Newly-arrived 181’s a dream come true for our Andy, but it’s already costing him big bucks
1971 VOLKSWAGEN 181 PESCACCIA
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!
OWNED SINCE June 2017 MILEAGE SINCE First report TOTAL MILEAGE 45,171 LATEST COSTS £512
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!