CC Outtake: There’s A New (Old) Thing In Town

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CCs come and go in my general part of town. There’s lots of younger folks here, and many are renters, so permanence is not a given. Which makes it possible to keep walking the same streets over and over, year in and year out, and still keep finding new cars to shoot. Like this VW Thing (Type 181) that suddenly popped up here, looking a bit forlorn. But than that rather does go with the character of this car. 

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There’s gobs of air-cooled Beetles and buses around here, but this is the only Thing I’m aware of as being currently on the streets. I shot and wrote one up some time back, and ran it here last year, but that was by the campus and it soon left again, like so many student-owned cars. This looks a bit more like a scruffy local.

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No problem in getting a clear shot of the interior, since the window curtains are gone. So is much of the seat padding and upholstery. Must be fun to sit on. Love that exposed wiper motor, which is attached to the windshield so that it can all fold down.

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Was this the only four-door convertible sold in the US since the demise of the Lincoln Continental? Well, I guess the current Jeep four door counts too, sort of.

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These were powered by the classic VW 1600 cc engine. But there were two versions, in terms of their rear suspensions. The early one (pre 1973) used the old T1 Transporter set up, with swing axles that had the reduction gears on their ends. After 1973, the T2’s double-jointed rear suspension was used, which I was pretty sure was under this one, given the lack of positive camber on the rear wheels. Well, that and the late-type tail lights borrowed from the Beetle.

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Leave nothing to chance; a quick look underneath confirmed that.

I was pretty amazed when VW started building the 181 in 1968. As a kid, I had seen a number of WW2 surplus Kübelwagen in Innsbruck in the 50s; even a Schwimmwagen once. But here it was 25 year later, and VW comes out with what seemed like a very modestly updated version again. It was primarily sold for civilian use, but the collapse of the “Europe Jeep” project put some 50k 181s in the hands of the German Army, until the front engine Type 183 Iltis came along.

But the 181 sold quite well in the US and Mexico, and VW probably could have kept it going longer but the Thing couldn’t meet safety regs in 1975 that required the windshield to be further away from the front seat occupants. If VW could have had it certified it as a truck instead of a passenger car, that might have gotten them around that rule.

But its days were probably numbered anyway, although the Jeep of the mid 70s wasn’t exactly much more civilized either.

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And now it makes a nice contrast to the Prius. Welcome to the neighborhood!