The first thing one might ask about this car is what is it? The simple answer is its a Thing. This was only true in the United States and Europe, however in Mexico and South America, the simply shaped vehicle was known as the Safari, and in the United Kingdom it was sold as the Trekker. It was marketed in Italy as the Pescaccia (beastly fish).
Before it became a Thing, however, the vehicle was called the Type 181. The multi-purpose vehicle was developed for the West German military in the late 1960s based on the Type 182 Kubelwagen used during World War II. In fall 1969, Volkswagen began selling the Type 181 in Europe. Though the 181 was available as a consumer car, a large portion of the vehicles were purchased by NATO. Later, Volkswagen transferred production of the 181 from Germany to Mexico, giving it new territory in which to roam.
In 1973, Volkswagen unleashed the 181 as The Thing into the United States, the same year that the Arab Oil Embargo began. As the United States imported much of its oil from the Middle East, the Embargo greatly reduced the amount of oil available in the United States, which increased the price of gasoline and caused fuel shortages. The Embargo spurred the United States government to institute regulations designed to reduce the fuel consumption of commercial and consumer vehicles. In response, automobile companies like Ford began programs to design vehicles that were sleek, aerodynamic, and, therefore, fuel-efficient. The Thing was none of these things.
The Volkswagen had a simple, utilitarian profile. Its sloping hood was not shaped by the desire to funnel air with as little disruption as possible over the top of the car, but by the need to see over hilltops when climbing steep terrain. Its corrugated sides helped give the bodywork strength. The Things doors were removable, as was the top. The windshield folded down. Yet, it was only advisable to utilize this feature if one wanted to make goggles mandatory driving attire, as John Lamm discovered during his road test of the car in the November 1973 issue of Motor Trend Magazine.
The average Thing was available in three colors, Pumpkin Orange, Sunshine Yellow, or Blizzard White. Just in case you couldnt figure out what type of vehicle this was, an optional The Thing decal was also available. The Basic Thing came equipped with many things including rugged commercial style suspension, a 12-volt electrical tap, and a front that looked disconcertingly like a back.
This might have been because, the Thing, like the Volkswagen Beetle, had a rear-mounted engine. Without an engine, the cars front could be used to store essential items like a spare tire, the gas tank, and the Things removable side curtains.
On the dashboard there was little located beside the 12-volt electric plug. Like many other cars, the Thing had a steering wheel, a shifter, and a glovebox. The Things glovebox, however, did not have a door. Only a radio was mounted to the right of the steering wheel. As Lamm observed, the seats go along with the theme, stark, but practical.
The heart of the beast was a 96.7 cubic-inch, four-cylinder, 46-horsepower engine from a Volkswagen Beetle. The Things transmission was also from a Beetle, as was the chassis. In fact, the Thing and the Beetle had such similar layouts that Steve Smith wrote in the March 1973 issue of Motor Trend if you just unfasten the 18 bolts per side you can physically swap bodies.