What is that Thing?
August 27, 2008 · Updated 4:53 PM
ARLINGTON At school, people ask me, what is that thing? said 18-year-old Arlington High School senior James Maddox. And I tell them, Its a Thing.
The Volkswagen Type 181 Kurierwagen, popularly known in the U.S. as the Thing, was sold in America from 1972-1974, but Maddox and his stepfather, Rick Gaynor, still drive this rarely-seen artifact of automotive history through the streets of Arlington.
Gaynor acquired his Thing, a 1974 model, through eBay from an Enumclaw seller in 2001, but hed previously driven a Thing in Mexico in 1984, albeit only for one day.
It was a rental, Gaynor said. The gas pedal would stick and the brakes didnt work, so I had to use the emergency brake to stop, but it was cheap to rent, only $10 a day.
Gaynor even did a brief stint as a crime-fighter in the car, using his Thing to chase a necklace-snatcher down a one-way street. While the Thing was originally designed as a lightweight four-wheel-drive military vehicle, similar to the Jeep, Volkswagen also built it to cater to their Mexican customers. The Beetle was a big seller in Mexico, but drivers asked VW for a car that was better designed to deal with their countrys rural roads.
Gaynors current Thing was built in Mexico, and still boasts its original yellow paint job and many of its original parts. He noted that the wheels, cloth top and muffler have all been replaced, while other parts have been upgraded or require regular maintenance.
You have to change the oil every 3,000 miles, Gaynor said. Ive adjusted the regulator and the brakes, and Ive replaced the carburetor and switched the generator for an alternator. I got it with its original radio, but its got a stereo with amplifiers now.
The Thing was originally sold for approximately $2,700 new. Even though Gaynor estimates he paid roughly three times that amount for his Thing, he considered the car worth the expense because it only had around 18,000 miles on it when he bought it its odometer is currently at more than 31,000 miles and it was an affordable toy to tinker with.
During the summer, I like to drive with the top and doors off, Gaynor said, explaining that the doors are attached with external screws. Its very convertible.
Its too convertible, Maddox laughed. Thats why I got my amps stolen.
Maddox still enjoys the attention of driving the Thing to and from school.
So many girls tell me its the cutest thing theyve seen, Maddox said. Ive had older adults ask me questions about it. If they used to live in Southern California, a lot of them used to own one.
Its a chick magnet, Gaynor laughed. Ive met a few other Thing owners, one right here in Arlington. There are a couple in Snohomish that have been chopped and given custom paint jobs. Its a good conversation starter.