It’s probably a consequence of COVID-19 derailing the normal doings of the automotive world, but the retrospectives on past-tense technology and design that have been circulated of late by Volkswagen and to a lesser extent, Audi, have proven to be some illuminating reading. Hence, we share them with you. In the overreaching sweep of the global industry during the 1970s, the Volkswagen Type 181 was largely an afterthought, albeit an undeniably cute one that flew directly in the face of governmental occupant-protection standards that were first coming into existence. A rebodied Beetle that could trace its roots to the Wehrmacht’s Kubelwagen scout car of World War II, the Thing, as it quickly came to be known on these shores, was an exercise in developing a NATO jeep that came to be embraced by the sun-and-surf set. It was sold here from 1972 to 1975, when emerging federal crash standards rendered it legally obsolete. Of late, it’s become something of an auction staple. You have a hard time now stopping in at a sale of collector vehicles and not running into one of these, um, Things. Some, as you’ll see, are more dear than others.
Among the places where the Type 181 was produced was Volkswagen’s sprawling assembly plant in Puebla, Mexico. That led Wolfsburg to approve production in 1974 of about 400 Puebla-built Things for use by high-end resorts in Acapulco, Mexico, to ferry their well-heeled guests from the airport to, we’d guess, the fabled diving cliffs of that city. The Acapulco Thing, as it was known, featured an integral tubular roll cage topped by a striped fiberglass roof plus a winch and, amazingly, air conditioning. Right down to its blue-and-white color scheme, the Acapulco Thing was the thematic heir to the Jeep Surrey that Kaiser Motors produced between 1959 and 1964. About 1,100 Jeep Surreys were built, which makes the Acapulco Thing, whose total production was 400 vehicles, even more rare today. It’s the most desirable collectible Thing you can find now, when one makes an appearance at an auction. If you love the Beetle and its air-cooled variants, an Acapulco Thing could easily stand as the centerpiece of your fleet.