Often erroneously referred to as a Kübelwagen, VW’s Type 181 went by many different names around the world including VW Thing in the USA, VW Safari in Mexico and VW Trekker in the UK.
Non-VW people could be excused for confusing the vehicle with the wartime Kübelwagen since they share a similar silhouette and both are built on the Beetle’s platform chassis. Both are also just two-wheel drive, the weight of the rear engine over the driving wheels giving them excellent traction.
Like the early VW Transporter, hub reduction gears were also used to improve ground clearance and that flat floorpan design allowed it to slide over rougher ground when required.
The Type 181 (or Type 182 in right-hand drive, to be correct) was developed in the ’60s to a brief by the Bundeswehr which required a cross-country vehicle. Volkswagen was enlisted for the development work and since the army wanted only 15,000 vehicles the firm developed a civilian spin-off to offset the development costs.
The chassis used was actually the beefier Karmann-Ghia floorpan and while 4×4 was never offered, a locking rear differential was an option and power came from the 1500cc Beetle motor, later upgraded to a 44 bhp low-compression version of the 1600. With a fabric roof, removable side screens and a fold-flat windscreen, the 181 made a great leisure vehicle for sunnier climates and was produced in
Germany until 1978, after which production continued in Mexico until 1980. Total production amounted to 26,531 complete cars and 55,175 CKD kits.