Military-Style “Thing”: 1972 Volkswagen Type 181

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At first glance, this looks like a VW Thing sold in the U.S. in 1972 and 1973. But it’s a Type 181 or Kurierwagen that may have been built for military use in 1972. With its removable roof and doors, the Type 181 was mechanically similar to the VW Beetle (Type 1) with some stuff also borrowed from the Karmann Ghia and Microbus. Located in Sarasota, Florida, this interesting “Jeep” is available here on eBay where the bidding has reached $8,188 (the reserve is still in play).

During the 1960s, several European governments expressed interest in the development of a “Europa Jeep”, a lightweight, amphibious 4WD vehicle that could be mass-produced for military and government use. This led Volkswagen to come up with the Type 181 which was based on the World War II-era Type 82 Kübelwagen that used mechanical parts, a rear-engine platform, manual transmission, and a flat-4 engine from the Type 1. It was built from 1968 to 1983 with a derivative reaching the U.S. in the mid-1970s as The Thing.

The seller’s military-style version of the vehicle differs from the U.S. Thing and production models in a variety of ways. For example, it has a mounted extra gas tank, shovel, and helmet which we assume came with the vehicle when it was imported (a year before The Thing). But the vehicle has been lowered either by the seller or a previous owner, and the original parts are in the trunk. Plus disc brakes have been added. It sports a 1600-cc dual-port engine.

We’re told this interesting “Jeep” runs and drives great. We don’t know how many of the military-style versions managed to find their way to the U.S. 2,500 Things did before changing safety regulations made importing the vehicles by VW impractical and expensive to adhere to DOT standards. Currently, this machine makes the car show circuit, which would be the logical thing for it to do under new ownership.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. alphasudMember

    VW offered the Thing in 73 and 74. 73 models had a gas heater and 74 had to make due with the standard heat exchangers. Nice to see this one still has the original distributor, air cleaner, and carburetor. Also 73 was the first year VW used a alternator vs. a generator seen on this 72.

    Like 6
  2. angliagt angliagtMember

    There was one of these that sat for years in a driveway.
    It was Yellow,& thought about asking if it was for sell,but
    didn’t,as I would have no use for it.
    It might still be there.

    Like 1
  3. HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

    If my old man was alive, can you imagine his face if I showed up in a “Kubelwagen”? Remember, him and his army buddies urinated on the podium where Hitler made his speeches.Literally, it comes from a German word meaning “bucket seat car”. Apparently, in a military scene, the doorless vehicles needed bucket seats to keep the occupants from falling out. While many, including my old man, I’m sure, connected these with Hitler, it was actually Porsche, with a gun to his head I bet, designed these. Even the US military had interest in them. For the public, however, it was the answer to the question nobody asked.
    It’s a nice restoration, and good thing there are no WW2 vets around anymore,, or they’d throw their lunch at it. Simpsons poked fun at the Thing. Patty and Selma drove a Thing, as a spoof to what awful sisters in laws would probably drive.

    Like 6
    • Jeff

      “Kübelwagen” means “Bucket wagon”, no “seat” in this word.

      Great cars for offroading – goes where no muscle car can go – same with the Type 1 and Type 2

      Like 5
    • Rob

      Makes me wonder if our fathers served in the same company. Dad was with 577 FAB. Dad never minded my affection for air-cooled VWs. My uncle Lehman, however, who also served in Europe, wasn’t at all happy when I drove up the holler in my first Beetle, a beautiful white ’69. Thought he would disown me.

      Like 1
    • DP

      Funny, my grandfather served in the 2nd Armored Division from North Africa to Berlin, and the first thing he did when he got home was buy a Mercedes and a VW. He spoke often of the respect that he had gained for German engineering and seemed to rather enjoy when people would question his feelings on it.

      Like 0
      • DP

        Ok, so it wasn’t the first thing, but as soon as it was a possibility.

        Like 1
  4. TheOldRanger

    Until recently, this was the only VW I liked along with the Carmen Ghia. Otherwise I had no use for VW. I thought about getting a “Thing” at one point, but stuck with my Impala SS and forgot about having a second “fun” vehicle.

    Like 1
  5. Jack Quantrill

    These “Things”, were fun to drive. You could fold down the windshield, take off the doors, and hose -out the sand! $1000 was the going price in the 80’s.

    Like 3
  6. Troy

    Bidding over $10k now still hasn’t hit the reserve apparently the bidders see something I don’t I think they ruined it when they lowered it ok parts are in the frunk but I just don’t see that kinda value with this thing… No pun intended

    Like 2
  7. Howie

    Very cool, it sits pretty low.

    Like 2
  8. chrlsful

    also the TV show w/the non-look alike sisters raised in different families. The ‘artist daughter had 1.
    1/2 notch up from a dune buggy, that’s all one needs fora good daily…

    Didnt citeroen make the mehari a ‘the thing’ of all plastic (exterior body panels)? I liked the lill p/u (’70s/80s). I hear something is coming back soon~

    Like 0
  9. VTDan

    AFAIK, the 181 was never intended as a military vehicle. It was advertised in Germany as “Jagdwagen”, hunter’s car. No lineage to the Kuebelwagen.
    The VW Iltis was the military grade VW all wheel drive vehicle. It was based on the DKW Munga and was also built under license by Bombardier in Canada.

    Like 1
  10. Howie

    Went to $15,101 reserve not met.

    Like 2
  11. George

    1972. Claimed to be German, but a large number were built in Mexico. Replacement front seats. Believe me, the originals aren’t comfortable. The price does seem to reflect the condition, even with the mods and newer engine.

    Like 0
  12. Miguel - Mexican Spec

    Supposed all VW Things sold in the US were made in Mexico.

    These were sold in Mexico from 1972 to 1980, a much longer run than the US.

    They are still around and some in good condition.

    Like 0
  13. Richard Ray

    I saw a number of these in Germany in the early 60’s. I’d love to have one.

    Like 0

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