured vinyl seats I remembered. Old days…

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Another one whose parents had a ’67 Country Sedan wagon; beige with the 289 engine. It must have been Dad’s favorite, because he kept it till around 1986, letting one child after another use it. He had the front seat recovered, and the “magic doorgate” was heavily bondoed after a collision; but it otherwise stayed stock to the end.

      The last driver was my sister. On the way home from school one day, the brakes went out. Her solution to the problem was to slam it in park each time she had to stop; the transmission survived the ordeal. One of my brothers worked for the Sherriff’s Department, and sometimes he would get called out. He would slap the light on the roof Hawii-5-0 style, back out in the street, and have it die right there; he would be trying to get it’s cold engine started and going while the light and siren were a going; much to the amusement of my other brothers.

      Mom and Dad also let him take my sister and I on a trip to the Grand Canyon in it in August of 1976. I can’t believe Mom and Dad let him do it but they did; and we survived the trip with no A/C and no problems.

      Back to the topic; I enjoyed watching all the Herbie movies with the kids; and they are still in our video library. A local classic car lot had a “Herbie” that sold after a few months awhile back.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    VWoA can credit some of its late-60s success to The Love Bug and Dean Jones.

    No other vehicle – and few other actors – have retained such warm regard over the years. They were perfectly cast together for that role, one which I enjoyed immensely as a kid.

    The Bullitt Mustang, Kitt, Christine, the Bandit Trans Am (among others) don’t hold a candle to the Love Bug in terms of widespread popularity and smile-making power. And the human star they are tied to makes a big difference.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I do recall seeing the occasional Beetle dressed up in Herbie trim back in the early and middle 70’s, but usually it was just the stripe and number, not all the other accessories. They were a little less common than those that had the Rolls Royce style hood installed, but more common than those that had the 1940 Ford style hood. Those were quite uncommon.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Saw one with Herbie stripes in downtown Conroe for several years. Car lot. Wrong year. Most of the takeoffs that I’ve seen have been 68 or later and Herbie was a 65 or earlier IIRC. Guess you can attribute that to availablility. Sorry to hear about Dean Jones. Particularly so as I also have Parkinsons Disease and am getting older. Had not heard about Martin Milner.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    I first saw the movie when I was about 4 or 5 years old and it made me want a VW bug. In fact it might just be the first movie that made me interested in cars. RIP Mr. Jones.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    When I was a kid we would rent The Lovebug from the local grocery store, we’d rent it ALOT. It was that and Beethoven, which I never knew featured Dean Jones as a villain, not until a decade later.

    I’m sad to see Dean Jones pass away, he was kind and had a good sense of humor in interviews, one of the few actors you’d genuinely like to meet with.

    From interviews, it seems that Dean was offered the chance to act in Rides Again and Herbie Goes Bannanas but he didnt like the scripts, supposedly he was to cameo in Fully Loaded but that was cut.

    I think 7 Herbie films total were made, the only one I never liked as a kid was Bananas (the film that inspired ratrods).

    During my hipster teen years I discovered “Superbug”, a deranged German knock-off of Herbie that I’m pretty certain inspired both Transformers and Knight Rider.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    RIP Mr. Jones .

    I took my Son to see Herbie when it was re released , as I had a VW Shop at the time it made a huge impression , his first car was a 1963 DeLuxe Beetle with sliding sunshine roof….

    -Nate

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