A thing for Things and other VWs

A local man has amassed a nifty collection of fourVolkswagen Things,a VW camper bus and two trucks.

A local man has amassed a nifty collection of fourVolkswagen Things,a VW camper bus and two trucks.

April 18, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - John Tritle has a thing for Things.

The weird little Volkswagen four-door vehicles that were the German army's version of the GIs' Jeeps in World War II made their way to Volkswagen dealerships in America in 1973 and 1974.

A novelty vehicle, the boxy, underpowered Things never set sales records in America.

Volkswagen marketers must have known that, because the German car company only sent over 12,000 Things in each of the two years they were offered in the United States, Tritle said.

The Greencastle man owns four Things, all 1974 models. He finds parts for them by word-of-mouth and on the Internet. So far he's bought 10 around the country, all in non-running condition.


"Whenever I hear of one I go and buy it, take it home, put it behind the garage and strip the parts off it," he said.

"Different ones have different good parts that I can use," he said. "I've got three hoods in my garage right now."

He said he's traveled as far as Texas, Arizona and Florida to find Things.

Tritle's fascination with Things began with a white one that his father-in-law bought new in 1974. Tritle's wife, Desiree, took her driver's test in the car, he said. "Her father gave it to her when she turned 18," Tritle said. She brought it into the marriage.

"It was still running in 1989. I was driving it one day and it caught fire and burned up. A fuel line broke," he said.

He hauled it home and decided to rebuild it. "The only thing I knew about a Volkswagen then was how to turn the key and start it up."

It was only after he had started to take the Thing apart that he learned about The Peoples Car Club, a group of Volkswagen enthusiasts in Hagerstown. "Whenever I got stuck I'd go to them. They taught me," he said.

Among Tritle's Things are the beautifully restored white one that his wife still owns, cherishes and takes to auto shows, an Acapulco model, only 500 of which were made in 1974. It has an open surrey top, distinctive blue and white paint and striped blue and white upholstery. He has a brown one with a hard top that he calls his "daily driver," and a souped-up version that he hauls to the VW drag race circuit. Its motor develops 500 horsepower, he said.

He said his father-in-law paid $3,495 for his Thing in 1974. "My wife turned down $25,000 from a dealer who wanted to display it in his showroom," Tritle said.

He said he takes his vehicles to about 12 shows a year, including a Thing-only show in Asheville, N.C.

"Things are unique. Nobody has them," Tritle said. "I like to have stuff that nobody else has."

He has several other rare air-cooled VWs in his back yard including a 1974 camper bus and two VW trucks, one a crew cab, the other a regular cab.

Tritle's penchant for things mechanical goes back to his childhood.

His mother, Agnes Wilson said that when he was a boy he took things apart to see how they worked.

"He was always taking his bicycles apart and putting them back together," she said.

"I'm one of those people who has to learn as I go," Tritle said.

Before it was Volkswagens, it was airplanes. Tritle said he used to repair antique airplanes and build ultra-light and experimental aircraft.

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