The 181 was created to fill in the gap between the old Munga-jeep and the Europa-jeep. The Europa-jeep was a running project and could not be delivered soon enough. The German Army asked VW to built them a decent polyvalent car. VW made 16 prototypes (called type 18) and gave them to the German army to be tested. Tests were very promessing, so VW soon delivered the first series of 181's to the armies of different European countries (Germany, Denmark, Austria, Belgium, The Netherlands, Greece).
Nice picture of such a prototype while tested in the German army:
The Europa-jeep project was cancelled at the end. No problem for VW, in 1979 they came up with the mighty VW 183 Iltis.
time to buy me some rally gear.
On july 13 1973 Ralph Nader, an advisor of a US Senate subcommittee on car safety, wrote a raport to ban further importation and sale of the vw Thing because it does not comply with federal safety standards for passengers cars.
A Car Safety group, represented by Lowell Dodge, gave its Annual Automotive Engeneering Malpractice Award to Volkswagen of America. They considered the car unsafe. Dodge: "The center's criticism of the Thing is not based on tests, but on common sense". A VW employee asked that: "the award be recalled because several of the people handling it got splinters". Great remark, in my opinion!
Other cars, approved under the same designation as multi-purpose and which had the same safety-standards requirements as the Thing, were no problem for the US Government. Offcourse, these cars were all made in the US.
Soon more details: the answer from VW to Ralph Nader
The production of the 181 started in 1969 and ended in 1980.
Did you ever wonder why the 181 was only on the US market in '73-'74 ?
Later more details of the THING-tragedy!
Made a few years ago on a MDF-panel... I like it and want one on my mantlepiece (1,5m by 2m if possible but smaller will do)
made by firstname.lastname@example.org
Post card from 1973 put out by Volkswagen of America and distributed at the VW dealerships... nostalgia!