Story by Jennifer Bauman
Special to the OC Register
Photos by Paul Bersebach
The Orange County Register
Fans of the Volkswagen model say nothing can beat these cars.
Saturday, May 20, 2000
You can come here, and you can see every model and color. It’s like you died and went to Thing heaven!
That’s how Greg and Arda Melikyan describe Sunday’s fourth annual Thing Show & Swap at German Motor Works in Garden Grove. Owners of Things will have an opportunity to show off their vehicles at the free event.
For the uninitiated, the Thing is a Volkswagen off-road convertible with ancestry dating to World War II, when VW made Kuebelwagen for the German Army. A model was made in Mexico and sold in the United States in 1973-74.
The car was called the Safari in Latin America. That name was already taken in the United States, so a contest was held to give the VW 181 a new moniker. Soon, the nameless thing became the Thing, creating comical conversations with the curious:
“What do you call it?”
“No, really! What do you call that thing?”
“It is called the Thing!”
The Melikyan’s laugh about their attraction to the bizarre Thing.
“These cars are so ugly they are cute”, Greg says.
“And very unusual”, Arda adds.
Their addiction began as a hobby. Greg, a German car mechanic, decided to restore a Thing in the early 1990s. He struggled to find parts, searching junkyards for bumpers, fenders and doors. Arda, a business major, didn’t like the price or the quality of Thing accessories, so she decided to make her on sun visors, side curtains and carpet kits.
Soon, the couple had tapped into a market where demand outstripped limited supply.
“The Thing is the most collectable car VW has right now”, Greg says. “As soon as there’s one available (he snaps his fingers), it’s sold. And prices have soared”. A fully restored Thing can sell for as much as $18,000.
Greg and Arda say their Thing restoration business has succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. But the two perfectionists continue to do all the work themselves, believing that if they delegate work, they?ll lose control of quality.
Mark Clum. 47, is a regular customer who bought a set of sun visors for his Thing, then came back to have his VW engine rebuilt. “Everything they do is so precise. I wouldn’t think of going anywhere else”, he says.
Loring Kohrt, 26, is another Thing lover with Melikyan loyalty.” If you hang out while they’re working on something of yours, it just drives you crazy because they’re so picky on everything.”
Their desire for perfection applies to this weekend’s Thing Show & Swap.
Greg and Arda don’t accept sponsors, so they are picking up the tab for all the expenses of putting on the event. They plan to give out more than two dozen awards and lots of customized T-shirts. Of course, there will be food to eat.
The show received exposure on their “thingsforthething” Web site, so it’s attracting international attention. Thing fanatics from Japan, Germany and Canada say the plan to attend. Stateside enthusiasts promise to attend from Utah, Arizona and Washington.
The Melikyans say anyone with any Thing is nothing unless they show up in some Thing. “After all, It’s a love Thing.”