Awesome Garage Find: 1974 Volkswagen Type 181

For those of you that don’t know your VW nomenclature, the Type 181 is most commonly known as the Thing. And over the past few years, these unique little rigs have become quite popular. Finding one in solid shape can be fairly tricky, finding a nearly pristine one with almost no miles on it is pretty much unheard of. So, when reader Lee C responded to our call for readers to share their finds with us, we were blown away by his! This Thing was parked with just 675 miles on it and was in nearly perfect condition when he pulled it from the original owner’s garage. Be sure to check out his story below and if you have a find that tops his, we sure would love to see it!

This is the image from the car club email that got me hooked.

From Lee – I purchased the car from an elderly woman who, with her husband, purchased the car new from Triangle Volkswagen in Durham, North Carolina on June 20, 1975. They specifically bought the car for winter driving conditions, the opportunities for which in North Carolina were few and far between. Ultimately the car got used sparingly as a tailgate vehicle for UNC Football games in Chapel Hill (probably not when Clemson came to town given the car’s pumpkin orange color). The round trip from their home to Kenan Stadium was about 12 miles. They used the car that way from 1975 to 1980. Tragically the husband died young. The car was registered in North Carolina until February 15, 1981. There is an oil change sticker in the engine bay dated February 16, 1981, showing 675 miles. The wife had the car parked in the garage where it remained frozen in time. The woman clearly associated the vehicle with her deceased husband. For those decades of storage, she couldn’t drive the car and she couldn’t sell it.

674.9 miles were showing when I first saw it

Finally, to raise funds she confided to a neighbor her intention to sell the vehicle. The neighbor is a member of a local Chevy club of which I am also a member. The neighbor sent out a blast email to the club membership with a few photos inquiring for interest indicating the seller was not willing to advertise the car publicly. I was 2,100 miles away at the time, at the AACA Grand National car show in Tucson, Arizona (with the Chevy), and responded I was interested and asked my fellow club member to ask the seller to wait until I could return to Chapel Hill to look at the car. In the meantime, at least one other club member went to look at the car but was unable to close a deal. When I returned to North Carolina about three weeks had passed since the email. Over several visits and phone calls, I got to know the seller. Basically she told me her goal was to get the most money possible for her car. I told her if that was her goal she shouldn’t sell the car to me because I couldn’t overpay for a nonrunning car in need of at least full mechanical rescue. By the way, 34 years later that oil changed when storage began was still clean as new as I confirmed pulling the dipstick during my initial inspection of the vehicle.

On the dolly for extraction

As an alternative, I offered to help her get the car running and to get it sold for her as an operable vehicle. I estimated the cost of getting the car running could be as much as $5,000. I suggested to her the value of her vehicle in running condition would probably net her more than I was willing to pay for the vehicle as it sat. She didn’t want to take that risk on. So we negotiated a fair purchase price and I resuscitated this remarkably well-preserved vehicle for a little less than I had estimated, but it was close. After getting the car safely running again, for good measure, we performed the car’s factory-recommended 600-mile service in April 2015. The only cosmetic items which needed replacement were the rear window, which had fried to an opaque rust color during storage, and the driver’s seat cover which ripped due to the deterioration of the underpadding.

First daylight in 34 years

What a remarkable find! While these were quite rugged and well built, most were driven hard and left to rust away. Comparative to the Beetle, which it shares a number of components with, production was quite limited with a total of 90,883 built so it’s becoming more of a challenge to just find one. Thankfully, so much of the Thing was taken directly from the Beetle that if you do find one, rebuilding it isn’t much of a challenge. Lee had the car delivered directly to his mechanic, as it turned out that the clutch had seized after being parked for so long. They had to remove the engine to get it fixed, but I’m sure that simply made doing the 600 mile service a breeze.

With nothing more than a wash, the paint was looking great again. Lee installed a new rear window, but everything else is original including the tires and tubes! So far, he’s put a few miles on it, it’s showing 756 as of today. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t traveled though, he’s trailered it all over the country to take it to shows. After finishing it up, he took it to AACA where it won its first award as an unrestored factory original, garage find survivor. The car has also gone on to earn an AACA Senior Award and an AACA First Grand National Award.

We want to thank Lee for sharing his find with us! You can tell, he really is proud to be its caretaker and it looks like he’s doing a great job at preserving it for future generations. So, do any of you have a find that can top this one? If so, please send us an email about it to!


