Goofy and unusual — these are the words Marion Zemo associates with the Volkswagen Thing.
He always wanted one, so when he had the opportunity to purchase a 1974 Thing in Appanoose County about four years ago, he took it.
That first winter he took the body off, worked on the floors and picked up a parts car in Minnesota. After a couple of years of working on it, he hit the road.
“It’s fun to drive, just like a big go-kart really,” he says. “It’s not a very comfortable ride, and it’s certainly not a very safe ride.”
Zemo has had various Volkswagens over the years. His first was a new Beetle in 1968, which he bought the year before taking a position with the Centerville Police Department, from which he retired in 2006.
He says old Volkswagens are fun to play with, even if they are not very practical.
“They are simple, and I understand them a little bit better than I do the newer cars,” he says.
You may also see Zemo puttering around town in a red 1971 Volkswagen Bus. The camper belongs to his brother who lives in Cedar Rapids, but Zemo stores it in his garage in Centerville and keeps it ready for when his brother takes it camping at Rathbun Lake.
Zemo says the camper is well made, with a top that still pops up to make little beds.
“But again, it’s not a very safe vehicle,” he says. “It’s bad on the highway, bad with crosswinds, slow going up hills. They’re just not a vehicle for today’s lifestyle.”
The Volkswagen Thing, originally developed for the German army as a Jeep-like vehicle, was only sold in the United States in 1973 and 1974. In 1975, it failed to meet new U.S. safety regulations but continued to be sold elsewhere until 1983.
Zemo recalls that a new Thing cost a lot more than a new Beetle and yet had fewer amenities. They usually did not have heaters, radios or carpeting.
One of the four original colors for the Thing was yellow, and Zemo paid homage to that by painting the car a closely-related shade. Hippies often decorated Volkswagens with flowers and peace signs, so Zemo put some flowers on the Thing to reflect that time period.
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