VW joined Fiat in producing special ‘beach’ vehicles

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VW Thing
Volkswagen produced this special Acapulco-edition of the Thing in 1974 for two Mexican resorts | VW photos

The Fiat Jolly might be the most popular among the “beach” cars produced in decades past, but it wasn’t the only example of its ilk. Volkswagen notes that it also produced what the Italians termed a rolling spiaggina (beach chair).

The open-air, fringe-trimmed fabric-roofed Fiat was built (by Ghia) to be carried on a yacht and then used ashore, or for short errands by those living along beaches. Doors were removed. Seats were wicker so they wouldn’t be damaged by wet swimming suits.

Somewhat similar thinking was behind the creation of the Acapulco Thing, a variant of the Volkswagen Type 181, aka “The Thing.”

The Type 181 was developed as a vehicle for military use but was quickly adapted for summer driving fun. The doors could be removed, there was a retractable soft top and a folding windshield. The Acapulco version was designed specifically for two high-end resorts in a Mexican resort community that was very popular with Hollywood types in the 1960s and ’70s.

Volkswagen produced The Thing in Puebla, Mexico, where the vehicles were marketed as the Safari model. Between May and July 1974, the factory rolled out around 400 of the Acapulco specials, which the resorts used to shuttle vacationers to and from the airport.

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One with soft top, the other with fiberglass roof in place

“Most of the Acapulco Things were painted Blizzard White with blue accents on the rocker panels, running boards, bumpers and dashboard,” Volkswagen said, adding that it also produced examples in orange, red and yellow base colors.

“The car had removable side curtains on all four of its doors, and its seats were upholstered with blue nautical stripes, adding to its coastal look. The Thing’s regular soft top could also be replaced by a seat-matching vinyl surrey top on a special high-profile tubular frame.”

VW also offered several accessory options, including a welded-steel roll cage, fiberglass hardtop with luggage rack, spare tire carrier, front-bumper push bar, electric winch, front and rear trailer hitches, chrome sport wheels, a radio, even an under-dash air conditioner.

“Over time, the Acapulco Thing has become both a collector item and template for Thing restoration; a true, verifiable Thing in decent condition can be hard to come by and could typically fetch well north of $10,000,” Volkswagen reports. 

A couple of those original VW Acapulco Things is advertised for sale on the ClassicCars.com Marketplace, one for $15,950 and the other for $19,000.

Oh, and the Thing may not be an item only of VW history.

The news release celebrating the Acapulco Thing ended with this:

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“As the ID. Buggy concept demonstrates, there is plenty of potential for new, unique, and exciting open-air driving experiences in Volkswagen’s future.”

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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