The Corvair wasn’t the only car that Ralph Nader considered questionably competent, he also railed against the VW Thing for its own safety shortcomings. Today’s Nice Price or No Dice 181 may not be Nader’s cup of tea, but will its price prove palatable for one risk-bearing new owner?
At $10,000, yesterday’s 1995 Rolls Royce Flying Spur was certainly cheap enough to warrant a cocked eyebrow or two. However, its missing title proved a vexing fly in the ointment. That resulted in a number of you deeming the big Brit to be more trouble than it was worth, and in the end, it came up shy with a 55 percent No Dice loss. Call it a “title wave” of denouement.
Think about the minimum car that you would need. You know, what would be the most bare-bones auto that you could imagine would be able to get you from point A to point B. Got it? Ok, now take that image, that feature set, and whittle it down a good bit. What you have left is today’s 1973 Volkswagen 181, also known in the U.S. as the Thing.
Fans of Charles Addams’ original Addams Family comics will remember the character Thing as something so horrible that only its human hand could be shown. VW Things aren’t actually all that horrible, and in fact, this 70,000-mile example looks to be pretty solid, and adding to that, it carries a new convertible top and side curtains.
Originally intended as a quick alternative to the “Europa Jeep” project that sought to create an all-weather patrol car for European security forces, the 181 was built on a platform borrowed from the Type 1 Karmann Ghia fitted with portal axles from the early Bus and suspension and steering borrowed from the Beetle.
Cleverly designed with removable doors that were interchangeable front to back and a windscreen that could be folded down on its front boot-lid, the easily alfresco 181 sought to capitalize on the VW-based dune buggy craze that was sweeping the globe in the mid to late ’60s.
Unfortunately, along with such niceties as roll-up windows, sound-deadening, and a tachometer, the 181 also lacked any sort of roll-over safeguard, side, front, or rear crash protection, or effective three-point belts. As it was originally classified as a truck, rather than a car, the Thing didn’t need to meet the then growing list of safety standards imposed by the U.S. government. The reclassification in 1975 of the 181 as a car doomed it in the U.S., and the model was withdrawn from the American market that year.
This one being a ‘’73, it eschews the portal axles of the earlier models for a fully independent set up just like on the contemporary bus. It also gets all its lights from the Beetle and its bumpers from… oh, I don’t know, J.C. Whitney? The front brakes have been upgraded to discs for a more sure feel.
Power comes from a dual-port flat-four, which is probably a 1600, but this late in the game, who’s to say? That’s fed by a two-barrel carburetor and features a good bit of brightwork on its air shroud tin and the pulleys. It all looks like it should run without much issue and these old VW engines are a great place to learn things like carb tuning and valve lash adjustment.
The interior features institutional upholstery and wood slats in lieu of floor mats or carpet. That makes for an easy hose-out space, especially if you yank off the doors for better access.
There’s not much info in the ad, but there are a ton of pictures, even a few of the car’s undercarriage. Those show there to be no road rot or other damage in the supporting structure. On the outside, the paint looks serviceable and the car comes with two dog-dish hub caps to keep the muck off your nuts, at least in the front.
Unlike yesterday’s Roller, this Thing has a title, and that is claimed to be clear. Further distancing the VW from the Flying Spur, its asking price is fully three-thousand dollars more expensive. That’s right, you could have had the ultimate luxury sedan for t$10,000, or this basic trainer of a Volkswagen for $13,000. What’s wrong with this picture?
Suffice to say, by being basic, there’s a lot less to go wrong with this Thing than with yesterday’s cheaper Rolls. Does that make the VW a better deal? What do you say, is this 181 worth that $13,000 asking as it’s presented in its ad? Or, does that price mean this Thing isn’t your thang?
H/T to RevUnlimiter for the hookup!
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