The Volkswagen Thing’s origins date back to World War II and Nazi Germany.
VW produced the type 62 Kubelwagen during the war to fill the German army’s need for a utility vehicle. It was Germany’s version of the American Jeep during the war.
Production halted as the war drew to a close, but it was resurrected in the 1960s when the Mexican government showed an interest in entering the automobile industry, according to Sen. Richard Burr, a Thing enthusiast whose 1974 model is often recognized around Capitol Hill.
“When the Second World War was over, the molds were mothballed, and it wasn’t until the late 1960s that they took those molds out” to produce commercial versions, the North Carolina Republican said.
The car was known as the Safari in Mexico and as the Trekker in Britain. In the United States, it was the Thing.
Old American advertisements depicted it as a versatile, tough, rugged, utility machine.
“Take off the doors, fold down the windshield and you’ve got an instant Dune Buggy,” an ad reads.
Burr drives his Thing with the convertible top pulled back, but with the windshield up and the doors usually on.
The Thing wasn’t introduced to the United States until 1973. The 1974 model functioned on an air-cooled, flat four-cylinder engine with a four-speed manual transmission, and it could reach roughly 55 miles per hour.
The Mexican manufacturers generally used low-grade metals to produce the cars.
“They’ve been known to use anything they could find, old Coca-Cola signs as fenders,” Burr said. “That meant that the metal was never treated.”
The car was distributed in the United States for only two years, and its rarity has been part of the appeal.
As the ads encouraged, you could, “make it your Thing.”
Burr certainly did.