Joe’s 1973 VW 181 / Trekker

For half of his 30 years, Barnsley, South Yorkshire’s Joe Crookes has been getting his hands grimy and discoloured by orange VW rust dust with an impressive amount of old VW’s. If Volkswagen ran a loyalty scheme for its collectors, curators and customers, we’re pretty sure this guy would have racked up some decent reward points by now.

We met Joe at this year’s fantastic Field of Dreams festival in York, and like a moth to light, we were instantly drawn in by his Trekker. Looking like something you’d expect to see kicking ass in an episode of The A Team or getting smashed from pillar to post by Jason Bourne around some narrow Middle Eastern side street chasing some lunatic. It turned out Joe was only thinking of stopping at the show for a quick look around for a few hours, but said he decided “to stay once I knew the Rothfink guys were interested.”

We have to say, we’re really glad he did.

Wanting to get more info about the the owner and vehicle, we quizzed him about when he was first bitten by the VW bug.

“I’ve been into VW’s since the age of 15, with my first VW being a LWB Volksrod buggy.”

Admittedly, not the most conventional first step into the world of late night, all weather essential maintenance escapades, but impressive nonetheless. He continues; “After the buggy, I bought a really nice standard Trekker, which funnily enough turns out used to belong to my uncle a good few years before, I slammed that one but stupidly sold it a few years later.” So that imaginary rewards scheme we have? Joe’s just racked up some decent friends and family bonus points.

Two wagons in, he has that ‘I haven’t finished, there’s more’ look in his eye. “I filled the gap with a slammed Mk1 Caddy pickup, that went, then I bought a lowered Mk2 Golf on wide Minlite wheels, that also went so then I got a slammed Mk2 Caddy van.” So that’s a total of five vehicles before the Trekker in 15 years? “Oh no, I also have a low Bug-eye Baja Beetle in my garage at the moment which I bought as a ‘quick project’ a year ago (does such a thing exist?). But to be honest, I never got over selling my original Trekker and always fancied another.”

Yet more pretend Volkswagen reward points racked up. So that’s six vehicles in total, seven with this Trekker. That’s a pretty impressive level of commitment to the cause for a 30 year old dubber.

Now, let’s not dash our hopes of him being this unstoppable restoration assembly line, churning out a variety of Volkswagen’s lovingly restored to the standard he’s set here with this Trekker. If so, we would literally have to write a novel length feature here about Joe. So, for the record we’ll assume he restored them all.

So onto the Trekker, Joe, this wagon, it’s mind blowing, how did you come across it?

“The car is officially a 181, but more commonly known as a Trekker. It’s a 1973 model, ex-NATO. This particular one I was told about by the previous owner after I had approached him about his ‘Slam Box’ Country Buggy. It had no MOT, no tax, and no engine.”

Wow, so you really had your work cut out then, what did you end up putting in?

“There was a good 1200 sat in the shed after changing the engine in the Baja Beetle project, I had that covered, that was no problem.” And structurally, the Trekker was sound? “I had a good look and it was pretty solid apart from the rear valance, so I took a risk and paid full asking price. I then fitted the engine on the seller’s driveway a few days before picking the car up, and took it straight for its first MOT the next morning.”

And the results?

“Flew straight through, with no advisories apart from a couple of small bits of surface corrosion on the floor panels.”

Great work man, it was no fluke. And by the way, we’ve stopped counting the imaginary loyalty points. And the lowering, was it already done or did it take some intervention?

“It was already fitted with the 4″ narrowed beam, and lowered on BRM’s. But to be honest, it wasn’t low enough for me. I bought the 7″ and 8″ staggered reproduction Porsche Fuchs off eBay, along with some wide-5 to Porsche adapters locally. The Fuchs didn’t come detailed, so I’ve had to do them myself. I had new tires fitted all round, the fronts are 165-50-15 slam tires, to get the car lower. These were fitted and then the horrible arch gap eliminated on the front end by messing with the adjusters for a few minutes.”

So mission accomplished?

“Yeah, the rear was lowered 1 outer spline.”

The finish and interior look superb, really decent and that gearstick, it looks lethal!?

“Haha, the gearstick used to be a replica ball-mace I sourced off eBay, it was sat on top of an old tent pole. It has been in 3 of my cars so far, I can’t seem to let it go when selling the cars on! If you look, all the paint inside and under the bonnet is original and in great condition, with original warning stickers and NATO numbers. I originally had an idea to replace the front seats with low-back classic bucket seats, but now prefer the look of it all original.”

Much left to do on it now?

“Only work planned is to fix some rust issues on the back end, mainly the rear valance, but theres a couple of small holes around the rear arches. I wouldn’t mind some lower profile front tires to get the front end a bit closer to the ground, but not sure the local tyre garage will have a go at fitting them. They weren’t too happy trying to get these on!”

So right now, is this your ultimate vehicle? Or is there another wagon keeping you awake at night?

“My ultimate vehicle would probably be a slammed Kubelwagen, with a seriously quick motor. I’d need a Lottery win first! I’m happy driving this for the time being, there’s no cars on my want list as of yet. The Baja Beetle project has ground to a halt since buying this, so that’s the first thing that needs to get done before thinking of something else, and before winter kicks in. The 181 is great in warm dry weather, but i don’t think i’ll enjoy snow blowing in.”

Joe, this is a heavyweight wagon man, thanks for letting Rothfink Industries take a pop at it, it made Field of Dreams for us, anything you’d like to add?

“Thanks guys, I’m glad I decided to stay now and thanks to the folks at Split66 for use of their awning and duvet!”


Words: Rothfink Industries
Photography: Alex Mills (Rothfink Industries)
Art Direction: Alex Mills (Rothfink) / Jason Cooper (Rothfink)
Vehicle courtesy of: Joe Crooke’s 1973 VW Trekker
Model: Amelia Belle
Originally published in UltraVW, 2014.