A Collector’s Thing
By Robert K. Smith
Pasadena, California’s David Zander collects a few architecturally significant homes, produces many TV commercials and music videos, and drives around in this German Motor Works-restored ’74 Type 181.
We found out about this incredibly restored 1974 Thing, thanks to Greg and Arda Melikyan, who are the proprietors of German Motor Works in Garden Grove, California. They had a nicely done, German military ’73 Thing, which they sold a couple years ago to David Zander, who resides in nearby Pasadena, and a few months later, he commissioned Greg and Arda to restore another Thing of ’74 vintage.
Mr. Zander vividly remembers when he used his mom’s VW Thing as his own, taking his friends to high school. Since his mother’s unexpected passing shortly after graduation, David has always wanted to find a Thing in good shape, and have it restored to “show condition.” Being a busy man with his business of producing television commercials and music videos, not to mention buying and restoring homes or architectural history (in Glendale, the Schaffer residence redwood-and-glass house designed in 1949 by Frank Lloyd Wright protege John Lautner, and two Pasadena homes, the 1906 arts-and-craft style Duncan-Irwin House, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1923 Millard House, the architect’s first concrete textile-block structure known as “La Miniatura”) he decided to let the German Motor Works crew handle the entire resto process.
Inside, out, & underneath, this Type 181 was completely refurbished, with painstaking detail, thanks to Greg and Arda Melikyan at their shop German Motor Works, in Garden Grove, CA. The bone stock 1600 was rebuilt by Greg, who used many new old stock parts (crank, rods, bearings, pistons, cylinders, cam, lifters, Feibe German oil pump, oil cooler, heads, valves, rocker arms, shafts, heater boxes), and NOS muffler.
This project took a year and a half, starting with disassembly, seperating the body from its pan, then sending the bare pan to be sandblasted and powdercoated, thanks to Olympic Powder Coating in Santa Ana. With the freshly coated pan at his shop, Greg first installed the front suspension – powdercoated beam, trailing arms, and spindles, plus NOS tie rods and ends, ball-joints, brakes, drums, hoses, a new steering boxm and Bilstein shocks. In the rear went stock 24mm torsion bars, coated spring plates, stock Thing cv-joints and axles, another pair of Bilsteins, and complete NOS German brake assemblies, as well as stainless steel nuts and bolts. The IRS trans(code AV) was rebuilt by Greg, who kept everything factory stock, including the gear ratios, and 4.12:1 ring and pinion. To make the chassis a roller, Greg and Arda mounted powdercoated stock 14-inch Thing wheels with 27 x 8.5 x 14 Bridgestone rubber all around.
While the crew at Tolerico’s Body Shop (in nearby Fountain Valley) was handling the bodywork and paint (PPG two-stage Avocado Green), Greg was building the 7.0:1 compression 1600 engine, at German Motor Works. He used as many new old stock parts as possible including the crankshaft, rods, and bearings, Mahle 85.5mm pistons/cylinders, camshaft and gears, lifters, Feibe German oil pump, stock oil cooler, and cylinder heads with new old stock valves. More NOS goodies were the rocker arms, rocker shafts, pushrods, pushrod tubes, flywheel, pressure plate/clutch disc, heater boxes, and muffler. Also new – a Bosch vacuum advance distributor, Bocar 34 PICT carburetor, and spark plugs/wires.
With the freshly painted body back at the shop, Greg, Arda and crew (Bo Artin, Kyle Heike) mounted the body and all its trim: check out that NOS Thing-only gas cap. Inside the body, the team installed wiring, mounted the column, guages and switches, and bolted on a nicely refurbished steering wheels, thanks to Koch’s in Canyon Country, California. For upholstery, German Motor Works’ own Ramon Gutierrez stitched-up black marine vinyl (with black piping), then wrapped it over the powdercoated seat frames outfitted with new padding. Robbins Auto Top made the convertible top using RS material, and Arda used the exact same material to fabricate the perfect fit side curtain/windows.
Inside and out, and underneath, this is one super sanitary, and very detailed Type 181. As soon as owner David Zander saw the finished Thing, was he ever excited, and immediately took it for a drive. He left his Duncan-Irwin house with Greg riding shot-gun, and after cruising a few blocks, they parked at the “Dynasty House” (as seen on the television show, Dynasty), and another home from Mr. Zander’s collection. David plans to hang on to this Type 181 so his son can have, as he puts it, “the Thing experience” when he starts high school and needs a car. This “74 is quite a collectible, and of all the cars that David likes, this Thing is by far his most favorite, definately a “keeper” in his book.
Fountain Valley, CA’s Tolerico’s Body Shop gets credit for the superb bodywork and paint, PPG two-stage in Avocado Green, while assembly chores were done by Greg, Arda, and crew (Bo Artin, Kyle Heike), with marine vinyl upholstery by Ramon Gutierrez. Undercarriage features powdercoating, German NOS brake assemblies, IRS trans (code AV, rebuilt by Greg), Bilstein shocks, stainless steel hardware and factory Thing-only engine protection grills. Also, check that super rare, NOS locking gas cap.