Modified '70s Volkswagen Thing Fits Right In at Flight Worthy Warbird Museum

It's pretty typical to find a few Army vehicles scattered around any given military aviation museum. The National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, has at least a dozen of these. That's a given, as it's the largest museum of its kind in the world. But at smaller venues, you sometimes have to settle for what's available.
VW Thing 10 photos
Photo: Benny Kirk
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Located on the former site of the Republic Aviation factory in Farmingdale, New York, the American Airpower Museum is the home to a hangar full of flight-capable examples of famous warbirds. But scoring a numbers-matching example of a World War II-era German officer's transport is out of reach even for them.

Luckily, a very generous patron from the local area was nice enough to donate his period-correct-looking 1970s vintage Volkswagen Thing to take its place. The car then received a makeover that makes it the perfect substitute for the kind of vehicles the fighters in this hangar made mincemeat out of. The vehicle this Beetle-derived off-roader is attempting to imitate is a Kübelwagen, literally meaning "bucket seat car" in German.

During the war, these vehicles were built by several different German companies, with the US Market spec VW Thing having its earliest ancestry in the utility jeep designed by Ferdinand Porsche to the specifications imposed by the German Wehrmacht. This design would evolve into what was known globally as the type 181, a machine that shared major driveline components like the air-cooled, rear-mounted engine with the Beetle. The Beetle itself is a design that was the brainchild of Ferdinand Porsche before WWII and named Type 1.

To be honest, there's not all that much separating a U.S. Spec Type 181/Thing from its earliest ancestors from the war. You get a flat metal dashboard, some warning lights, a few switches, and one count it, one dial for your speedometer. The car sits on military green steel wheels and Uniroyal 14-inch, all-terrain tires. Not quite enough to pass it as a legit vehicle of war, but more than enough to be a part of the scenery at such a phenomenal museum.

Obviously, the more politically charged portions of WWII-era German regalia are omitted from this tastefully done lookalike. According to the museum staff, the car is perfectly road legal with a New York State license plate set and registration and will remain as a display among so many fantastic aircraft, at least for the next few months or so. The layout of a living museum like this can change pretty quickly, though, so better get out there and see it before it's too late. The price of seeing it will help the staff keep all these old planes in the sky where they belong. Check back for more from our trip to the American Airpower Museum here on autoevolution.
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