Auction Pick of the Week: 1974 Volkswagen Type 181 “Thing”


By draping a cute, fiberglass body over durable and inexpensive VW running gear, Bruce Meyers started a beach buggy craze. Meyers’ creation, dubbed the Manx, was a defining symbol of the carefree Californian lifestyle.

Volkswagen took notice of this craze and wanted to get in on the Manx’s market. In 1971, Dr. Henry Braner, Volkswagen of America’s Director of Market and Product Planning at the time, had an idea: Take the civilian-spec drop-top Type 181—which was already on sale in Europe and Mexico at that time, paint it fun colors, and market it to Californian surfers and free-spirit types. Thus the VW Thing, as it came to be known in America, was born.

If you’re in the hunt for a military beach cruiser born from a military vehicle, check out our Hagerty Marketplace auction pick of the week, this 1974 Volkswagen Type 181 Thing.

By the mid-1960s, NATO’s Europa Jeep project had stalled, but the West German Army was still in need of a small, all-terrain troop transport vehicle. To quickly meet military demand, Volkswagen slapped together the Type 181 in 1969 with parts it already had lying around. It utilized a reinforced floor pan from the Karmann Ghia, rear-swing axle suspension from the Type 2 Transporter van, and the air-cooled flat-four and manual transmission from the Beetle.

It didn’t take long for VW to realize that there was also public demand for a more rugged vehicle that could handle the terrain in Central Europe and Mexico. In 1971, the first civilian versions hit dealerships.

The Thing made its stateside in 1972 as a 1973 model. It was initially only available in three colors, but more followed in 1974. By the time the Thing had reached the U.S., VW had upgraded the Type 181 to have independent rear suspension. Sadly, it was ultimately dropped from the U.S. lineup in 1975 because it couldn’t meet that year’s more stringent crash test standards. For such a short tenure on the market, the Thing sold pretty well. The total production tallied 28,930 units.

Our featured Thing presents well with its Bright Sunshine yellow paint, chrome steel wheels, and black leatherette upholstery. The car has lived in South Carolina for its whole life, but the seller notes that the floor pan has had rust repaired. There are a few flaws in the paint, like a crack above the engine cover hinge, and a run in the rare, optional factory hardtop.

Summertime is fast approaching. This Thing would make the perfect fair-weather cruiser. Take off the doors, drop the top, fold down the windshield, and enjoy the open air. The auction ends on Thursday, April 13, at 4:30 p.m. ET, so make sure to get your bids in.

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    Rode around in (and fell off of and nearly rolled) one of those brand new same color with roll cage in HS. My friend’s Dad was the VW dealer. He shouldn’t have let us near his cars!

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