1973 VW Type 181: Just The Thing For Fun!


There’s not much information on this 1973 VW Thing except that it’s been stored and the engine turns but doesn’t run. VW engines are easy to work on and inexpensive. It needs a new floor under the battery, but there’s no mention of the rest and these do tend to rust. The top also needs work. It has a “Janitrol” auxilary heater which probably does not work, but they never do. The $3,750 asking is pretty reasonable if the pan isn’t badly rusted. Looking at finished listings on eBay, it seems these typically sell for about $6k and go up to over $15k for really nice examples. If the underside looks good, this one could be a good buy. I’m thinking this would be a lot more fun in California than where it’s located in Wisconsin and it’s old enough it won’t need a smog inspection. It’s for sale here on craigslist. Is this worth a look and possibly reviving? 

right rear73



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  1. Tom

    Is that an air pump left of the engine?

    • Jim Norman

      I think that’s the alternator.

  2. justin

    If my memory is correct…wasn’t these “Things” modeled after the German military vehicles of WWII? I remember the TV series “Rat Patrol” where the Germans used cars that were bigger but with the same body lines and had much more power to get through the dunes of N. Africa.

  3. Cassidy

    I just saw a Thing yesterday! It has been a long time since I had seen one, and I live in Calif!
    Justin, the German Army of the ’70’s used these as their simple, basic transportation. It was kind of hard to take them seriously as a military vehicle. I don’t know if they ever used them as a tactile vehicle, I don’t remember seeing any with machine gun mounts. But then, we were using Dodge trucks as basic vehicles. I don’t know if they ever used the trucks as attack vehicles.

  4. Al Member

    There was a German vehicle similar to the Thing during WWII.

  5. jim s

    home made alt. setup, i guess the gen. went bad. would need a PI looking for rust and drivetrain issues. it would bring a lot more money if it was running and could be taken for a test drive. i wonder why the seller was not able to get it running. nice find.

  6. don

    not a bad price, these are going up in value.

  7. George

    The Thing was based loosely on the WWII Kübelwagen. Itself was a derivative of the VW Bug. Although what I’d really like is a schwimmvagen. The Thing was sold in the US in ’73 and ’74. Points of rust are similar to any VW, primarily the pan and rockers. I’m not sure why they haven’t been able to get it started, as they are dead easy to work on and you actually have a bit more room than the Bug. My brother had one, and for a year I drove it too. Lots of fun, but chilly in upstate NY winters… Fogs up very easily in the summer rains too!

    It looks like something fell on the top on the driver’s side, so probably some repair needed of the top bow, and the rear window looks like it’s missing. Does it have the side curtains?

  8. Howard A Member

    Patty and Selma in the Simpsons, drove a VW thing. Their license plate was “MANH8TR”. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-j8L8_Ol7Y2o/UN9WPxbDN1I/AAAAAAAACbM/151ENP8J0ZA/s1600/the_simpsons_Lady_Bouvier's_Lover.JPG

  9. Patrick McC.

    If one was to negotiate $3500, this would be a pretty darn good deal. Looks like decent paint and interior. I would paint the rims silver and rid the engine of what looks to be an air conditioning pump (although, the ones I normally see are mounted directly next to the generator/alternator).

    Like 1
  10. Matt Tritt

    George is correct. I bought a new 181 in 74 and loved it – almost. What I really wanted was – a “pot car” aka Kubelwagen, but they were in short supply and the 181 had about 2X the power and more creature comforts. Also you could buy them. The WWII version would go just about anywhere, thanks to a great locking differential and very light weight. It’s too bad that most of them were scrapped by the allies after the war, but according to my first wife’s father who drove them while in the German navy during the war, not many servicemen liked them because of the gas tank being – like a model A – in your lap. My father prevented me from buying a Schwimmwagen that was owned by a German guy in Newport Beach who had reportedly driven it there all the way from Argentina. You will know what an achievement that was if you know about the “Darien Gap”. He used to drive it out into the harbor and fish! All of the wartime VW’s had an 985 cc 24 HP engine.. That’s right, 24 HP. They would also burn any grade of gasoline you could pour into their oversize fill spout.

  11. John p Hedin

    My beige “thing” was a ’73 with gas heater required for driving in Minnesota winter’s. It was among the 16 gas & diesel air & water cooled starting with a ’55 oval window bug with semaphores. My thing more original as the 73s did not have the added airboxes. Made in Mexico I once bought a new top from a dealer in Acapulco for $60. Buying matching paint required hand mixing and matching to small trim part. Also had extra gas cap donated last year to NV VW specialist. Would go an indicated 80 and great with windshield folded down. Best to keep doors on. Iconic

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