Saturday, June 17, 2006

“You Can Take the Car Out of the Junkyard…”

Since it is Saturday and I don’t normally post anything on the weekend (unless it is really important), I figured I would post some old stories that never made it into any publication. This one is a special treat, because not only is it a fun story about a nice day spent in the limelight of a movie set, but it is also the very last editorial I wrote for VWTrends magazine, just a few days before they laid me off, shelved the magazine and stopped printing it way back in December 2004. So, this editorial was never printed, as it was scheduled to go into the April 2005 issue along with a bunch of other stuff I wasted my time putting together.

In addition, if you watch the latest Herbie movie, “Full Throttle,” you can see me for a split second (upper right hand corner of the above picture). On second thought, don’t bother watching it; here’s a screen grab of the scene, and here’s the editorial.

I’m not a Herbie fanatic. They’re out there, but I’m not one of them. When I was a kid, there was a movie-car-storage lot near my house that had a Herbie in it, and I would stop by to peer over the fence at its painted-on rust and flattened tires. It was obviously from “Herbie Goes Bananas,” and one day I was saddened to see that it was gone—I can only hope to a collection, but the odds weren’t good.

As far as the movies, I enjoy the original 1969 “The Love Bug” movie with Dean Jones, and the three sequels are entertaining, but that’s about as far as I go with it. There’s one thing I never liked about any of the movies: Dean Jones, Ken Berry, Don Knotts…everyone who “owned” Herbie at one point (with the exception of Buddy Hackett and maybe Helen Hayes) treated it like an ordinary car and never a friend, a member of the family or even a pet. If my Volkswagen started to communicate with me and was able to drive by itself, I would certainly reconsider my relationship with it. Miss an oil change or slam the door the wrong way and Herbie turns into Christine.

At any rate, I think we have Herbie to thank for a lot of enthusiasm in our hobby, so when Randy Carlson called me to see if I wanted to watch some of the filming of the latest Herbie movie, “Full Throttle,” I jumped at the chance to witness movie magic. Since Randy and were responsible for providing Disney with the 30-odd ’63-era Beetles they needed for the movie, he had a backstage pass to be on the set.

We drove out to Hansen Dam Park (north of L.A.) during the first week of production, and they had a section of the park set up to look like a typical show area with sponsors’ booths, show cars and tables of products. There were several Herbies parked around the set, from a junkyard Herbie (photo at right) to one that emotes facial expressions.

Randy and I wandered around a little, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, as the press (that’s me, folks) typically isn’t invited to movie locations. About 50 feet away Lindsey Lohen and Matt Dillon were under a tent surrounded by make-up artists, producers and cameras. In fact, around us were about 100 people, and we blended into the crowd, watching along with everyone else.

The makeup people scurried away, and the cameras, booms and lights swung into position. The director yells, “Quiet on the set…background…action!” Suddenly, everyone around us started milling around. Through the crowd, we saw that the cameras were facing us and we were on a live set of a major motion picture purely by accident. Randy looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Do we dare?” he asked. “Why not?” I responded, and we started to follow the crowd.

I don’t know what scene they were filming, but all I could hear was Dillon say, “You can take the car out of the junkyard but you can’t take the junkyard out of the car.” I know, what a corny cliché, but the part that was extra sickening was that Dillon kept screwing up the line. He just couldn’t get it right. They’d yell “cut” and we’d all have to start over again. We did that about 15 times, and at the end of the last take before lunch, I felt that I could have nailed the line like Laurence Olivier.

As the morning wore on and Dillon wore out that line, Randy and I became old pros at extra work. We had a route that took us within a few feet of Dillon, Lohen and the cameras, and we even worked out a routine with the Auto Meter guy who was passing out catalogs to “show goers.” When you’re watching the movie, watch for the infamous line and then look for Randy and me (I’m wearing a red shirt). I hope I’m not mouthing the line.

So, the shooting of the whole movie is finished, and there’s 30-some Herbies left over, some destined for the crusher, some disassembled and some still perfect. Since Randy helped provide the cars, he was given first crack at the leftovers, and what ended up at Randy’s shop was the large moving van stuffed with a wide variety of Herbie parts, from NASCAR-stickered fenders and hoods to wheels, doors and even a fake fiberglass 36-horse engine half.

Like I said, I’m not a Herbie fanatic, but I am a Herbie fan, and when I had the opportunity to buy a piece of movie memorabilia, I couldn’t pass it up. Owning a piece of an actual movie is extra special for me, not only because it is a Volkswagen, but because I witnessed the making of the movie first-hand. It’s not the Maltese Falcon or Darth Vader’s light saber, but it isn’t everyday we get a chance to own a piece of memorabilia that helps to share our hobby with the world. If you want your own piece, you’d better act now…as there are only so many parts left. See Randy today at

That was it. I only had room for about 700 words so I had to make it concise. Interesting read, and it was pretty cool to be on the set of a movie, but if you really want to know all about it, ask my brother, Jason. For a while there, he was making a living at being a professional extra, from “Seabiscuit” to “The Italian Job,” he was in a lot of movies.

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