What is a VW Thing?


VW Thing is not a nickname.

Yes, it's a Thing! In this case a 1973.

Back in the 70s, Volkswagen started importing the Type 181 into the US. The 181 was the indirect spawn of the WW II Kubelwagen which was Germany’s version of the Jeep. In 1969, VW decided to produce the next generation. Called the Kurierwagen, it was based on the Beetle. Mexico actually played a big part because VWs were popular there, but buyers wanted something a little sturdier for the back roads. Down there it was called the Safari.

Officially the Thing is a cabriolet. Bottom line, no top.

The 181 arrived in the US in 1973 and was promptly named, The Thing. I wish I knew the story of how they got the name. Was it at the end of an exhausting marketing meeting where no one could come up with something better? Was it a result of VW’s simple marketing strategy in the 60s? Whatever prompted the name, it actually makes sense. When people see one they aren’t quite sure what it is. It looks like a cross between a Beetle and a corrugated shed. Interestingly, it was called the Trekker in the UK, although it never sold well in that part of the world.

Notice the ride height difference between Beetle and Thing

While it’s based on the Beetle, it’s not exactly the same. It sits taller and parts were drafted from other VWs (floor pans from the Karmann Ghia, transaxles from the split window bus). While it looks stripped down, the price was pumped up. It cost more than $3,100 which was 50% more than a stock Beetle.

It’s not supposed to be sophisticated off road machine. It is supposed to be the kind of car you can bang around and not feel guilty.

The Thing is pretty spartan inside

About 25,000 were imported into the US before VW stopped importing them in 1980. While I’m not sure how many survived, we do see them fairly regularly at the Barrett Jackson auctions. It’s amazing how much effort people put into restoring them into better than new condition. These days they fall more into the cute niche than the lets-go-thrash-it-in-the-backwoods category.

The good part is that even people who know nothing about them can point as they drive by and say, “Nice Thing.” And they’re right.

If you’re looking for the world of Things, start with the 181 Worldwide Registry.


  1. I remember seeing a VW Thing driving around my small hometown in the mountains of East Tennessee back in the 70’s. There was a trail behind my grandparents’ house that ran up a mountain. I would see plenty of Jeeps and Broncos make a run up that trail and come back scratched up and dented because of just how rough that trail/road was to traverse. That is why the bright yellow VW Thing that hit the trail stands out in my memory. It must have been pretty capable to survive this off-road adventure. One day the guy who drove the Thing stopped to clean out the car after coming back from the trail and I got a good look at the interior. To call it spartan is an understatement but the owner was able to hose it out and get back on the road quickly. It was the only VW Thing that I remember seeing on the road in my life. I am glad to see so many have survived to be restored and then cross the block at Barrett Jackson.


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