Like the Mini Moke, the Volkswagen Thing was originally conceived as a military vehicle.

But the Type 181 soon attracted a following as a fun summer classic for drivers who enjoyed a cool, wildly original ride.

The removable doors, retractable soft top and folding windshield provided a fun, open air driving experience unlike any other Volksy that had come before.

Originally developed for the West German Army, the Type 181 also entered the civilian market as the Kurierwagen (“courier car”) in West Germany, the Trekker (RHD Type 182) in the United Kingdom, the Thing in the United States (1973–74), the Safari in Mexico and South America, and Pescaccia in Italy. Civilian sales ended after model year 1980.

Like the World War II era Type 82 Kübelwagen, the Type 181 used mechanical parts and a rear-engine platform, manual transmission and a flat-4 engine derived from that of the Beetle.

The floorpans came from the Karmann Ghia sports car which had a wider floorpan than the Beetle.

Rear swing axle suspension with reduction gearing from the discontinued split-screen Volkswagen Transporter was used until 1973, when it was replaced with double-jointed axles used by Porsche and IRS semi-trailing arm setup as used on the 1303 and US-spec Beetles.

The 181 has also spawned one of the more unusual models ever to wear the Volkswagen badge – the Acapulco Thing.

This Thing was designed for two legendary, high-end resorts in Acapulco, a popular holiday spot in Mexico and a destination du jour for Hollywood A-listers in the 1960s and ’70s.

Assembled in Puebla, Mexico, the ocean-front hotels used the boxy beach cruiser to shuttle wealthy vacationers from the airport to the city’s sun-kissed shoreline.

Acapulco Thing’s popularity among the hotel’s ritzy, jet-setting clientele led the company to produce a limited run of the resort cruiser – about 400 cars in all – from May to July, 1974.

Most Acapulco things were painted Blizzard White with blue accents on the rocker panels, running boards, bumpers and dashboard, although Volkswagen also produced versions based on orange, red and yellow.

The car had removable side curtains on all four of its doors, and the seats were upholstered in blue striped trim that added to the nautical look.

The Thing’s regular soft top could also be replaced by a seat-matching vinyl surrey top mounted on a special high-profile tubular frame.

At the time of purchase available accessories included a welded steel roll cage, detachable fibreglass hardtop with luggage rack, an outside spare tyre carrier, front nudge bar, electric winch, a radio, front and rear trailer hitches, chrome sport wheels and under-dash air conditioning.

Like its Thing siblings, the car was powered by a rear-mounted, air-cooled 1.6-litre flat-four petrol engine, paired with a four-speed manual transmission.

The Acapulco Thing has become a bit of collector item, with true, verifiable Things in good condition hard to come by, and fetching north of $10,000 US dollars.

 

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Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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