Out of all the vehicles in the storage yard this Thing might just be the most valuable. Also known as the Kurierwagen, Safari, or Trekker depending on the market the Type 181 had one of the more odd automotive names for the US and Canadian markets; Thing. Fitting perhaps for one of the more odd vehicles sold with styling that could be mistaken for a brightly colored dumpster.
We have already had a full write up on the Thing so I’ll stick to just the basics. The Thing was almost a pure parts bin special using a Karmann Ghia floor pan (it is a little wider than a standard Beetle). Used initially as a light military vehicle the civilian sales started with Europe and Mexico in 1971. American sales had to wait another year until 1972. The interior on this one was by no means perfect but it was in pretty decent shape considering these have a reputation for rusting and this Thing sat outside and topless for at least five to six years.
The engine is, of course, a flat four cylinder borrowed from the Beetle and Karmann Ghia. For the US market they were all 46hp 1.6L units giving the Thing 0-60mph times of around 23 seconds. Top speed was listed as 73mph. Brakes were drums at all four corners.
The Thing didn’t last long on the US and Canadian markets where it was initially categorized as a truck. With seating for four and only two wheel drive available it would have been re-categorized as a passenger vehicle for 1975. Since it had no hope of meeting the more stringent passenger vehicle requirements and being a rather niche vehicle it was withdrawn from the US market. Only about 25,000 out of a world wide production of 140,000 were sold in the US. Oddball styling, suspect practicality and a relatively high base price of $2750 (well north of a basic Beetle) are likely to blame. I suspect this particular Thing would be an easy restoration with its very minimalist interior and flat body panels. Heck with a little floor work the body is probably useable as is.
Its a motorized trash dumpster is all I have. I think that’s about all I could ever muster up for this Thing.
It is easily one of the last 5 cars I would want to live with.
you are not the first person to call the 181 a motorized trash container, I think so 80s celeb owner did that.
“A Thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
I’ve always had a fascination for these, er, Things, but yeah, VW had a lot of crust trying to sell these for more money than a Beetle with an actual steel roof overhead.
Also, 46 hp! Times have certainly changed there. Are there any on-road licensable four-wheeled vehicles sold in the US with less than, say, 90 HP these days?
Beyond Smart cars? My Mazda 2 is close with only has 100hp. I’ve actually got two less powerful vehicles but they are classics: 1970 Mercedes 220D with 59hp and a 1965 Envoy Epic with 44hp.
Where was that you find those storage Car, I am interesting to rebuild the Renault 4. I live in Sarnia Canada, thanks
Chevrolet Spark = 80 something and 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage 74HP.
Recalling how many Beetles were hideously hacked up by their American owners (amputating the rear to expose the engine was a popular improvisation), I don’t blame VW/Karmann for trying the same thing, & with slightly more coherent results. Besides, they’d already done it before with the Kübelwagen. I suppose a verbatim revival would’ve been impolitic.
Akin to the inevitable Small Block Chevy Upgrade Question, did anyone try the Porsche Flat-6 here? Now THAT would be the ultimate sleeper!
It’s an appropriate color: You could name it Ben Grimm.
Knew a sailor with one of these in the Canal Zone. I sure didn’t know him as well as he knew the vw mechanic. In fact, his wife didn’t know him as well as he knew the vw mechanic. It surprises me that it was a 1600 engine because his was always broken and that isn’t normal for a 1600 vw. Or at least it wasn’t back then.
1600 crankcases crack behind the flywheel, factory casting fault that takes a while to show up but they all do it except for Brazillian engine cases for somev strange reason theirs were good
Trekker? explain. The Trekka was a NewZealand built vehicle made from local ingenuity and Skoda mechanicals, did these cheeky people steal that badge, good grief you just cant leave anything lying about
Volkswagen Trekker (UK)
See – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_181
Cool link and by the look of the manufacturing dates it was Butland industries who Stole and respelt the name to suit their horrible machine.
The Thing is commanding absurd money these days, although quite a bit down from its 2008 peak. This car could be restored for purely economic reasons. Get this one up to a Condition 3 very nice driver condition, and it would be worth $15K. Condition 1 Things are $27K, but it would cost too much to make a perfect one.
