The film stars Dean Jones as returning champion race car driver Jim Douglas, joined by his mechanic, Wheely Applegate (Don Knotts). They and Herbie are participating in the fictional Trans-France Race from Paris to Monte Carlo, Monaco in which they hope to stage a comeback.
As the film progresses, two thieves, Max (Bernard Fox) and Quincy (Roy Kinnear), steal the famous Etoile de Joie and cleverly hide it in Herbie's gas tank. It is also revealed that Inspector Bouchet (Jacques Marin), also known as "Double X / XX," is the mastermind behind the museum robbery, though the fact of his scheme is revealed near the end of the movie. It is the eager young detective Fontenoy (Xavier Saint-Macary), of whom the Inspector is the superior officer, who unravels the mystery of L'Etoile de Joie, and has Bouchet clapped in handcuffs.
In the Trans-France Race, Douglas had three major opponents: Bruno von Stickle (Eric Braeden): He is a dark-haired, moustached German driver with experience in the "European Racing Circuit." His car was a powerful Porsche 917 clone painted in the colors of the German national flag, and bearing the number 17. In fact, as referred in the movie, the kit car is a Lazer 917 GT coupé with numerous components including the engine and chassis from the Beetle. Von Stickle seemed to be a formidable contender prior to and during the race.
Claude Gilbert (Mike Kulcsar): He is a blond-haired French driver of unknown discipline, although it would seem likely that he was also a regular on the European Racing circuit. Gilbert, known for wearing a full-faced crash helmet, was the driver of an equally power-hungry De Tomaso Pantera. That car was black with white stripes and a number (#66) on the hood and the sides. His dominance in the race seemed similar to that of Bruno von Stickle—until he wrecked in the late stages (coincidentally, in almost exactly the same location of Grace Kelly's fatal car accident in 1982).
Diane Darcy (Julie Sommars): She is a very pretty, if somewhat icy, young woman with strawberry blonde hair and hazel eyes who initially hates Jim for his and Herbie's incompetence that ruined her chances during the qualifying race. Her car was an equally beautiful powder-blue 1976 Lancia Scorpion with yellow and white stripes, as well as a numeral 7. Her Lancia is a car with whom Herbie falls in love during the film. Jim seems to be similarly attracted to her as well. However, she does not appear to believe in cars with minds of their own; she thought this was merely an excuse for what she believed as an act of possible misogyny or sexism from Jim. Her feelings of hatred toward him were particularly evident in one scene wherein she tosses fine china at him, just to prove her value as a driver. While her nationality is unknown, it is probable that she is from either the United States or Canada. The only female driver in the race, she is ostensibly a rookie driver, although her level of racing experience is never discussed in the movie. Even so, she is truly a force to be reckoned with and is strictly a feminist. Relatively little was seen of her performance in the Trans-France Race itself.
Diane and the Lancia crash into a lake as a result of having "missed a shift and lost control"; Herbie, Jim, and Wheely save the woman and her car from drowning. She soon changes her attitude toward him after he saves her life and she witnesses Herbie towing her Lancia out of the lake. All three watch as Herbie crawls next to the Lancia and the two cars hold doors like holding hands. When Herbie seems to have trouble restarting, Diane urges the little car not to relent in their quest for victory in the Trans-France Race (with the added agreement of the Lancia's horn), and bids Jim good luck with a light kiss on one cheek.
Jim pursues Von Stickle through the streets of Monte Carlo, combatants in a thrilling duel for the win. In the end, though, Bruno von Stickle is overtaken by the little car in the famous tunnel of the Formula One race track, Herbie outracing him by driving upside down on the tunnel roof. Jim drives Herbie to victory for (also according to dialogue) the 20th time in their careers.
At the end of the film, Jim and Diane begin to fall in love, as do Wheely and the Monte Carlo trophy girl (Katia Tchenko). Most of all, Herbie and Giselle (Diane's Lancia, only referred to by name now as she comes to believe in cars with minds of their own) fall in love again as well.
