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The VW "Thing"

Updated on June 14, 2015
Grifts profile image

Devin enjoys history, gardening, cooking, and blacksmithing in his spare time.

Why I love the Volkswagen Thing

The Volkswagen Thing, or type 181, is a thing of beauty. Anyone who says otherwise clearly needs to have their eyes checked or perhaps a professional help.

Yes, the Volkswagen Thing, boxy panels and everything. I love it.

The Thing has its roots in World War II, as a military transport vehicle (the beetle was also designed around this time) in Germany. Known as the Kubelwagen and later Schwimmwagen. They were hardy, strong vehicles, fit for off road, but with limited towing capabilities, and an anemic engine.


Germany's Things

The Kubelwagen was a superb transport vehicle, and had 4 comfortable bucket seets. The Independent rear suspension was maintained a much better ride compared to America's Jeep of World War II. Returning GIs helped popularize Volkswagen after having used them overseas in Europe after World War II.

Despite glowing reports from from GIs on the comfort of the Type 82 (Kubelwagen) compared to the Jeep, and a report that it was simpler, easier to make and to maintain, and faster, the US handbook on German Military Forces is quoted to have stated that "The Volkswagen, the German equivalent of the U.S. "Jeep", is inferior in every way except in the comfort of its seating accommodations." I suspect this was a political statement at heart.

One of the Kubelwagen's (and all VWs of the day) strengths was their air-cooled engine. If a jeep took a shot to the radiator, it was going to overheat and be useless. Radiators are big, and easy to break. An air-cooled VW had no radiator, so a very significant weak point was eliminated.


Photo: Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-301-1960-24 / Genzler / CC-BY-SA

Is the Thing waterproof?

Does it float?

Nope, not in the slightest. I think this misconception gets support for two reasons.

First, the old Volkswagen Beetles floated...for a while, but would sink eventually.

Second, the Schwimmwagen. The Schwimmwagen was an amphibious car developed by the German's during World War II as well. It was built similarly to the Kubelwagen, but had a screw propeller that could be lowered into the water to cross bodies of water.


Photo: Jason Vogel

One Sweet Ride

I love the history of this vehicle, and how utilitarian it looks. Almost spartan, aside from the comfy seats. The air-cooled engine is a mainstay of older Porsches, and is another interesting part of it. No radiator at all! Cool.

I think it would be a lot of fun to take a Thing and dress it up like a kubelwagen, or even find an old kubelwagen or schwimmwagen (amphibious car!) and restore it.

Can you imagine driving up to your local boat dock and just driving right down the ramp. The looks on everyone's face would be priceless!

Any "Thing" to say?

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    • Grifts profile imageAUTHOR

      Devin Gustus 

      5 years ago

      @Erin Mellor: I think a Schwimmwagen would be so much fun to use

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 

      5 years ago from Europe

      I'm adding a Schwimmwagen to my Christmas list, I *need* one now.


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