Photo by Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh
Whether parked in Prassel Garage or zooming around campus, you have probably seen him. Herbie has become the fascination of the Trinity community — but who sits behind the wheel of the striped Beetle with the 53 logo?
Chris Knecht, sophomore communication major, owns the eye-catching 2016 Volkswagen Beetle customized to look like Herbie. The first Herbie movie that Knecht watched was 1969’s “The Love Bug,” the first of six movies in the franchise. Knecht was just three years old. His dad thought he would enjoy the film, and he didn’t know how right he would be.
“I was like, ‘Cars don’t do that. They don’t do wheelies, they don’t drive by themselves. Well, what’s going on here?’ So I thought it was just Volkswagens — that all of them were alive — when I was six or seven,” Knecht said.
The movie Herbie not only influenced Knecht’s life, but it also inspired his interest in Volkswagen cars in general. Knecht’s knowledge of the Beetle is extensive and includes its history, aesthetics, marketing and mechanics.
“It’s the shape of [the Beetle] that’s very homely, and people are attracted to the shape like they are attracted to a puppy or a baby. They just want to take care of it,” Knecht said.
The mechanics and technical aspects of Volkswagen cars also intrigue Knecht. With an acute case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Knecht was always working with his hands either drawing or sculpting as a child. In the past few years, Knecht has channeled this energy into working on Beetles and their mechanics.
“It was Herbie and Volkswagen that really got me into wanting to tinker, and that put me through every single engineering course that my high school had to offer,” Knecht said.
Knecht was 17 when he had saved enough money to buy his own bug. Additionally, Knecht now owns a 1969 baby blue beetle named Todd, and he just put a down payment on a 1966 beetle currently in Arizona that remains unnamed. Knecht likes the versatility of the bug, as the parts of the Volkswagen cars are typically the same, but they have little variations in things like their bumpers or taillights.
“I wouldn’t say that I branch very far out. I just like my bugs,” Knecht said.
Knecht is from San Antonio, but this summer he spent a month working in Sarasota, Florida, at Sunshine Air Cooled, a Volkswagen restoration shop. Knecht towed his classic 1969 Beetle Todd down to Florida, rented an apartment nearby and spent the majority of time working on Todd with his employer. Todd has a rare Automatic Stickshift that was only made for six years from 1968–1974, and Knecht was able to work through some of the problems he was having with his car.
“It was a very complicated system that had many issues after regular use, hence why it was discontinued,” Knecht said. “I was mostly working on the problems with the Autostick system, replacing the contact, vacuum servo and control valve. I also replaced the CV axles and exhaust system.”
Knecht was in Orlando during spring break of 2019 where he attended Herbie’s 50th anniversary celebration. There, he was able to interact with around 10 other Herbie and Volkswagen enthusiasts. The community that Knecht finds at these conventions is unique.
“It’s just a big community and we all love the car, and we all love each other. It’s just something that I don’t see as replaceable in any other community. It’s something special,” Knecht said.
Knecht has found that his Herbie is a source of joy and happiness to other people as they go about their days. Knecht’s intention in customizing his beetle was not to get attention from his car, but it is a way for him to say thank you to Herbie and express the gratitude he has for its positive influence on his life.
“It’s just me being extremely grateful. It’s an homage to Disney’s character and seeing other people’s smiles because they know exactly what the character represents and to see that other people feel the same way about it that I do. You can’t replicate it. It’s really amazing,” Knecht said.