Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Alameda Street Sighting - 1974 Volkswagen Type 181 Thing


There's something wonderfully silly about naming a car "Thing". What is that thing? Yes. That's what it is. Unless you're in the UK or some other country, in which case your VW Type 181 might be labeled a Trekker or Safari or what have you. Safari? Where I come from, that's a GMC van or a Pontiac wagon, not a Volkswagen. While that name may be just as apropos for an open-topped four-door car based on the WWII-era Kubelwagen that would look at home on the African plains, it doesn't sound nearly as playful as calling the boxy little vehicle the Thing.

 The Thing is one of the many variants of the venerable Volkswagen Beetle chassis, whose simple and rugged design spawned the Type 2 Microbus, Type 3 Squareback, Karmann Ghia, Meyers Manx dune buggy and Lord knows how many fiberglass kit cars including the Bradley GT. Things were only sold for a few years in the United States, from 1971 to 1974. Increased safety standards doomed them to history, and rust eventually took care of many that arrived here. These are still popular on the coast among surfers and sun worshippers, and many parts can still be sourced to keep them going since the mechanicals and a number of body parts are Bug items.

I've liked Things for a long time. My grandmother's neighbor used to have an orange Thing that was always parked across the street, and when I was a kid I thought it was cool. This one is a subtle solid green color that suggests its militaristic origins without resorting to a camo paint scheme. Believe me, I appreciate that. The chrome center caps and beauty rings tell me that this car doesn't go off road and probably stays on or near the island of Alameda. Oddly, the tentlike soft top is a style I haven't seen on a Thing before. It provides shade to passengers and lots of fresh air; just don't expect to stay dry in the rain. I've seen photos on Jalopnik of this same vehicle with an equally curious fiberglass hardtop in place, so the one in my pictures is likely reserved for sunny weather. The two child safety seats in the back are an interesting touch. I can't imagine a VW Thing being especially safe for small children, but I don't doubt they have a blast every time Daddy and Mommy take them for a drive. If that instills a lifelong love of cars at that tender age, they've done well.


  1. I'm guessing you know this just is a lightly reskinned K├╝belwagen, a jeep-like vehicle designed by Ferdinand Porsche for the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTFQBHBeleE&NR=1&feature=fvwp

    By those standards, so is the Beetle. But with The Thing they didn't bother to disguise it, really.

    1. It actually shares not much but concept with the Kubelwagen. These were actually built on the Karmann-Ghia floorpan! It was developed as a military vehicle though, before being offered as these civilian versions in some countries such as the USA.