Notorious real estate magnate and demolition baron Alonzo Hawk (Keenan Wynn) is ready to build his newest indoor shopping center, the 130-story Hawk Plaza in San Francisco. His only obstacle is the 1892 firehouse inhabited by "Grandma" Steinmetz (Helen Hayes), widow of its former owner, Fire Captain Steinmetz, and aunt of mechanic Tennessee Steinmetz; her displaced neighbor, flight attendant Nicole Harris (Stefanie Powers); and their sentient machines: a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle known as Herbie, "the Love Bug;" an early 20th-century orchestrion that plays on its own; and a retired cable car from the defunct Clay Street Line, known as "Old No. 22." Mrs. Steinmetz explains that Tennessee has gone to Tibet to visit his ailing philosophy teacher, while Herbie's former owner, Jim Douglas, has gone to Europe.
Hawk has made numerous attempts at evicting Mrs. Steinmetz, intending to imprison her in a retirement home of his own making; but Hawk's lawyers have been unsuccessful in these attempts, and when his lawyer nephew Willoughby Whitfield (Ken Berry) comes to visit him, Hawk sends him to Mrs. Steinmetz in their stead. Having met the firehouse's inhabitants, Willoughby becomes disillusioned and decides to return home to Missouri. Nicole also punches Willoughby in the face upon learning he works for Hawk. She offers him a ride in Herbie, and Herbie goes berserk after Willboughy insults him twice, eventually taking the two to a car version of a joust tournament, which Herbie wins, earning Willboughy a whooping $3.00. The two then go to lunch, but Nicole hits Willboughy with a broiled lobster when he spits out that Hawk is his uncle - after going through an uninterrupted monologue on all the horrible things Hawk has done, including building a parking garage on the very same lot where Joe DiMaggio and his brothers learned to play baseball.
Having lost him, Hawk attempts to capture Herbie; but when Hawk insults him, Herbie causes a series of traffic collisions and discards Hawk at his own office door, where Hawk orders his subordinates to capture Herbie again, followed by a policeman giving Hawk several tickets for traffic offenses. While Herbie takes Mrs. Steinmetz to market, they are chased by Hawk's men; whereupon Herbie makes several daring escapes culminating in travel through the 1909 landmark Sheraton Palace Hotel and along a suspension cable on the Golden Gate Bridge, leaving Mrs. Steinmetz unfazed of his activity throughout.
Willoughby having decided to go home in disguise, he is convinced by Nicole to stay after she hears him criticize his uncle while talking to his mother on the telephone. On their return to the firehouse, they find that every item of furniture has been removed by Hawk; whereupon Mrs. Steinmetz, Willoughby, Nicole, and Herbie track the theft to a warehouse. The four break in and recover Steinmetz's belongings, piling them all into "No. 22" with Mrs. Steinmetz riding along, while Nicole and Willoughby follow in Herbie. An inebriated old-timer named Judson (John McIntire) joins Mrs Steinmetz aboard "No. 22," thinking himself on a public cable car. Hawk pursues; but Herbie distracts him and later rescues Mrs. Steinmetz and Judson from a potential crash after "No. 22" rolls down a hill. During this time, Mrs. Steinmetz becomes enamored with Judson.
Hawk thereafter recruits an independent demolition agent named Loostgarten (Chuck McCann); while Mrs Steinmetz decides to confront Hawk herself. Accompanied by Willoughby, she drives Herbie onto the window-cleaning machine of Hawk’s skyscraper to reach his 28th-floor office, where Mrs. Steinmetz overhears a telephoned conversation with Loostgarten about the deal to demolish the firehouse and activates the window cleaning machine to fill the office with foam and water. This done, Herbie pursues Hawk around the building's perimeter - even following him outside onto a ledge - until Mrs Steinmetz orders him to desist.
Disguising his voice to resemble his uncle's, Willoughby directs Loostgarten to demolish Hawk's own house. Loostgarten then telephones Hawk to confirm the demolition, waking Hawk from several nightmares showing himself at the mercy of Herbie; whereupon Hawk gives confirmation, but realizes too that he has ordered demolition of his own residence and attacks Loostgarten after a portion of his house is collapsed from a wrecking ball.
In the morning, Hawk calls a truce with Mrs. Steinmetz, and thinking him to be sincere, Willoughby and Nicole go for dinner, while Mrs. Steinmetz invites Judson to a similar meeting; but Hawk violates the truce by sending earthmovers to crush the firehouse and its inhabitants, prompting Herbie to go in search of Nicole and Willoughby. In the absence of Herbie, the only means of defense is an antique Fire hose, which Judson uses against the earthmovers.
Having obtained Nicole and Willoughby, Herbie rounds up several other Volkswagen Beetles from various places in the city, and comes after Hawk and his men as an army and ruin his scheme. Hawk is pursued from the grounds by Herbie, and arrested by the police. Later, Nicole and Willoughby are married, and ride Herbie through an arch formed by his new Volkswagen Beetle friends.Helen Hayes as Mrs. Steinmetz
Ken Berry as Willoughby Whitfield
Stefanie Powers as Nicole Harris Whitfield
John McIntire as Mr. Judson
Keenan Wynn as Alonzo A. Hawk
Huntz Hall as Judge
Ivor Barry as Maxwell - Chauffeur
Vito Scotti as Taxi Driver
Liam Dunn as Doctor
Elaine Devry as Millicent - Secretary
Chuck McCann as Fred Loostgarten
Richard X. Slattery as Traffic Commissioner
Don Pedro Colley as Barnsdorf
Larry J. Blake as Police Officer
Iggie Wolfington as Lawyer - Second Team
Jack Manning as Lawyer - First Team
Hal Baylor as Demolition Truck Driver
Herb Vigran as Window Washer
Edward Ashley as Announcer at Chicken Race
Beverly Carter as Chicken Run Queen
Norm Grabowski as Security Guard #2
Irwin Charone as Lawyer - Second Team
Gail Bonney as Rich Woman in Mansion
Burt Mustin as Rich Man in Mansion
John Myhers as Announcer at San Francisco's Office of the President
John Stephenson as Lawyer - Second Team
Robert Carson as Lawyer - First Team
Arthur Space as Beach Caretaker
John Hubbard as Angry Chauffeur
Fritz Feld as Maitre d'
Alvy Moore as Angry Taxi Driver
Karl Lukas as Angry Construction Worker
Paul Micale as Fisherman's Wharf Waiter
John Zaremba as Lawyer - First Team
Alan Carney as Judge with Cigar at Chicken Run
Ken Sansom as Lawyer - First Team
Maurice Marsac as French Waiter
Herbie Rides Again opened on June 6, 1974 in 2,178 theaters and 1,761 drive-in theaters. The film grossed $38,229,000 at the domestic box office, while accumulating $17,500,000 in theatrical rentals, adding a total of $55,729,000.
Herbie Rides Again was released on VHS on October 15, 1981, re-released on November 6, 1985, January 5, 1992, October 28, 1994 and September 16, 1997. It was first released on DVD in Region 1 on May 4, 2004 and was re-released as a 2-DVD double feature set along with Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo on April 26, 2009. On September 2, 2012, Herbie Rides Again was re-released on DVD as part of Herbie: 4-Movie Collection along with The Love Bug, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo and Herbie Goes Bananas. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc on December 16, 2014 as a Disney Movie Club exclusive title.
Herbie Rides Again has received mostly positive reviews, scoring an 80% at Rotten Tomatoes.com.