Me And My 1973 VW Thing

 Only surviving picture of my 1973 VW Thing (circa 1983)

See an archived blog post called
A Moment In Time Became A Memory
for a story involving this VW Thing.

A brief history lesson of how I ended up with this one of a kind car known only as the Thing. My parents, who lived in Rapid City South Dakota at the time, purchased the 1973 VW Thing in the fall of 1973 for my mother to drive. In 1975 my parents divorced and my dad kept the car. My mother re-married a few years later and moved us to Houston Texas. My dad remained in South Dakota but moved to Sioux Falls. Before I was old enough to drive legally I learned how to drive in that Thing. When I was 14 my dad passed away in an accident. Having no will to speak of my grand mother saw to it that I took possession of what she considered to be my car even before he died. I drove it until 1988 when I sold it just prior to leaving for Japan because I joined the Air Force. I have regretted selling it every day. But that’s life, right? We do things everyday that we may regret and want to change? Anyway……..The reason we have gathered here today is to actually take a walk back into time, back to 1973. Do y’all remember where you were in 1973? I don’t plan on writing about all of 1973, rather I’m going to give a short history lesson about the 1973 VW Thing. Volkswagen was always believed to be on the cutting edge of bringing the “people” what they wanted and has secured itself a place in pop culture worldwide. You might have a hard time finding that one poor soul who has never heard of Volkswagen or VW. Even the young bucks today know what it is. They may not know what it’s all about but it always seems Volkswagen tries to keep their products fresh, popular, and on the scene for each coming generation of drivers. Take me, I grew up in and around the VW brand. My parents owned this VW Thing, a Rabbit, Bus (Transporter), Westfalia Camper, Dune Buggy, and the Crew Cab Pickup are the ones I can remember right off the top of my head. My dad thought VW’s were great and had just a few as you can see. Of all of them tho, the 1973 VW Thing was my absolute favorite. The information I will be adding now, to include the brochure pages seen below have all been borrowed from a variety of places on the internet over time because most of it was used in a history report my son did for a 6th grade paper early last year. I don’t remember where I gathered most of this information from, I just know it took a fair amount of time. I won’t intentionally step on anyone’s toes and if I do just realize that this is all written in celebration of the all time great and grand VW Thing.
The VW Thing might just look like the illegitimate love child of a shipping container and the common everyday dumpster, but the Thing was in fact the ultimate resurrection of the German military vehicle known as the “Kubelwagen”. The Thing was originally built for the Bundeswehr (German Federal Army) and was designated the Mehrzweckwagen (multi-purpose vehicle). More than just a specific model of car, the Kubelwagen was truly a complex conceptual idea. Consider this tidbit, most Americans consider and call a military runabout a “Jeep” generically instead of anything specific. Get the idea? If we break down the word Kubelwagen  we will see that Kubel means bucket and Wagen means car, so what could have been a better name for this steel tub of a car than the Thing? Nothing, there’s not anything that could possible describe the car better.

But, this VW convertible breadbox was only called the Thing in North America when it was introduced in 1973. Elsewhere it was known as the Trekker, the Safari, or just simply the Type 181 for left hand steering models and Type 182 for right hand steering models. The Thing was actually built on the same chassis as the pre-1968 Microbus and was powered by VW’s air-cooled, 46-hp, 1600cc flat four engine. Your only option was a manual four speed transmission. This car was definitely not built for speed, unless you consider 0-60 in 23 seconds to be blazing fast. The 1973 VW Thing came in three eye catching colors, Pumpkin Orange, Sunshine Yellow, and Blizzard White.

The interior of the Thing was the very definition of stripped down. The only instrumentation was a speedometer that housed a fuel gauge on it’s dial. Most cars had a glove box, but not the Thing, the Thing merely had a glove hole since it lacked a door altogether. The great thing about the interior of the Thing was that it could be entirely washed out with a hose or be left open to the rain and it all drained out thru holes in the floor with no harm to the car.
It wasn’t the conveniences offered or any great abilities that sucked people into falling in love with the Thing, it was the super screwy appearance that made people either love it or hate it. The Thing had some pretty cool features like the rag top either folded down or could be removed totally, the windshield (the only glass window) laid forward to rest on the hood, all four doors were detachable and interchangeable front to rear. The heater was “optional” equipment and was gasoline fueled, drawing it directly from the gas tank. Most importantly, however, was the Thing was just so very, very, weird looking. The Thing wasn’t the typical vehicle a regular housewife or anybody normal would consider buying.

Naturally, the youth of America loved the Thing, however, the youth of America had a small problem, they couldn’t afford a brand spanking new VW Thing which was priced at $3150.00 and that wasn’t cheap in 1973. The Thing costs as much as many of the sports cars offered in 1973 and was nearly $1000.00 more than a 1973 Beetle. The Thing was considered to be real expensive for such a basic mode of transportation. To downplay it being expensive to purchase, Volkswagen used advertising that talked about the Thing’s modest off-road abilities and pitted it against more expensive off-road vehicles of the day. However, the two-wheel drive Thing with it’s four-wheel independent suspension had little chance of competing with other vehicles that were built to ride the trails.In 1973 Ralph Nader pushed to have the VW Thing pulled from the U.S. market on the grounds that it failed to meet the safety standards for passenger cars. Nader soon got his wish and the tighter regulations forced Volkswagen to stop importation of the Thing after the 1974 model year. Only about 25,000 Things were imported for sale in the two years the Thing was sold in the United States. Since so many of the parts are commonly shared with the Beetle and Microbus, the Thing is inexpensive to run and maintain. What else could one expect from a bucket car?
Even back when I was driving my Thing in high school it was not a car that you saw driving down the road. In the town I grew up in just south of Houston I never saw another Thing driving around. Did people know me for the car I drove, perhaps, since it was hard to miss the orange box driving down the road. My girlfriend (now my ex-wife) had a nickname for my orange Thing, she called it The Great Pumpkin. Yes, there is a small reference to Charlie Brown and the Peanuts here. It was a fine name as far as I was concerned, it was painted Pumpkin Orange. This wasn’t my only vehicle in high school, I also drove a jacked up 4×4 1980 Ford F250 pick up with a big block 460 jammed in it since I worked with my step-father doing concrete contracting. But, that truck got such poor gas mileage it cost allot to drive on a casual basis. Where as in my Thing I could drive what seemed like forever on a tank of gas. I have many fond memories of my Thing, as I look back in time I’m reminded of a solid fact, it never broke down on me. But, I did keep the oil changed, I did keep it lubed up, I kept it clean and shiny, and I didn’t drive it like the hot rod it wasn’t born to be.

I have mentioned I regret ever selling my Thing. It’s very true, I do regret it. Why? I think of the fun my family and I could have in it today. I see one driving down the road on occasion and it gets me wanting one again ever more than before. I have come across my fair share of Things for sale over the years but the owners are usually pretty proud and don’t want to let them go for what I think would be a fair price. I’m kinda torn however, in a way I would like to find one to be restored and in other ways I would like to find one that is an immediate driver. I suppose one day I will just bite the bullet and spend the money for one. I would also like to find a 1968 VW Crew Cab Pickup because I think it would be real cool to bring one of those back to life with my own special flare. So, if you live somewhere where either of these vehicles can be bought at a reasonable price I would appreciate y’all passing that information on to me @ Scorpion Sting because I would really appreciate it. Also, if you have a VW thing story of your own you would like to share I would really like to hear about it. Make it long enough and I will even feature it as a guest post. Well, thanks for listening to me ramble on about my Thing and the days of the past. I found it gave me a new perspective writing this post and has left me with remembering many happy memories.