Produced by Volkswagen from 1969 to 1983, the Type 181 “Kurierwagen” or “VW Thing “remains a modern day cult classic throughout the world. This lightweight utilitarian vehicle traces its roots from the Type 1 Beetle and later the World War II Kübelwagen. Depending on location, the vehicle was also known as the Trekker in the UK, the Thing in the US, and the Safari in Mexico. Just looking at the 181, it’s easy to see what separates this automobile from the rest of the pack.
The VW Thing popularity is most likely a direct result of the car’s zany styling and aesthetics. Exterior characteristics include angular edges, removable doors and windows, and a folding windshield. The interior follows a similar spirit with flat bench seats and painted steel door panels. With the right mix of a totally unique look and humorous drive feel roaring around with 55 horsepower, the 181 is an all in all perfect car to collect a cult-like following.
Through the years the Thing has been driven by actors like Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates, Matthew McConaughey in Surfer Dude, and Dustin Hoffman in Meet the Fockers—movies which rely on charismatic and fun characters. The VW Thing helps each actor spice up their role, somewhat like how a propeller beanie can make anybody look good.
Kübelwagen, the abbreviation for Kübelsitzwagen, translates to “bucket-seat car”. Historically the term referred to a broad range of off-road vehicles with deep bucket seats and a lack of doors. The later Type 181, or VW Thing, made a brief showing in the US from 1972 to 1975. Sadly, the American version was dropped because of new, more strict, safety rules which the Department of Transportation created as a reaction to lighter and more dangerous cars manufactured after the first fuel crisis.
The VW Thing included a rear engine 1.5 or 1.6L H4 using a manual transmission. In the United States, the Type 181 or “Thing” typically sells from $12,000 for a handyman special and up to $25,000 for a well restored model. As usual, the highest priced vehicles have original components and low mileage. Occasional prices can get into the $30,000 – $50,000 range, especially as restoration techniques improve and popularity for the Thing continues to escalate toward the heavens. The band Asylum Street Spankers even wrote a song which covers that exact topic, about “the kind of car God might drive if he wanted to keep his anonymity on Earth.” Despite their opinion, the Thing is probably not the best car for anonymity.