I don’t usually like to write too much about Super Bowl commercials, because, you know, screw ‘em. I’m not here to advertise for any carmaker or crypto whatever or medicated shoe insoles or whatever they’re talking about. However, I am honor-bound to report to you when mainstream culture intersects with weird car culture, and that happened in not one but two — which, is, according to some sources, nearly double one — Super Bowl commercials. Let’s see what’s going on.
The first — and more significant — placement of Volkswagen’s Type 181, known as the Thing here in America, Trekker in the UK, Safari in others, was in an ad for late night drunk snack provider Taco Bell, which featured noted cow Doja Cat.
The ad is pretty confusing, setting up a scenario of what seems to be a very unpleasant clown convention of some kind, though, to be fair it’s hard to imagine any sort of clown convention not being miserable.
This one appears to be called, in lazy pseudo-Latin, Clownus Conformus, and was established in 1823. Maybe it’s a clown college/university? You know what, that makes sense, as the clowns are referred to as “students.”
In this peculiar setup, Doja Cat is one of the depressed clown-students, but eventually makes her escape in what I assume is her clown car, a VW Thing.
Here, I guess you may as well just watch:
Now, while I’m delighted that Doja and her four other clown-students were able to free themselves from the oppression of their (voluntary?) clownducation and start a bold new life dressing all cool and eating in the parking lot of a Mexican-themed fast-food chain, I do have to admit I never really considered a VW Thing to be particularly well-suited for clown car duty.
Clown cars tend to have a very specific aesthetic that I don’t think the Type 181 shares. Traditionally, clown cars have been small and enclosed (to best accommodate the classic cram-in-a-fuckload-of-clowns-gag) and cars that traditionally have been clown car staples tend to have a certain mid-century, rounded look: Crosleys, Nash Metropolitans, VW Beetles, Morris Minors, and so on.
The VW Thing has its origins as a military vehicle, an update of the wartime Kübelwagen, though that predecessor car certainly did haul around its share of clowns, as seen here:
Yeah, that’s right, I’m calling Nazis clowns! Fuck off, Nazis!
Anyway, back to Doja Car’s VW Thing. It’s painted with a fun, colorful sort of bursting rays of color pattern, and based on the air intake boxes above the rear fender, I’d say this looks like a 1974 Thing:
It’s also sporting an official VW fiberglass hardtop, a desirable accessory:
The top seems to be branded as property of Clownus Conformus, and doesn’t last long in the ad, as Doja Clown/Cat pulls a knob (non-standard equipment) on the Thing’s dash that ejects the fiberglass top off into the air:
I especially like that they had to add a “Do Not Attempt” warning here, just in case you were thinking about finding a nice old VW Thing, getting a factory hard top, then rigging up a custom top-ejection system and trying it out on a public road.
If that was your plan, I’m sorry to tell you that Taco Bell does not want you to try that.
Despite that wet blanket, this may be the most focused attention a VW Thing has gotten recently since the world saw that the Thai military was still using VW Type 181s as recently as 2018.
One Thing in a 2022 Super Bowl ad would be remarkable enough. But, remember, there were two appearances. Here’s the other one:
This ad for Vroom, which is one of those companies that lets you sell your car online or maybe for Dogecoin or some shit like that — I don’t really care — featured a red, de-badged Thing next to a blue, de-badged Ford Thunderbird:
It’s an interesting choice! Those two cars do represent a sort of styling spectrum, from utilitarian anti-style to ornate, mid-century opulence, so it does make for an interesting juxtaposition.
This is more of a featured cameo as opposed to Taco Bell’s starring role, but I’m not complaining. If there’s anything 2022 could use more of, it’s the manic, earnest joy of a VW Thing, that crazy Beetle-based boxy, corrugated weirdo of the motoring world, with painful military ancestors, but re-casting itself in the name of fun, not hate.
It’s good to see some Things stick around.