from a military career to that of a hippie icon

from a military career to that of a hippie icon


Stable, reliable and economical; these are the restrictions imposed by the Bundeswehr. At that time, it was necessary to replace DKW Munga which had run out of power. The Army contacts various producers to submit a project.

Volkswagen is thinking about reusing the Beetle’s features and is offering its project a simple variant based on the Kübelwagen that was shown during the Second World War. Four removable doors, folding windshield and hood are part of the equipment.



For its exploration of a light military vehicle, Volkswagen uses the main lines of the Kübelwagen, which emerged between 1936 and 1945 with the Wehrmacht. Photo of VW

VW parts patch

The floor is taken from the Karmann-Ghia coupe, wider than the Beetle, while the engine is from the Beetle: 1.5 l developing 44 hp. The reinforced front axle is taken from the same Beetle, while the rear axle is from the Kombi; It has a reduction device that allows more weight in the back.

Project 181 has a length of 3.78 m, a width of 1.64 m and a height of 1.62 m and a weight of 910 kg. The windshield is easily lowered, the doors can be removed without tools (just lift them from their fingers) and can be stored in the trunk or under the seats; the rear bench seats fold down to provide a flat loading space, the mirrors are from Kombi, the headlights and dashboard instruments are from Mende.


To promote it, VW has bet on the spirit of the times and the recreational vehicle among the youth.  Photo of VW

To promote it, VW has bet on the spirit of the times and the recreational vehicle among the youth. Photo of VW

Change of strategy

In 1968, 15,275 copies were ordered by the Bundeswehr under the official name “TMIL 0.4 t 4×2” (“two-wheeled vehicle weighing 400 kg”) but often called by the soldiers “Kurierwagen”.

Some European forces are in contact but VW employees are making it for civilian use. We are thinking of the Type 181 for farmers or for countries like Mexico, which welcomed the Beetle, and the Puebla factory will start building it in 1970.

In 1970, in the United States, young people were in the middle of the hippie trend and the Combi was doing well. The Type 181 would be introduced on the West Coast in 1971.


The ad quotes, under the text, Something.  VW tried to sell it by presenting it as a more rustic car than the Cox.  In Europe, it was sold more expensive than the convertible Cox... Photo DR

The ad quotes, under the text, Something. VW tried to sell it by presenting it as a more rustic car than the Cox. In Europe, it was sold more expensive than the convertible Cox… Photo DR

Hand depression

In order to make it past the Rio Grande, it will be necessary to circumvent the already difficult law by adopting the type 181 for use. So dealers will offer the car to customers and we will get its nickname that will be used in advertising: “Kitu” (“Kitu”).

It must be said that it is unlike anything known in the Atlantic; More adventurous than off-road, not really modern and sensitive to rust, not really pretty either, Thing will have a hard time seducing.

In 1971, Volkswagen tries to seduce Europe. In France, it is very reminiscent of the Kübelwagen of 30 years ago; things are a little better in England.


1974 edition of 181. We note that the coolant blows or disappears from the rear components for filtration performance.  Photo of VW

1974 edition of 181. We note that the coolant blows or disappears from the rear components for filtration performance. Photo of VW

The end of a career in indifference

In 1973, VW changed the engine to a 1.6-liter 48 hp engine and dropped the rear gear unit for a simple gimbal.

In 1975, commercial work in the USA stopped because of new safety standards; There was no victory there.

In 1979, the last 181 was delivered to the German army and production was purely civilian until the final shutdown in 1983.

More than 90,880 copies were produced, including more than 50,000 for the armed forces and about 20,000 in Mexico. 181 then began its collection work.