It looked like a gathering for the Indy 500. Some of the greatest names in race driving were present, but not with the idea of setting new speed records. They were helping in the filming of Walt Disney Productions’ latest comedy film The Love Bug, in which a VW named Herbie shows his exhaust pipe to a passel of Corvettes, Porsches, Alfas and Ferraris. Along the way Herbie scoots across a stream, rides in a mine shaft elevator, skids, careens and nearly flies.
Andy Granatelli, Max Balchowsky, Bob Bondurant and Joe Playan all took part in the film. Balchowsky is famed for his Old Yeller Buick of the 1950′s. In fact, Old Yeller No. 5 took part in the film. Second unit director Art Vitarelli mounted two Mitchell cameras on it (one front and one rear), and it raced along at 150 mph. Playan is a well known amateur driver, and Bondurant won the World Manufacturer’s Championship in 1965 in a Shelby Cobra. Vitarelli ex-plained that he preferred to use old timers in his racing sequences: “I didn’t want to use the young guy who’s ambitious — he’ll want to grandstand, and he’s going to have a wreck. I want the old experienced hands who’ve gone through the mill. They know how to do things safely — nothing phases ‘em.”
Granatelli didn’t drive in the film — he played the part of a race starter. Vitarelli laughed and said, “It was kind of an inside joke. You know, Andy’s cars were banned at Indianapolis because their intake was too large. We have a thing in the film where the VW won’t run at Indianapolis because the intake is too small.”
The man who did most of the driving and stunt work was veteran (since 1933) Carey Loftin. “When you’ve got a tough job, you start with Carey Loftin and work your way down,” was the way Vitarelli explained it.
Loftin has “doubled” for Robert Mitchum (Thunder Road), Fred Astaire (On the Beach), Lee Marvin (Point Black) and posed as the woman who wildly drove the motorcycle in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. For The Love Bug, he collected many of the same drivers who had worked on Grand Prix.
In 1963, Loftin was filming a scene in which he was to lose control on a turn, spin across the track and turn the car over just off the track. Another driver was to follow right behind him and drive through a dust cloud, past Loftin. During the filming Carey hit a soft shoulder and flipped over in the middle of the track.
The other car entered the turn and crashed into Carey — at 100 mph. The impact knocked Carey’s car upright and tore out the motor. The other driver was unhurt, but Carey received a punctured lung, broken jaw, cracked ribs and, for the third time, a dislocated left shoulder.
Loftin survived this stunt and hundreds of others because of meticulous “preparation.” He plans to turn over, to roll, to plow through a brick wall at 75 mph, and he spends hours considering every eventuality and programs every minute detail of the stunt. As Loftin says, “We test and retest all of the mechanical things, made sure every safety precaution is taken and every device operates properly. Then we walk over and over the route. We make sure that the stunt is exactly planned, and our complete attention is devoted to making it work.”
For The Love Bug, Loftin and Vitarelli held “previews” with the drivers to explain what was expected in each scene. In addition, Vitarelli constructed a folding blackboard and a complete set of miniature cars. At the “driver meeting” the two men showed each driver, via miniature car, exactly what he was to do.
Herbie, the VW, had a bus engine for some scenes; and for hot-running, Herbie had a Porsche engine that could do 90 mph in third and 115 in top. “Don’t forget — you don’t just start, you’ve also got to stop safely,” added Vitarelli, “so we also had Porsche brakes, Koney shocks, a stabilizer, and wide-base wheels with Indianapolis race tires.”
Vitarelli headed a 127-man crew for the racing sequences, which were shot at Riverside Grand Prix Raceway, Monterey Raceway, Willow Springs Raceway and Big and Little Tujunga Canyons outside Los Angeles.
While Vitarelli worked with cars, director Robert Stevenson worked with stars Dean Jones, Michele Lee, Buddy Hackett and David Tomlinson. The script for the screwball racing picture was written by producer Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi. Buena Vista releases.
From the original The Love Bug press materials.