Our Clas­sics

Newly-ar­rived 181’s a dream come true for our Andy, but it’s al­ready cost­ing him big bucks

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - ANDY TAL­BOT CON­TRIB­U­TOR


Ire­cently sold my 1973 VW-Porsche 914 and went off in search of new love. I’d tin­kered as much as I could with the two-seater 914 but was in­creas­ingly drawn to the fact the VW 181 Kü­bel­wa­gen (Ger­man for ‘ bucket car’), has four doors and four seats, mean­ing my fam­ily could come with me to clas­sic car shows. I’d owned the 914 for six years and we’d been round the block a few times – but only when the fuel injection was work­ing. Time to move on. I spot­ted this Ital­ian ver­sion of the 181 for sale in Shrop­shire. Civil­ian ver­sions were quite rare even back in the day – most Euro­pean exmaples were ex-mil­i­tary – but this 1971 ex­am­ple, mar­keted in Italy as the ‘Pescaccia’ (or ‘ hunt­ing car’), spent most of its life with one fam­ily in the hills of Tus­cany. It was low-mileage, then, but had been re­cently re­stored. Im­pa­tient to get into an­other clas­sic car, I bought it and got shiply.com – a use­ful web­site on which you can bid for trans­port – to de­liver it to my home in St He­lens. I owned three of these cars back in the 1990s when I had fewer re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and had missed the fun they of­fer ever since. And of course air-cooled VWs are a dod­dle to work on com­pared to the key­hole surgery ac­cess to a VW-Porsche 914’s en­gine bay. On the test drive I re­dis­cov­ered the 181 mojo I hadn’t known for 20 years. Noth­ing aes­thetic seems to have been al­lowed to spoil its pur­pose­ful rather than pretty de­sign, and I was clearly so taken by this par­tic­u­lar car’s bare de­sign and quirk­i­ness that I didn’t fully in­spect the soft-top while I was chat­ting with the ven­dor. It was only when the car fi­nally ar­rived, then, I re­alised that while the vinyl hood isn’t ex­actly ripped, it’s rather rot­ten, with more pin­holes in it than a slice of fo­cac­cia. Steeled for the £500 I’d have to fork out for a new roof from the USA, I picked up my debit card and bit the bul­let.

Never one to ap­pear ra­tio­nal when pri­ori­tis­ing jobs on my clas­sics, I turned my at­ten­tion next to mak­ing the Pescaccia look a bit more Ital­ian. You have to love the de­tails that dif­fer­ent car mar­kets pre­scribed to cer­tain car de­signs – well I do; in fact, I have books about them – and the Ital­ian mar­ket de­manded some sub­tle dif­fer­ences to the VW 181. The hazard lights were deleted and front white or clear in­di­ca­tor lenses were ac­com­pa­nied by a lit­tle win­dow of am­ber set into the side of the generic Bee­tle in­di­ca­tor hous­ing, pre­sum­ably to serve as a side in­di­ca­tor re­peater.

My car’s orig­i­nal Ital­ian-spec front in­di­ca­tors had been re­placed at some point by stan­dard all am­ber plas­tic lenses, and since orig­i­nal two-tone lenses are like hen’s teeth these days, I made my own by adding am­ber ac­etate to some clear lenses. To en­sure road le­gal­ity, I also bought a pair of am­ber bulbs. My DIY lenses cost me £12 all-in from on­line parts sup­plier, gs­f­carparts.com, in­stead of the £200 I’d seen some orig­i­nals be­ing advertised for on­line – re­sult!

Okay, some­times lit­tle things get in the way of be­ing prag­matic. Yes, the car still needs an MoT, yes the wiper mo­tor seems un­will­ing to do very much, and yes I still have no roof. So, guess who’s pray­ing for a long, hot sum­mer this year?

My next jobs, then, are to come up with some sort of wiper mo­tor re­pair and then get stuck into fit­ting the new top when it fi­nally ar­rives – hope­fully be­fore sum­mer ends.

I hope all will go to plan be­fore I fi­nally kick the ‘ bucket car’ – not that that’ll be hap­pen­ing any time soon!


Four doors, four seats – what more do you need from a clas­sic VW 181 Pescaccia?

Side roof seams have rot­ted away, leav­ing pieces hang­ing off. New ones are on or­der.

L-R: Ital­ian in­di­ca­tor hous­ing, home­made lens, orig­i­nal Ital­ian lens and a UK-spec lens.

Orig­i­nal Ital­ian-style in­di­ca­tors cost around £200 – Andy’s DIY ones cost just £12!

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