“Herbie Vader” Shines at Massillon, Ohio, Driving School

What happens when you combine the Love Bug and Darth Vader — at a driving school? You get a custom teaching tool whimsically named Herbie Vader.

Herbie Vader is a creation of the AAA Massillon Driving School and while it may not seem like much, this one-third of a car is having a big impact on beginning drivers in Ohio.

A few years, ago, Claudette Istnick, office coordinator for AAA Massillon Driving School, saw a front half of a car being used as a driver education tool at a local high school. She began thinking of ways she could incorporate something similar in the Massillon driver program.

Istnick came upon the perfect car for the job in a nearby junkyard. The junkyard owner offered to cut the car for her, leaving just the portion from before the windshield to behind the front seats. AAA employees transported the car to the driving school and built a platform to hold it.

Several months later, a driving school student’s father mentioned he worked in auto restoration. Istnick mentioned the partial car, and after looking at it, the father and his son offered to rewire the vehicle. Thanks to their assistance, the vehicle once again had functional turn signals, lights, windshield wipers, radio and horn, and adjustable seats, mirrors and windows.

The car became known as Herbie Vader — Herbie after the car in the movie “The Love Bug,” and Vader because with the black vinyl front cover, parts of the car looks like Darth Vader’s helmet from the movie “Star Wars.”

The driving students use the vehicle in the classroom to practice adjusting the lights and seat position in a safe, stationary setting. For novice drivers, especially those who have never sat in the driver’s seat, these adjustments can be daunting tasks that make the actual driving experience even more complicated.

Instructors also focus on the importance of correctly positioned side- and rear-view mirrors, teaching students how to minimize blind spots and maximize their field of vision.

“You can tell students how to do something, but they learn so much more from hands-on teaching tools like this car,” Istnick said.