1973 VW ‘Thing’ (Type 181) ‘Rusty’

I’ve always been drawn to the VW Type 181, our as it was marketed in the US, the ‘Thing.’ Somewhat of a distant descendant of the WW2 ‘Kubelwagen’ (a sort of Wehrmacht jeep). The Thing is a very bare bone kinda car. The windows, if you can call them that, are removable and just slot in on the tops of the doors.This car was offered up by another aging hippy on the Samba VW web site. He bought i from the original owner who more or less drove it into the grave.


The photo from the original Samba ad.



This is Andy, the seller. Andy is quite the character. His collection of rare and wonderful cars is nothing short of amazing.

Here are a few historical pictures given to Andy by the previous owner.


I’m told the lady with the dour look in this photo is his mother, who was not happy to hear that he was planning to drive the Thing to Florida.


The rear floor pans were à la ‘Flintstone’ (i.e you could use your feet to propel the car. I cut these out with a Sawzall (reciprocating blade saw) and cleaned the edges up with a grinder.

Here is the byproducts of the demolition.


The wiring was truly ‘boogered’ up. No headlights, horn, and blinkers. The fuel gauge did not work.


Like most of the car, the engine had quite a bit of surface rust.


Here’s the rebuilt engine. New jugs, pistons, cylinder heads and carburetor.

Getting an engine out of an air-cooled VW is usually pretty easy, since they have a few wires and the fuel line to disconnect, and are held to the transaxle with only four bolts. The Thing engine bay is kinda shallow so getting the engine back in was a bit more challenging. Fortunately my brother James was there to help out.

After some metal fabrication at the junctures of the body and fenders. and on the inside at the gussets at the sides of the rear seats, I shot the car with single stage ‘HotRod Flatz’ in ‘Desert Storm Tan.’

The flat paint is somewhat forgiving, and although I did do some basic cosmetic body work, I did not address every single ding and dent, since to my way of thinking they are part of the cars history and provenance.

New tires (VW tires and cheap, I paid $80 USD each installed and balanced). Rear tail lights buffed to a glow and crash bars getting ready for reinstall


In this photo, we’ve installed new fiberglass fenders.  Thing parts are not as easy to source as regular VW Beetle or Bus parts, and in the case of fenders, nobody is stamping any new ones out of metal. These fiberglass ones are simply gorgeous.

Still have some final touches, such as the ‘plunk in’ windows, which need to be redone in perspex (the original plastic as long ago yellows and cracked.

Also, I picked up a new convertible top from Andy in a sort of mustard green, which should look nice with the desert storm body color.

As these are completed, I will append additional photos and comments to this blog.


One Response

  1. Lola Pliego

    “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Gandhi
    great job!!

Leave a Reply