THE THING

THE STOP-GAP CAR THAT BECAME THE MAIN ACT

WORDS & PHOTOS GUY ALLEN

YOU MIGHT might be a little sceptical of the military connection implied by the green paint and overall adventure styling, but a VW Type 181 (or Type 182 in right-hand drive) has proper military roots.

Way back in the sixties the West German military decided it was looking for a light utility vehicle. The story goes that the continental NATO countries were in the throes of developing a Jeep-style 4WD but it was taking too long.

About this time, Volkswagen saw an opportunity, particularly since whatever was developed could probably find a civilian market as well.

And, really, it’s hard to think of a more simple and robust platform than an air-cooled VW of the period. The basis of the project ended up being a variant of the Type 1 Beetle mechanicals mated to a Karmann Ghia floorpan, which was a little wider than the Beetle equivalent.

The end result was the Type 181/182, variously known as The Thing in the USA, the Trekker in the UK and the Safari in Mexico. As it turned out, civilian sales were not regarded as a great success and the model only lasted a few years. That said, some 90,000 civilian versions were built!

Ironically, though it was only meant as a stop-gap for NATO, the rival 4WD project fell apart and over 50,000 of the Volkswagens were delivered to assorted military services in Europe.

Basic specs will seem very familiar: it ran either a 1500 or 1600 air-cooled boxer four powerplant, with a four-speed manual transmission. Though hardly a powerhouse, it only weighed around 900kg, so it was light enough to tackle some pretty ropey tracks without too much trouble.

Over time, this model has developed a cult following and if you dig around you’ll find specialist clubs and services via the internet. They also fit right in at any VW gathering.

This example is a 1978, which suggests it was probably built in the Hannover plant.

According to the folk at Michael Collins Motoring Classics, it’s undergone a comprehensive make-over.

The company’s web site has it listed at a shade under $50k, but we’ve been asked to put $45k on it – there’s a pretty big saving. You can find out more online at classiccar.site.