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  1. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Good on you, Lee C. We’ve all seen too many unscrupulous, selfish people take advantage of folks like your original owner and it’s a good reminder of what we all should do when the opportunity presents itself.After all, there are already enough of those named Richard Cranium in the world without adding to their legacies..

    Like 11
  2. Mitchell Gildea Member

    Little bit of elbow grease and this Thing’s shinier than a diamond in a goat’s rear end

    Like 4
    • Phlathead Phil


      I’m a bit confused. How did the diamond get in the goat’s rear end?

      Who shined it?

      …asking for a friend.

      Like 1
  3. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    Wow – 5 grand to get it in shape ? Bet she liked hearing that……

    Like 7
    • walt

      I agree. Pretty sure that even a VW dealer would not charge $5K to get this 674 mile car “running”.

      Like 3
  4. Leland

    My Dad got quiet when ever one of these would drive by. Remember, these were used in the war as German staff cars.

    Like 3
    • Terpheel Member

      The ‘modern’ Type 181 is NOT a direct descendant of the Kübelwagen (Type 82) used by the Nazis in WWII. As I understand it NATO required a Jeep like vehicle in the late ‘60s. Using mostly parts it already had from the Beetle, Karman Ghia and Bus, Volkswagen designed and provided a completely new design that possessed a far distant resemblance to the ‘40s vehicle. Volkswagen ultimately provided the vehicle for military use in Western Europe and in Indonesia.

      Basic stuff on the Type 82 can be found here:

      Like 2
      • Leland

        Okay, I stand corrected. Still close enough to affect my father.

        Like 1
    • Michel a Gardner

      No they weren’t! Where does all this BS come from. So much misinformation on here lately.

      Like 5
      • Leland

        Please tell me how you know this. Look in any book of WWII pictures, they are clearly visible. Besides, why the over the top concern? It is not like you were there, were you? All I said was that these brought back painful memories for my father, maybe that was wrong. I don’t know, not saying they were a bad car after the war.

        Like 1
  5. Leland

    Did I say something wrong?

    • Phlathead Phil

      I Dunno,

      Perhaps he recognized the driver as Richard Cranium?

    • art

      Your father is typical of WWII vets, very quiet about what happened. He knew what these types of vehicles meant to him during the war, bad memories. My father was in the Navy during WWII and rarely spoke about it. What little I learned was from my mother. These brave soldiers did what had to be done, did not complain and sacrificed much to give us freedom. They returned from the war with wounds, some visible, some not and then went to work to build a new and better life for their families. They were the greatest generation.

      Like 11
      • Leland

        Thank you, I couldn’t agree more. They truly were a great great generation.

        Like 4
  6. Hyman Roth

    As I was reading, I was hoping the end of it was that it was for sale. Another car I wish were mine.

    Like 3
    • Terpheel Member

      I had the intention to sell at this time last year. The pandemic hit and second thoughts crept in. Now my intention is to hold on to it a while longer.

      Like 3
  7. bobhess bobhess Member

    Had an identical ’73 we spruced up and used as a shop car. Put 48,000 miles on it in 7 years. Lot of fun and the customers loved being picked up in it to get their cars from the shop. Did put the roll bar kit in it just in case. Sold it to a customer who had a fairly good sized car collection. Nice story on this one.

    Like 4
  8. Christopher Gentry

    My uncle had one identical to this in the 80s , right down to the White wheels. First thought it was his till I read the story. I loved that car more than he did. I hope when you do drive it you take off the doors and lay down the windshield :) becarefull with the gas heater but enjoy. The owner is very lucky. Never sale it

    Like 1
  9. martinsane

    Quite obviously the biggest question unanswered is what was the cost of admission?

    Like 1
    • Terpheel Member

      I prefer to keep that amount private in deference to the seller and in anticipation I may need to negotiate with someone in the future. That said for once my hobbyist car career the investment is below anticipated market value.

      Like 3
  10. Ron

    Wow, I had a 1973 VW Thing original orange restored I painted Red in 1992. Loved that car I drove it WHile living in Hawaii until 1997 when I moved to Maryland. Never should have sold it. I

    • Terpheel Member

      Like Fifty First Cars?

  11. Louis Q. Chen

    Bless Uncle Joe for remembering the, you know, THING!, come on Man! i had one of these and we still own The you know Thing! I gave it to my son after H.S. graduation. He still has the thing after his college grad. And thanks to “Chrome Dome” Dad, the Thing is still running great! Our was the ’73, the only mod we made a 1776 cc engine and header exhaust to “boost” power! Too bad this specimen is too far away, I would probably buy. These Thing personally VW’s factory made Dune Buggy of the day!

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