Theo Arter, Switzerland

Neither his Type 181 nor Theo Arter himself had any “desert experience” before 2015… except Theo's short trip from Douz to Ksar Ghilane in Tunisia in 2013 where he obviously got infected by the “desert virus”.

Volkswagen Typ 181

The Volkswagen Type 181 was a two-wheel drive, four-door, convertible, off-road, military vehicle manufactured 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 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“. 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. The Europa Jeep was the result of a NATO plan to have a vehicle whereby each European NATO makers all combined to build a light-duty patrol vehicle. The Volkswagen 181 was only supposed to fill in, until the time that the Europa Jeep was ready. From 1968 until 1979, over 50,000 Type 181s were delivered to the NATO forces. By 1979 the Europa Jeep project had fallen apart completely and was abandoned, and the West German government began supplementing their consumption of 181s with the new front-engined Type 183 Iltis.

VW could keep cost to a minimum and thus maximize profitability by using existing parts. Like the World War II era Type 82 Kübelwagen, the Type 181 used mechanical parts and a rear-engine platform, manual transmission and a flat-4 engine derived from that of the Type 1 (Beetle). The floorpans came from the Type 1 Karmann Ghia, which had a wider floorpan than the Beetle. Rear swing axle suspension with reduction gearing from the discontinued split-screen Volkswagen Transporter was used until 1973, when it was replaced with double-jointed axles used by Porsche and IRS semi-trailing arm setup as used on the 1303 and US-spec Beetles.

The VW Type 181 is actually not a typical “desert vehicle” – but obviously it has the potential to be one. There were absolutely no modifications applied to the vehicle before it was taken to the desert of Tunisia by Theo. The only “improvement” made was to reduce the air pressure in the tires to obtain better traction in the sand-dunes

Technical Data

1968–83 (1980 for civilian use)
90,883 built

Body and chassis
Class: Military vehicle
Body style: 4-door Cabriolet
Layout: Rear engined

Engine: 1.5 or 1.6l H4 , (32–35 kW)
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)