All of these were orange or yellow no?
The bulk of them may have been, but there were other colors too. I knew somebody with a blue one, which had not been repainted to my knowledge.
Also, these Frauleinen seem pretty happy with their white one.
I’ve seen dark green and blue/white ones with hardtops. Also in Germany military and border police ones were matte NATO Green and featured gasoline heaters and 24V electrical systems for military radios. I’ve seen Ebay postings in the US for grey import ex Bundesgrenschutz 181s so they do exist in the US.
Mine was originally Army green, a color VW called Avocado at the time. I think white was the most common color, but yellow and orange were up there. Red was also offered, but that color seems as rare as green. Im speaking of the US market only, 1973-1974 model years.
Without doubt, David, that is one interesting storage/junkyard. The Thing really stands out in that bleak landscape, the only cheerful bright color to be had. And by the looks of things(!), that Thing should be rescued by someone who loves these vehicles. A shame to see it resting there like that, in those conditions.
I have no doubt it was rescued and will be put back on the road.
A VW that I would like to have. Certainly not for a daily driver but it would be fun to put about with the top down. In the pre CC effect I saw one in traffic in the same color earlier this week.
Ah, I always had a thing for the… Thing.
The thing is one of my absolute favorite cars to spot in traffic as it never fails to put a smile on my face. It’s just such an honest vehicle, it makes no false promises, it doesn’t hide it’s shortcomings, it just cynically takes away all of the smoke and mirrors car design has accumulated, weather it be efficiency, sportiness, luxury, utility, cuteness, or whatever, leaving only the basic premise: A stamped metal box with 4 wheels, seats and an engine. It’s appeal is purely what you make of it. I love cars like this! I couldn’t consider myself a car enthusiast if I didn’t love cars like this!
Me, being an aircooled VW enthusiast, I do think these are neat. However, I hate having to climb up and then down into one and getting out is worse! I’m in my 20s, don’t weigh much and it’s still a bit off a challenge.
It’s about as basic as you can get. The reason their sales in the US were cut short was because of Ralph Nader getting the classification changed to passenger car and it couldn’t meet that with a fold down windshield.
No matter how many Jeeps were running around with fold down windshields…….
Just a bit of trivia, VW wanted to call these the Safari in the US but couldn’t because Pontiac already had use of that name for their station wagons.
I’m sorry but it would have always been classified as a “passenger” vehicle because it came with seating for more than 3 people though technically that would have made it a MPV or Multi Purpose Vehicle. The killer was the emissions regulations and the fact that VW didn’t want to try and fit a catalytic converter and they didn’t think to raise the GVW to get around it. That is what international did with the Scout and their 1/2 ton trucks in 1975 to avoid the cat for a couple more years. However the 3/4 ton crew cabs and Travelalls needed to meet the evap emissions regs going back to 1971 due to their seating count while a 3/4 ton regular cab pickup didn’t until 1975.
VW imported plenty of air cooled passenger vehicles with cat converters, beetle convertibles and Vanagons.
The issue was with safety equipment and the chicken tax, not emissions. Pre-NAFTA, a truck imported from Mexico would face a 25% import duty. As a passenger car there was no way to meet bumper and other standards.
So which is it? In one breath you are saying it was killed because it was “made” into a passenger car and in the other you say it would face the chicken tax because it was a truck.
Bumper standards did not change in 1975 they did for front bumpers in 1973 and rears in 1974. So that would not have made a difference. What did change in 1975 was that vehicles under 6000lbs GVW had to meet the stricter emissions standards introduced that year while previously you just had to be classified as a truck or MPV to get into one of the easier emissions classifications.
Here is a VIN tag from a 1974 clearly showing that its classification is a MPV.
I’m saying that VW was put in a regulatory “rock and hard place” situation, where neither passenger car nor truck would work, once the MPV regulation changed significantly enough that the Thing wouldnt fit the legal definition.
The convertible beetle with the 1600cc H-4 was imported through ’79, so it wasnt emissions. I own a ’74 Thing and it came equipped with exactly the same emissions equipment as a beetle that year.