- Dean Jones as Jim Douglas
- Don Knotts as Wheely Applegate
- Julie Sommars as Diane Darcy
- Eric Braeden as Bruno von Stickle
- Mike Kulcsar as Claude Gilbert
- Bernard Fox as Max
- Roy Kinnear as Quincy
- Jacques Marin as Inspector Bouchet
- Xaviner Saint-Macarcy as Fontenoy
- Alan Caillou as Emile
- Laurie Main as Duval
- Several different year Volkswagen Beetles were used for Herbie in the film. 1959, 1962, 1963, and 1977 (modified to resemble the 1963 model) models were utilized.
- The following acknowledgement appears in the opening credits: "Our thanks to the City of Paris and the Principality of Monaco for their co-operation in the making of this film."
- This Trans-France Race was clearly modeled on the world-renowned Monte Carlo Rally, and was apparently run in either 1976 or 1977, although no exact date is expressly stated in the film. Herbie was one of the 18 cars that started the race. While the precise number of competing cars in the race is open to debate, it is possible that twice as many race cars appeared in the movie.
- Jim explains that it has been twelve years since he and Herbie's last race, in actuality, its only been nine since Herbie's last race in the original film, which was in 1968.
- Herbie later echoes his move on Von Stickle in the Monte Carlo tunnel in Herbie: Fully Loaded, where he wins by driving on the catch fencing at the California Speedway.
- The film was adapted into a paperback book, written by Vic Crume (based on the story and screenplay) and published by Scholastic. Oddly, his license plate on the front cover reads UKD 484 instead of the usual OFP 857. It also featured three characters unseen in the film: sportscaster Jackie Sanford, Race Commissioner and computer map designer Sir Reginald Harkness, and his assistant, Brewster. The name of a fourth character, driver Michael Hastings, was also mentioned.
- The qualifying scenes were shot at Laguna Seca Raceway (which was also the scene of a major race in the first film). It is worth noting that Laguna Seca is in California, several thousand miles away from France.
- L'Etoile de Joie (the name of the diamond) is French for "The Star of Joy."
- The Porsche 917 in the movie (#17, driven by Bruno von Stickle) is not a real 917. It is based on a Volkswagen Beetle kit car called the Laser 917.
- At the end of the first film, Jim and Carol Bennett were married; however, in this one, he is apparently single once again, given his romantic interest in Diane, although this is not addressed in the film.
- The Lancia Scorpion, "Giselle" had headlight covers, but all Lancia Scorpions do not have headlight covers, so those were just added for the film. They were meant to simulate eyelids or eyelashes.
- Amendment - the Lancia Scorpion is the US-market version of the Italian-built Lancia Montecarlo and all Scorpions had 'headlight covers' (actually pop-up headlights) to meet US ride-height regulations. European cars (i.e. Montecarlos) did not have this style of headlight, but the covers were not added just for the film, they were a standard fitment on all Scorpions.
- This is the first film to have Herbie fall in love, something he also does in Herbie: Fully Loaded.
- According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the $29 million box office gross of the film came from its original 1977 release, combined with an additional $1 million from a limited re-issue in 1981.
- The final segment of the race shows the cars drive the final 2/3 of the Monaco street circuit, a real-life racetrack famous for holding one of the most prestigious Formula 1 events, the Monaco Grand Prix. The track does actually go through a tunnel along the harbor front, although this tunnel does not appear in the film, as the grand prix tunnel lost its circular shape with after it was extended in 1973. Also, the finish line appears in front of the harbor, where it was located from 1955-1969, instead of the Avenue du Port, where it would have been in 1977.
- The black car (#66) that leads most of the race before spinning out in the closing segments is a DeTomaso Pantera.
The film was released on VHS in 1982, re-released in 1985, 1995 and on September 16, 1997. It was also released on DVD in Region 1 on May 4, 2004, and was re-released as a 2-DVD double feature set along with Herbie Rides Again on April 26, 2009. Another release was done in September 2012, with all 4 of the classic Herbie films.
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