What’s a VW Trekker?

We love open air VWs, but the rugged, go anywhere Trekker surely has to be one of the coolest topless VWs out there at the moment. Here’s a quick insight into how it came about…

Variously known as the ‘Thing’ across the pond, the ‘Safari’ in Mexico, the ‘Camat’ in Indonesia, the ‘Pesaccia’ in Italy and the more down to earth ‘Trekker’ here, the Type 181 was originally meant for the German Army. Made in Wolfsburg initially from 1968, over 150,000 Type 181s were delivered to NATO forces until the front engined Type 183 VW-Golf engine Iltis came on tap in 1980.

new opener

Borrowing the concept of the WW2 Kübelwagen, or ‘bucket car’ it sat on a wider Karmann Ghia floorpan and used mainly VW Beetle mechanicals. It wasn’t four-wheel drive, but being so light and with excellent ground clearance it was still pretty capable off-road. Like the Citroën Mehari, the Trekker has an appeal all of its own – and we love it!

new rear

Early examples used a rear swing axle arrangement from the split screen bus, while models after around 1973 featured a more complex semi-trailing arm setup as used in the 1303 Bug. Lower gearing was achieved by means of a reduction boxes.

Body-wise it was simplicity in itself, with corrugated panels to give it strength, detachable doors which could be swapped from the front to back and a folding front screen. Heating was provided by an optional petrol fuelled heater which was plumbed directly to the fuel tank.

detail 2upengine

Word has it that when the right-hand drive Type 182 was first marketed as the ‘Thing’ here in 1974/5, dealers objected and a competition was launched to come up with a better name – hence the Trekker. It’s thought that just 100 were imported to the UK, and we got Mexican made examples with larger rounded rear lights. Other Type 182s were made for other RHD markets and it’s reported that Morocco was supplied with 20 such examples, with reports that vehicles used in Indonesia are also Type 182 models.


Despite looking like nothing else on the road, civilian sales were never strong – largely due to their extortionate asking price when new which must have been well in excess of a standard Beetle. How the price of the Trekker compared to the contemporary Karmann Cabriolet is unknown, but it would be interesting to find out.

black and white

Needless to say Trekkers are a rare sight and for that reason interest seems to be growing. Price wise one sold on eBay recently for just £3000, but whoever landed that got a real bargain as far as we can see because they rarely come up for sale, and lots are imported. The orange one here is being sold by OldBug – it’s a Californian ’73 model and it’s up for $18,500.


The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of VW Heritage.

One response to “What’s a VW Trekker?

  1. Only the swing-axle versions had reduction boxes.
    ‘Trekker’ really only refers to the UK spec civilan 182 version offered in 1975.

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