Lunatic Fringe: VW Type 181 Mashes with Porsche 911 into a Wild Thing

Brandan Gillogly

The Volkswagen Thing played many roles during its relatively brief lifespan: proto-SUV, funky runabout, oddball off-roader. But with a Beetle Type 1 driveline and a Transporter Type 2 suspension, VW’s so-called “Thing”—Type 181, internally—was nobody’s idea of a high-performance vehicle. That might have changed this past weekend when a car known as “Lunatic Fringe” debuted in unfinished form at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, California.

Built at Ron Jones Garage, a premier hot-rod and restoration shop (and authorized Hagerty repair facility) in Windsor, Colorado, Lunatic Fringe is a VW Type 181 crossed with a Porsche 911. “Our vision was, this was what Porsche would have done it if had built the Thing,” says Gunnison Jones, the 24-year-old son of shop owner Ron Jones.

Instead of the asthmatic four-banger in a stock Thing, Lunatic Fringe gets an air-cooled Porsche 3.0-liter flat-six punched out to 3.2 liters and sprinkled with hot-rod fairy dust: lightweight rods and rockers, titanium valve hats, a custom-ground cam, even a full-on MoTeC wiring harness and ECU. The Porsche 911 bits include the front diff, sourced from a 996-generation 911 Turbo, and the transaxle, out of a 997-generation 911 Turbo.

Ron Jones Porsche Thing GNRS 2024
Brandan Gillogly

To be honest, there’s not much original Thing in this beast. It looks less like a spunky, slab-sided VW than something you’d see crawling over boulders in King of the Hammers. “Every single panel on it except the windshield frame has been hand-built,” Jones says.

The truck rides on a stout chromoly tube frame fabricated by Colorado Sand Cars. The long-travel suspension incorporates Fox shocks and coilovers. The build features a host of billet pieces machined on a CNC mill and other components designed with Solidworks software. Inside a custom housing, eagle-eyed observers might recognize headlights out of a Polaris RZR.

Ironically, Lunatic Fringe doesn’t display evidence of Ron Jones’s main specialty—paint. The truck was displayed at Pomona in bare metal, sans doors, roof, spare tire, or even a finished interior. Its pair of old-school bucket seats were upholstered in a throwback three-tone fabric. When Lunatic Fringe officially debuts at the SEMA Show in November, it will be painted Robin’s Egg blue and fitted with custom wheels.

Ron Jones Porsche Thing GNRS 2024
Brandan Gillogly

The project seems like an odd fit for a restoration shop that focuses on rods and customs; the builds showcased on the company website include a pair of pugnacious 1950 pickups, a vibrant 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air race car, and a stanced 1967 Chevy Nova SS packing a blown LS3. The Thing was parked at the Roadster Show next to another outlier that the Ron Jones Garage brought to Pomona: a stunning 1937 Type 57S Bugatti drophead coupe with a supercharged straight-eight and the sinuous, elegant coachwork emblematic of French coachbuilders of the era.

“They only made 12 of them, and this is one of two with Corsica bodies, and it’s the only one with a nickel finish,” Jones says. “This was the first pre-war car we’d ever done. It was also the first Pebble Beach [Concours d’Elegance] car.” No problem. In 2021, the Bugatti won its class at Pebble Beach and was the runner-up for Best of Show.

Ron Jones Porsche Thing GNRS 2024
Brandan Gillogly

Still, Lunatic Fringe scratches a different itch—the hot rodder’s perennial quest for something totally different and unmistakably personal. “We tried to talk the customer out of the Porsche engine,” Jones admits. “I wanted to do something crazy like a turbo LS. But he had to have the air-cooled motor. So we ended up with something that’s super unique.”

There are plenty of Bugattis out there, even Type 57s. But there’s only one Porsche-powered Thing out on the “lunatic fringe.”




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    I like it, seems to make more sense than some of the high lifted, 1000 horsepower rigs that weigh around 4 tons. Small and light can be a lot of fun off road, and are easier to get “ unstuck” if you run into trouble. Workmanship looks superb, I hope the owner does actually use it. My only question is the “doors”, it seems a lot of work went into them but they’re only a couple of inches high, don’t see the point. Maybe I’m missing something as it did say the vehicle isn’t finished. Nice build.

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