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The Volkswagen Beetle: An Icon On The Road And The Silver Screen

Gerard June 11, 2015 12:43

On the silver screens, the actor or actress takes most of the spotlight, guiding the audience through the story being told. Often times, the characters played have a vehicle that accompanies them on their adventures. Often speechless (literally), the cars that appear in films are just as significant as the protagonist themselves.

In 1968, the hit-movie ‘Bullitt’ starring Steve McQueen, featured one of the first iconic car chase scenes on the big screen. To match the occasion, McQueen was filmed driving a Ford Mustang with much gusto through the streets of San Francisco. The following year, Michael Caine and a team of notorious drivers tore up the streets of Turin in three Mini Coopers, faming the cult hit, The Italian Job.

And now we’ve come to one of the most recognisable cars in film history, the Volkswagen Beetle.

Brought to life by none other than Ferdinand Porsche himself, the Volkswagen Beetle proved to be no stranger to the limelight. Gaining attention as the true “people’s car” in Germany, movie directors were quick to realise the growing ‘iconic’ status of the car, and acted on the chance to have the Beetle star alongside some of the world’s most renowned actors and actresses in front of the cameras.

In the very same year ‘Bullitt’ became a hit, so did one of the most iconic film—car pairings take shape, in the form of The Love Bug – a show that brought about the rise of the lovable Herbie. And two years after that, it’s a Beetle that outfoxes a Ford Mustang in a silver screen hit. You can read on to find out which movie this was from.

Undeniably, the humble Volkswagen Beetle was quick to its stardom, and here are six examples that prove just that; six examples of our favourite movies starring the icon, the Volkswagen Beetle.

1986 – The Transformers

Wait a minute, isn’t Bumblebee a Chevrolet Camaro? To our younger audience, you are certainly not wrong there. However, before Michael Bay’s live-action film came around in 2007, Bumblebee was indeed a Volkswagen Beetle in the animated movie and series. Being the “little brother” of the Autobot faction, Bumblebee was constantly trying to prove himself worthy in the eyes of his leader, Optimus Prime. Capable, reliable, and a little bit of a smarty-pants, the Saturn yellow Volkswagen Beetle known as Bumblebee will always be well loved as the symbol of the Autobot’s determination.

In the 2007 version, the scene where Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) checks out a classic Camaro at the second hand car lot, guess which car was beside it? You guessed it, the Volkswagen Beetle. A fitting homage to what the original Bumblebee was.

1984 – Footloose

Next on the list is an unlikely movie to have the Beetle share the stage with. In Footloose, Kevin Bacon’s character, Ren McCormack tries to his best to convince the Bomont city council to overturn a ruling which has led to dancing and rock music to be banned by doing a lot of dancing of his own. If that wasn’t hard enough, he falls in love with Ariel and has to try his very best to win her heart over. And guess which car stood by him through this difficult journey? His trusty yellow Beetle.

In the 2011 remake of Footloose, the Beetle made a return as well to support the updated Ren’s journey to attain dance and rock music for the town (this time played by Kenny Wormald). His car also had his back as he kissed Ariel (Julianne Hough) for the first time in the movie.

1972 – What’s Up, Doc?

This movie focuses on five people, with four identical plaid overnight bags amongst them whereby two had valuable contents, who check into the same hotel. At the hotel, a series of attempts at stealing the two valuable bags leads to the main characters, Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal) and Judy Maxwell (Barbra Streisand) coming into possession of the two of the bags containing valuable items. From there, a car chase takes place across San Francisco where the Volkswagen Beetle was the car the main characters found themselves in.

Escaping from the people chasing after them, the nimble Beetle is seen driving past a lorry dumping sand on it, hiding on a trailer with other new Beetles on it, and driving down a flight of stairs. In the end, the Beetle ends up diving off a pier into the sea. The scene cuts off there but it is said the Beetle was the only car to float to the top, a nod to Volkswagen’s claim that the Beetle is so well made, it floats on water.

1970 – The Delta Factor

In this 1970 film, Christopher George stars as a convict, asked to assist the government, pairs up with a glamorous CIA agent to rescue a scientist from a Caribbean fortress prison. The climax of the film begins when the main character, Morgan, initiates a prison riot to escape with the scientist. From there, a cool car chase takes place along the jungle-lined roads where the Volkswagen Beetle easily outfoxes a Ford Mustang chasing after it. In the scene, the Beetle is seen zipping through the twisty roads with tight turning whilst the Mustang is left in the dust slipping and sliding all over the place.

1967 – Double Trouble

Although the musical film Double Trouble, which Elvis Presley starred in, wasn’t one of the actor’s most popular films, the movie’s car chase scene was the first to have one Beetle chasing after another Beetle around the streets of Belgium. Wrongly accused of being a jewel thief, Elvis’ character escapes from prison and proceeds to drive off in a police Volkswagen Beetle. The police are on to him at this point and commandeer another Beetle as well to give chase. If there was anything that could make the Beetle a cooler car than it already was, it would be having the King behind the wheel.

1968 – Herbie And The Love Bug Movies

No mention of the Volkswagen Beetle is complete without the mention of this movie which rocketed the car to become a cultural icon. Just think of the number 53 car with racing stripes and immediately, the Love Bug springs into mind. In the film, Jim Douglas (played by Dean Jones) defends the honour of the Beetle after being passed off as an inferior car.

From there, the adorable little Beetle is christened the name Herbie and goes on to win many races with its new owner. Even when beaten and battered, Herbie still manages to push on and in the end, helps Jim to win the prestigious El Dorado road race. The Love Bug was a huge commercial success and won the hearts of many, spawning several sequels including a 2005 version starring Lindsay Lohan titled Herbie: Fully Loaded. It also marked the first time a car was portrayed as being able to show emotions. Who could forget little Herbie ‘leaking’ oil on people it disliked.

In fact, a majority of top movie cars will always feature Herbie in it as well. So famous is the Love Bug that even today, Volkswagen offers The Beetle with an optional Herbie-themed package known as the Beetle 53 Edition – sadly, it’s not something we get here in Malaysia. Fret not however, because Volkswagen Malaysia does offer us a Bug Edition for the Beetle.

So, what movies that featured a Volkswagen Beetle did you remember most fondly? Do let us know in the comments section below.

About Gerard

My first impressions of a dream car should be a ridiculous top speed with physics defying cornering capabilities, namely the Ferraris, Paganis and what not. Deep down, I just want something that makes you feel special when you drive it, expensive or not.


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