181 With 675
own a 1974 Volkswagen Type 181. Volkswagen
sold this model as the 'Thing' in the
United States but used different model
names for the same car sold in different
international markets. From model introduction
to now I have always found the Thing
moniker to be unfortunate.
think the manufacturer tried and failed
to resonate with what it must have felt
was a trivial and unserious 1970s consumer
in the United States. Of course that
wasn't how we were. All we were presented
with in the mid seventies were diminished
fun, lower power and decreasing build
quality vehicles in new car show rooms.
We weren't trivial or unserious. We
were just tired of being bored.
always refer to my vehicle by its internationally
uniform model designation of Type 181.
The car is surprisingly capable, is
well built and is everything but weak
and trivial in spite of its misguided
naming. You don't learn that from contemporary
cutesy marketing. You learn that from
owning the car.
The original owners of my 1974 Volkswagen
Type 181 car were a husband and wife
who purchased the car new from Triangle
Volkswagen in Durham, North Carolina
on June 20, 1975. True to the poor marketing
this car sat for ten months from assembly
to initial sale. In that interval, despite
the onset in 1972 of sustained inflation
in the economy, Volkswagen had to slash
the MSRP of Type 181s in the United
States just to clear them from dealer
couple which bought my car took it with
zero options. There was no radio or
even a cigarette lighter installed on
the car. I bet the car was purchased
at deep discount and the owners must
have felt they stole it.
I was told they bought the car as an
'extra' vehicle specifically due to
its high clearance for winter driving
in town and on the farm. Of course the
opportunities for snow and ice driving
in North Carolina were few and far between
even then so the car didn't get much
of that kind of work.
Ultimately the owners made spare use
of the vehicle as a tailgate vehicle
for their beloved UNC Tarheels at football
games in Chapel Hill (probably not when
Clemson came to town given the car's
pumpkin orange color). The round trip
from their home to Kenan Stadium was
about 12 miles.
They used the car that way from 1975
to 1981 putting about 100 miles a year
on the vehicle. Tragically the husband
died young. The car was registered in
North Carolina until February 15, 1981.
There is an oil change sticker in the
engine bay dated February 16, 1981 showing
only 675 original miles on the odometer!
After losing her husband the surviving
owner had a nice car and beautiful memories
but instead of continuing to use the
now truly extra vehicle she parked the
car in her dusty but dry garage where
it remained frozen in time for almost
three and a half decades. The woman
who clearly associated the vehicle with
her deceased husband couldn't drive
the car and she couldn't sell it.
in 2015 to raise funds the owner confided
to a neighbor her intention to sell
the vehicle. The neighbor is a member
of a local Chevy club of which I am
also a member. The neighbor sent out
a blast email to the club membership
with a few photos inquiring for interest
indicating the seller was not willing
to advertise the car publicly.
I was 2100 miles away at the time, at
the AACA Grand National car show in
Tucson, Arizona (with the Chevy) and
responded I was interested and asked
my fellow club member to ask the seller
to wait until I could return to Chapel
Hill to look at the car.
In the mean time at least one other
club member went to look at the car
but was unable to close a deal. When
I returned to North Carolina about three
weeks had passed since the email. Over
several visits and phone calls I got
to know the seller.
Basically she told me her goal was to
get the most money possible for her
car. I told her if that was her goal
she shouldn't sell the car to me because
I couldn't overpay for a non running
car in need of at least full mechanical
rescue. By the way 34 years later that
oil changed when storage began was still
clean as new as I confirmed pulling
the dip stick during my initial inspection
of the vehicle.
As an alternative I offered to help
her get the car running and to get it
sold for her as an operable vehicle.
I estimated the cost of getting the
car running to be about $5,000. I suggested
to her the value of her vehicle in running
condition would probably net her more
than I was willing to pay for the vehicle
in the condition it was in when I first
She didn't want to take on that risk.
We negotiated a fair purchase price
and I purchased the Type 181. When I
took possession of the vehicle in April
2015 the odometer still showed the same
675 miles that it displayed when stored
in 1981. I was able to resuscitate this
remarkably well preserved vehicle for
a little less than I had estimated.
After getting the car safely running
again, for good measure, we performed
the car's factory recommended 600 mile
service in April 2015 as there was no
evidence it was ever performed. The
only cosmetic items which needed replacement
were the rear window which had fried
to an opaque rust color during storage
and the driver's seat cover which ripped
due to the deterioration of the under
padding. Not too bad for a 44 old!
to Contact Lee