Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Reader's ride: 1973 VW Thing

We spotted this original, 2-owner VW Thing in Birmingham, Alabama.

Wild Thing! You probably didn’t think we could find one of these, did you? I must admit that we didn’t either. It must have sounded like a combination of pirates and mad scientist when we discovered this Thing. We used words like, “Eureka!” and I think I actually said, “Shiver me timbers.” We were genuinely surprised. How could we not be? One of the most elusive of all of the V-Dubs right there in front of us? Less than 8,000 were imported for U.S. consumption during the 1973 model year.

It's no wonder they couldn't meet U.S. safety standards and ceased import after a 3-year run.
Metal everywhere you look inside the VW Thing. It's no wonder they couldn't meet U.S. safety standards and ceased import.

A 1973 Volkswagen Thing! 
  A Type 181 in Blizzard White paint to you Thing techies. This is the epitome of cool. That is right. We discovered cool. According to the dictionary a “thing” is hard to define.
  “An object that one need not, cannot, or does not wish to give a specific name to.” 
  This didn’t really apply to the German engineers that designed this vehicle. It had plenty of names (see Fun Facts).

1973 was only year that the VW Thing had louvers on the bodysides.

The Thing We Love About You
  We really more re-discovered cool. Junkyard Life friend Frank Hamby of Birmingham, Alabama owns this historic piece of cool. Hamby is the second owner and has been the keeper of the cool for more than twenty years. He bought this 1973 model from the original owner who used this Thing as a beach vehicle! This Thing lived the golden years in the early days when one could drive a capable vehicle on the beach. 
  According to the vintage ads we collected, he was only following proper Volkswagen Thing protocol. That is right, he used it as a beach vehicle during summers and basically whenever he could make it down to Seaside, Florida. The nimble off road capabilities afforded the Thing plenty of opportunity to fullfill its beach buggy destiny. Hamby recalls the original owner reporting he simply let a few pounds of pressure from the tires and the Thing was dune-cruise ready.

White with black convertible top and it's a 4-door.
Four doors, boring? This is a convertible, independent suspension, with a 4-speed, and it's rear-wheel drive. Only in a VW Thing.

My Thing-a-Ling
  The cool thing about the Thing (I have been waiting to say that) is that the Thing does several things! Versatility was a key word for engineering this Thing. Seemingly everything folds up. The top, the doors, the windshield and even the back seat all fold away.  Engine and transmission choices were very limited. Hamby's example has the original air-cooled flat-four, 1,600 cc dual port engine and a manual four speed. Utilizing all of the 46 horsepower this Thing has a top speed of 71 MPH according to VW in 1973.

Dash and manual steering is bare bones and simple in a 1973 VW Thing.

The Thing We Do For Love
  So parts are hard to find and can be a bit costly. That is the only downside to a Thing! They are unique and intriguing. They are a contrast of rock and roll and mellow peace. A lot of vehicles are either one, but few fit the bill for both. Hamby wins.  

Dash has a sticker, we're guessing a warning of some kind, on the dash.
Can you read German? The dash has a sticker, we're guessing a warning of some kind, on the dash.

One Last Thing
  The Thing runs now, but will run even better after a few minor repairs. When we say the car is unique, we here at Junkyard Life really don’t know anyone else that owns one. So when Hamby’s inner-hippie calls — the moonlight and the salty ocean breeze will harmonize with a mellow exhaust tone and (if I had my way) Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” Lucky guy.

— Ron Kidd
Junkyard Life

VW's drum brakes have no problem slowing down a 2,000-pound Thing. 

Rear seats fold down flat to allow more cargo.

Design roots date back to WWII as the German "jeep" – a military multi-purpose combat vehicle.

The four doors are removable as is the top for open air cruising. Also, the windshield folds down.

VW Thing rides on 5-inch x 14-inch steel wheels.

Front view of boxy 1973 VW Thing in white.
Sticker price was $2,700 for a 1973 VW Thing.

Tail lights for Super Beetle will look at home on a VW Thing.

Let's hit the beach! A VW Thing needs to be driven to the ocean.

Fun Thing Facts

  • Seaside, Florida where our feature car once zoomed the dunes, was also where the Jim Carrey movie “The Truman Show” was filmed.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the Thing was not the result of the automaker taking advantage of America’s love for dune buggies. They already practically owned the entire dune buggy craze other than manufacturing the funky cute aftermarket bodies. Most buggies were VW-powered.
  • The founder of Seaside, Florida was from Birmingham, Alabama. We thought for a second it could have been his VW. It wasn’t. However, from the timeline, they very well could have known each other.
  • The Thing was originally made for the West German Army.
  • Due to strict safety standards, VW stopped U.S sales of 1975 models. Other countries continued to sell them to the public until 1980. Did Ralph Nader know about this?
  • Volkswagen gave us here in the states the simple name –“The Thing.” In Mexico, it would have the “The Safari” name. In Italy, it would have been “The Pescaccia.” 
  • The Thing was one of the few four-door convertibles ever produced. 
  • A little over 7,800 of these were made in 1973. Doing the math, it is not probable that we will see many of these Things. 
  • Maybe Junkyard Life needs to do a follow-up and make sure this Thing can still negotiate the dunes. You can still do that with a permit in Augusta, Florida. I mean, we wouldn’t want to let the readers down. Fine. I will.

This 1973 VW Thing is owned by Frank Hamby of Birmingham, Alabama.

Share your car story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Jody Potter at & Ron Kidd at

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