There was no change to the MPV specification in 1975. Just like before they had to meet the same basic safety standards as trucks and the emissions standards as cars. However the emissions standards did change and expanded to include MPVs and trucks under 6000 GVW. That is exactly why the F150 was invented along with Chevy’s Heavy Half and the Scout XLC, to increase the GVW to the point they didn’t have to meet the more stringent emissions regulations, in particular the catalytic converter. Yes VW was put in a position of being between a rock and a regulator but the only regulator they were facing was the EPA. With the slow sales it obviously wasn’t worth their trouble to meet or circumvent those emissions regulations. As mentioned above IH continued to sell the Scout II which was always classified as a MPV and the only changes for regulatory purposes for the 1975 MY was “stiffer” springs and a change of the rated GVW to be able to continue to fall under the older less stringent emissions standards. While the CJ that was also classified as a MPV bit the bullet and added the cat and otherwise stayed the same.
So you are telling me that it cost too much to put in the same changes VW made to the Beetle in 1975? It passed EPA standards until 1980, which was why the Beetle convertible (still selling well in the late 70’s) was discontinued.
It was NOT classified as a regular passenger car in 1973-74, it was classified as at Multi Purpose Vehicle. Ralph Nader lobbied to get that changed to a regular passenger car and it was 1975 passenger car standards that it couldn’t meet. To be specific, the problem with the Thing was 1975 DOT standards of how far the windshield glass could be from the driver. It had nothing to do with EPA standards. The same Bosch AFC fuel injection, o2 sensors, EGR valves and other emission controls fitted to the Beetle in 1975 could just have easily been fitted to the Thing. Aside from the exhaust, it was the same engine.
Yes, I’m sure the fact that VW’s aircooled days in the US were a factor in not attempting to update the car to pass the standards.
The Type 2 was aircooled through the 1983 models, however it being classified as a truck meant that it was subject to more lax standards both safety and emissions.
I have no special inside knowledge that probably half of you haven’t already heard. However, I think Adam is correct. One of the salesmen at the vw store told me, after the fact, that the face too close to the windshield was the straw that broke the camels back.
The aircooled engine was at a disadvantage when congress got through with it and if they were going to alter the body that much they might just as well go the whole route. I do not know that much about rabbits as I was overseas then but they chose that after some abortive 411 stuff. Just passing along what I heard. I have no dog in this fight.
Then again, I’m probably full of something. Just my $.02.
its cousins stormed the beaches of France and Belgium while this car hung out at the beaches of San Fran, Manhattan Beach, Long Island and Woodstock. Still looks nice in orange
France & Belgium were invaded over land; the Willys/Ford MB Jeep was what hit the beaches of France. One thing the Germans never mastered was mass amphibious invasion (to the great relief of the British). The Allies, OTOH, had the Higgins Boat, the Amtrac, the LST, Sherman DDs, etc., & battleships to back them up. Each of these has a fascinating history.
Because so few were sold here, and certain areas of the body that tend to rust out, collector prices are relatively high. Try pricing a 21-window (pre-’68) VW bus!
Those that try and compare horsepower, brakes, comfort, etc. with modern cars will never get antique car collecting.
Of all the older automobiles in the state of Georgia that the DMV could have chosen to issue a “Hobby Antique” plate reading HA8 JWS, the Georgia DMV infamously picked one of these. Yup, they gave a car that looks like a Nazi military vehicle a plate that reads like an anti-Semitic message. Needless to say, the plate gave one Thing’s owner a certain amount of grief until DMV agreed to replace it: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1932942/posts
I always figured Matt Groening assigned a VW Thing as the vehicle-of-choice for Patty and Selma Bouvier because it was a car as lovely and graceful as the characters themselves.
I’m more interested in the Renault 4 parked next to the VW. How did it get there? I don’t think the R4 was ever imported to North America.
We’ve done the Renault 4 – see here – https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-european/storage-yard-classic-renault-4/
They were sold in Canada.
Drove a ’74 Thing in high school – an ideal vehicle for the beaches of Florida. Oversize tires, light weight, and rear-engine VW traction kept it from getting stuck in the sand. Top down, windshield down, doors off… it was great. Low power made it difficult to get in trouble speed-wise, which was just as well – it appeared to have the structural integrity of an empty Budweiser can, even before it started to rust.