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.

Bacon Wrapped Kickin’ Smoked Rabbit

I recently found myself wanting rabbit. Rabbit isn’t a complicated meat to cook and there is a variety of ways to prepare and cook it. Since I tend to smoke, roast, or grill any meat cooked at my house, I chose that I wanted to get some rabbit ready for smoking. Before I begin I will tell all of you that the rabbits used to make this meal were killed by me, field dressed by me, later skinned by me, and eventually placed in my freezer by me. The rabbits were killed using a bow and arrow by me and my son on my property in late January this year. I have learned that killing and immediately eating the rabbits causes mass shrinkage to the meat, about 40% is lost due to shrinkage. However, if you dress and skin the rabbit and place it in the refrigerator for 48 hours it lets the muscles relax resulting in very little shrinkage, about 5% or less. I chose to freeze mine since I wasn’t in the mood to eat rabbit at the given time. I will assume if you are interested in preparing this recipe that you have knowledge in prepping whole animals or can adapt to get the end result.
With that being said, I will explain the brine I used and how to make that. For those of you who cook game or fresh kill animals I don’t need to explain that the meat must rest for at least 48 hours in the refrigerator before it can be used to reduce the shrinkage of the meat. I used the meat from three rabbits, meaning 6 straps and 6 rear legs, all cut into 6oz pieces or somewhere close.
2 cups real maple syrup
2 cups Southern Comfort whiskey
1 cup juice fresh squeezed from oranges
1/4 cup Tabasco Sauce (original)
1/4 cup Habanero peppers (finely chopped)
1/8 cup coarse sea salt
Whisk all the ingredients together until it is very smooth. Set aside.
 With the next step of preparation you will need slab bacon. I use slab bacon because of the amount of fat it contains because it keeps the meat tender and juicy. Slice the slab of bacon into pieces just under 1/4″ thick. Now, take each piece of rabbit and completely wrap it in bacon and secure the bacon to the rabbit using toothpicks. After all the rabbit has been wrapped in bacon, begin placing it in the brine, making sure to completely cover each piece. Once all the rabbit is in the brine, place in the refrigerator for 2 hours to let the meat rest and absorb the brine. I prepared mine the day before giving it about a 21 hour soak.
I personally used my medium sized smoker. I pre-soaked my wood in a watery mixture that contained salt, pepper, Southern Comfort, lime juice, and some maple syrup. After my fire reached around 480F I let it cool slowly to around 240F and then placed in the wet wood which brought my temperature down to 180F. Place the bacon wrapped rabbit on the smoker with about 1/2″ between the pieces for best smoke penetration. Now, don’t touch it for 2 to 2 1/4 hours. Don’t even look at it. There is no need to open the smoker to check on the progress, it is doing just fine on it’s own. After the time is up the bacon wrapped rabbit should be dark and smokey. Remove it from the smoker and serve with whatever you choose, you had plenty of time to make side dishes.
I hope you enjoy this recipe. If you do not have rabbit available, squirrel or chicken can be substituted as the meat choice. Let me know what y’all think. If you have any questions please free to ask me here or e-mail me. Just use something that refers to the rabbit recipe in the subject line.