The Volkswagen Type 181 is a two-wheel drive, four-door, convertible, manufactured and marketed by Volkswagen from 1968 to 1983. Originally developed for the West German Army, the Type 181 was also sold to the public, as the Kurierwagen (“courier car”) in West Germany, the Trekker (RHD Type 182) in the United Kingdom, the Thing in the United States (1973–74), the Safari in Mexico and South America, and Pescaccia in Italy. Civilian sales ended after model year 1980.
During the 1960s, several European governments began cooperating on development of a vehicle known as the Europa Jeep, a lightweight, amphibious four-wheel drive vehicle that could be mass-produced for use by various national military and government groups. Development of the vehicle proved time-consuming, however, and the West German government was in need of a limited number of light, inexpensive, durable transport vehicles that could fulfill their basic needs while the Europa Jeep was being developed and put into production.
Although Volkswagen had been approached during the 1950s about building such a vehicle, and had subsequently passed on the proposition, the then-current management of the company saw the project as having some amount of potential as a consumer vehicle; Mexican customers were asking for something that could handle rural roads better than the Type 1, which was a large seller in Mexico at the time, and the popularity of VW-based dune buggies within the U.S. made executives think that a durable, fun, off-road-capable vehicle would become attractive to many buyers. VW could keep cost to a minimum and thus maximize profitability by using existing parts.