1970 VW Type 181 "NATO" (SOLD- Wisconsin)


VIN: 1802477329
Exterior Color: Tan
Interior Color: Black
Engine: 4 Cylinder VW
Transmission: 4-Speed
Status: SOLD
Stock: 09-10520
Mileage: 42,042
Features: High quality, body off restoration with powder coated components, front disc brakes, and Porsche wheels. Restoration completed in Europe by a professional level restorer. Highly unique Type 181 NATO not brought into the USA until 1973 as a VW Thing.

1970 VW NATO TYPE 181

Professional Quality, Photo Documented, Comprehensive Body-Off Restoration

Very Rare in the USA & Highly Unique

Restored in Belgium & Recently Imported from Belgium – Licensed, Titled & Registered in California



1970 VW TYPE 181 “NATO”

Over the course of our 26+ years in business we have been fortunate to have handled a wide range of interesting vehicles, and continue to have a healthy appetite for unique & unusual cars & truck.  Undoubtedly,  this VW certainly qualifies as unique and, while we have had “VW” Things over the years, this is our first version of the VW Type 181 “NATO.”

At first glance, the “NATO” appears to be a U.S. distributed VW Thing.  However, while there are similarities, a number of unusual changes exist on this 1970 European  Type 181 NATO. The NATO was used in a variety of countries as a light military vehicle.  Originally painted just one color, “Army green,” they were designed to be reliable, inexpensive to operate and maintain, and also be somewhat stealth for use in military operations.  The black-out lights allow for caravanning while not being noticed and also allow for not be noticed by aircraft flying overhead.

Some of the features that distinguish them for a Thing include the following factory produced equipment:

  • Front over-rider bumpers (stock on the Type 181 NATO
  • Black out lighting (front & rear) – For use with traveling in caravans or being undetectable from aircraft – all wiring and lights in place but not connected at this time
  • Flush mounted and different rear tail lights
  • “Bullet-shaped” blackout lights – rear
  • Rifle mount left in place on the driver’s side (left front side of seat
  • A large number of threaded holes in the rear fold down seats to allow for mounting various equipment and/or armaments


Frankly, describing the condition of this NATO is an easy task.  The old adage, ‘A photo is worth a thousand words” certainly applies.  As the ~150 detailed photos show, the NATO has undergone a comprehensive body off, complete high quality restoration.  In keeping with the military history of the car, a subtle color was chosen and is a great look compared with the drab, original green color.  The restoration was so comprehensive including removal of every panel that no signs of green remain.

The owner and restorer is experienced with complete comprehensive mechanical and cosmetic restorations on a wide range of German cars, with a particular interest and knowledge of Porsche 356 cars.  He was fascinated with this NATO and decided to complete the restoration for his personal use in Brussels.  It was completed to a high standard and, as the photographs support, virtually the entire car was disassembled and parts were replaced with either NOS items, replated, or properly refurbished. The chassis, suspension components, parts of the exterior trim were all powder coated for durability and upgrades were made to the brakes, suspension, and other major components.

The documentation includes the European certification(s) of the VW, all of the export papers, and most important, the USA certification of the VW. While the process of importing the “NATO” was complicated, the persistent owner was successful in finalizing the licensing and certification with the state of California and the VW is smog exempt.  Copies of the paperwork will be included as part of the cars history.


1970 VW TYPE 181 “NATO”

  • Immaculate front & rear compartments
  • Converted to IRS (Independent Rear Suspension)
  • Adjustable front end
  • All new wiring front to back
  • Porsche “Cookie Cutter” wheels
  • Front disc brake conversion / vented
  • Complete canvas, high quality convertible top and side curtains with excellent fit
  • Includes original rims, brake drums, and miscellaneous spares
  • Includes antenna and base – not mounted and no antenna to body mount (but readily available)
  • Matching Fuchs wheel and tire (inflated)


  • Complete body off prime & paint with all needed body work – Painted an original Thing color, Steppe Beige
  • Excellent German fit of body panels
  • Both doors and both front and rear compartments open & close well
  • Doors lock and are removable
  • 100% free from rust, extremely straight body and undercarriage
  • High quality canvas top
  • Excellent front and rear bumpers
  • Excellent front glass
  • All new weatherstrip and rubber trim when restored
  • Twin outside rear view mirrors
  • Difficult to locate antenna and mounting bracket included (not fitted to the vehicle at this time)
  • Virtually all exterior trim powder coated black including mirrors, headlight trim, door handles,
  • Porsche “Cookie Cutter” wheels
  • High quality Yokohama All Terrain tires in size 205/70 15”


  • Upgraded, adjustable front seats – Very comfortable
  • Front 3-point belts
  • Stock rear seats that fold completely down (refer to photos)
  • Entire interior re-painted during body off restoration
  • One point rear receiving belt in rear (for fastening objects)
  • Black sun-visors
  • Original but quite serviceable weatherstrip on doors
  • Front & rear color coordinated cocoa mats
  • Added oil pressure gauge & temperature gauge
  • Clear speedometer in kilometers – fully functional
  • Nice original black steering wheel
  • Fitted with gas heater – appears complete but not connected


The VW runs extremely well, starts immediately whether hot or cold and exhibits no drivability issues.  The completely rebuilt and upgraded braking system stops the car straight and sure with the addition of front disc brakes.  The hand brake is fully functional and holds the car, even on inclines.

Driving the VW is truly a pleasure and it runs smoothly with no hesitations, shifts well up through the gears and has no syncromesh issues.  The steering is precise and light.  The Empi shifter has a reverse lock-out.  The gauges are functional and the oil pressure reads well within acceptable limits.  Unlike so many of the air cooled cars we have had, the VW does not have excessive leaking.

When it comes to versatility, the “NATO” offers something for everyone.  The VW can be driven top on, top off, side curtains on/off, windshield down, doors on or removed, and any combination of the above!  The VW would make a wonderful and highly unique beach, mountain or occasional car.  Plus, you would certainly be the first (and only) one on your block with a “NATO” VW!


  • Passed the California required safety inspection for working wipers, turn signals, lights, brakes, etc.
  • Full size spare tire w/ jack in front compartment


Body and chassis
Class Military vehicle
Body style 4-door Cabriolet
Layout Rear engined
Engine Various
Transmission 4-speed manual
Wheelbase 2,400 mm (94.5 in)
Length 3,780 mm (148.8 in)
Width 1,640 mm (64.6 in)
Height 1,620 mm (63.8 in)
Curb weight 910 kg (2,006 lb)


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 “NATO” was produced from 1968 until 1979 with over 50,000 distributed worldwide.  The TYPE 181 provided a high degree of reliability and low maintenance as light military vehicles.

The civilian Thing came onto the market in 1971 in Europe, and was released in the USA in 1972 as a 1973 model.  Despite its popularity and almost instant cult status, the Thing had to be dropped in 1975 as it failed strict new safety standards, which is a little ironic given it was designed to protect troops in war.

The plan was simple: keep costs low and sell for a high price with a novelty tag. Without coming over all philosophical, the slogan came down to this: “The Thing is”. Like its predecessor, the mechanics were lifted from the Beetle, giving it a flat four, rear-mounted engine, and the floor plan was borrowed from the marque’s stylish coupe, the Karmann Ghia.

Thank you,

Classic Cars Ltd.