1973 Volkswagen Thing 2017-09-01T13:39:29+00:00

Project Description

OVERVIEW

The Volkswagen Thing, or Type 181 as its known elsewhere in the world, was Germany’s answer to the Jeep. As a car developed in the 1960’s, its somewhat militant looks gave way to a fun-loving, adventurous demeanor. The great thing about… The Thing… Is that it actually is as rugged and capable as it looks. That’s because the Thing can trace its roots back to the VW Kubelwagen that had been used by the Germans during WWII.

Inside, the Thing is pretty basic, as you’d expect from a vehicle designed to be the European equivalent of a Jeep. Other than a few chairs to sit on, a round thing to turn, and a stick to yank on, there’s very little going on inside the Thing. Believe it or not, that’s part of the charm! It’s just you, the Thing, and the road ahead.

While 70 horsepower might not sound like much, the little 1.8L flat-4 only has 2,000 lbs to propel. It’s certainly adequate for moving the little tub around.

OVERVIEW

The Volkswagen Thing, or Type 181 as its known elsewhere in the world, was Germany’s answer to the Jeep. As a car developed in the 1960’s, its somewhat militant looks gave way to a fun-loving, adventurous demeanor. The great thing about… The Thing… Is that it actually is as rugged and capable as it looks. That’s because the Thing can trace its roots back to the VW Kubelwagen that had been used by the Germans during WWII.

Inside, the Thing is pretty basic, as you’d expect from a vehicle designed to be the European equivalent of a Jeep. Other than a few chairs to sit on, a round thing to turn, and a stick to yank on, there’s very little going on inside the Thing. Believe it or not, that’s part of the charm! It’s just you, the Thing, and the road ahead.

While 70 horsepower might not sound like much, the little 1.8L flat-4 only has 2,000 lbs to propel. It’s certainly adequate for moving the little tub around.

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A LOOK IN THE REAR VIEW

New here for 1973, the Thing was pitched at the same market as the Jeep CJ and Toyota Land Cruiser. It came in three scratch-resistant semi-gloss finish colors: Sunshine Yellow, Pumpkin Orange, and the Blizzard White of our 1973 feature car. Interior heat was provided by an Eberspächer gas-fired heater, mounted under the front hood, which worked independently of the engine. The cost was $2,750, not cheap when a basic 1973 Sedan cost $2,299 and a Karmann Ghia convertible cost $3,450. Owners could personalize their Things with options like a “Baja look” stripe kit, a surrey top, a roll cage and interior dress-ups including a shift console and leather- or wood-rim steering wheel.

A combination of polarizing looks, bare-bones equipment and a high price made this “Multipurpose Passenger Vehicle,” as Volkswagen officially labeled it, a tough sell; indeed, VW of America sold fewer than 26,000 Things in its three-year run here.

The standard Thing engine was of modern-for-VW specifications, a dual-port 1,584-cc flat-four whose pistons ran in an 85.5-mm bore and 69-mm stroke. Not as modern was the fact that Things still used generators after other Type 1s went to alternators. A single one-barrel Solex 34 PICT-3 carburetor contributed to the stock 46-hp/71-lb.ft. of torque ratings. Those power figures, combined with the car’s bluff profile, meant that Thing drivers could never be in much of a hurry. But like a true Volkswagen, the car’s 68 MPH top speed is also the speed that it’s comfortable cruising at, almost indefinitely.

A LOOK IN THE REAR VIEW

New here for 1973, the Thing was pitched at the same market as the Jeep CJ and Toyota Land Cruiser. It came in three scratch-resistant semi-gloss finish colors: Sunshine Yellow, Pumpkin Orange, and the Blizzard White of our 1973 feature car. Interior heat was provided by an Eberspächer gas-fired heater, mounted under the front hood, which worked independently of the engine. The cost was $2,750, not cheap when a basic 1973 Sedan cost $2,299 and a Karmann Ghia convertible cost $3,450. Owners could personalize their Things with options like a “Baja look” stripe kit, a surrey top, a roll cage and interior dress-ups including a shift console and leather- or wood-rim steering wheel.

A combination of polarizing looks, bare-bones equipment and a high price made this “Multipurpose Passenger Vehicle,” as Volkswagen officially labeled it, a tough sell; indeed, VW of America sold fewer than 26,000 Things in its three-year run here.

The standard Thing engine was of modern-for-VW specifications, a dual-port 1,584-cc flat-four whose pistons ran in an 85.5-mm bore and 69-mm stroke. Not as modern was the fact that Things still used generators after other Type 1s went to alternators. A single one-barrel Solex 34 PICT-3 carburetor contributed to the stock 46-hp/71-lb.ft. of torque ratings. Those power figures, combined with the car’s bluff profile, meant that Thing drivers could never be in much of a hurry. But like a true Volkswagen, the car’s 68 MPH top speed is also the speed that it’s comfortable cruising at, almost indefinitely.

WORD ON THE STREET

“It wasn’t conveniences or ability that sucked people in, though–it was how screwy the Thing was. The windshield folded and the detachable doors were swappable front to rear. Warmth was provided by an optional gasoline-fueled heater hooked directly to the fuel tank. Most important, however, was that the Thing looked so very, very weird. It wasn’t the vehicle a housewife or a two-term Republican or anybody normal would buy.

Naturally, America’s youth loved the Thing–the only problem was that few of them could afford it. In 1973, the Thing cost $3150, almost as much as many sports cars and nearly $1000 more than the ’73 Beetle. Prices dropped slightly for 1974, but the Thing remained expensive for such simple transportation. To downplay this fact, Volkswagen advertising talked up the Thing’s modest off-road ability and pitted it against more expensive trucks such as the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser. But the two-wheel-drive Thing, with its four-wheel independent suspension, had as much chance of keeping up with an FJ40 on the trails as a roller-derby queen with an inner-ear problem.”

Unknown, Automobile Magazine

“The Thing appeared to be the product of the off-road dune buggy craze of the 1960s, which took off because of the indestructible, go-anywhere nature of the traditional Volkswagen Sedan that underpinned customs like Bruce Meyers’s Manx (“Back to the Beach,” HS&EC #49). Using its proven off-the-shelf parts, Volkswagen could cash in on the fad, offering an open-air car that was perfect for active lifestyles.

But the basic concept behind the Type 181 dated much further back, to a World War II-era Volkswagen called the Type 82 Kübelwagen (“Bucket car”). Engineered by the Porsche Design Bureau by demand of the Third Reich, this light, maneuverable all-terrain combat vehicle was considered the German “jeep.” The 181, designed in the 1960s, was also created with the German military in mind, and it was similarly adept, although a modern amphibious Schwimmwagen was not in the cards. It would be used in different nations as a military scout/patrol car, medical car and radio vehicle, and driven by NATO inspectors.”

Mark McCort, Hemmings

“The Thing is hilarious to look at. It looks like the kind of military vehicle you would get if you gave a child a pencil and a piece of paper and 20 minutes. Just look at all the squared wheel arches and the fender flares and the boxy right angles trying to be tough. And then you look at it and you can’t help but just giggle. It’s crazy!”

Doug DeMuro

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