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Omaha Magazine

What's That Thing

Oct 13, 2015 12:23PM ● By Anthony Flott
Shakespeare wrote of love and betrayal. Tolkien of hobbits and wizards. Steinbeck and Faulkner of the indomitable American spirit.

Layne Yahnke writes about his VW Thing.

Yes, the two-wheel-drive, off-road convertible military vehicle first manufactured for the West German Army as “Type 181” in 1968. VW churned them out until 1983, including two years in the United States when marketed as “The Thing.”

Yahnke got his Thing in 2000 for $5,500. He’s lovingly restored it, most importantly giving it a peppy new motor that makes it Autobahn-worthy.

There’s only one other Thing in Omaha and Yahnke gets lots of second and third looks when he’s whipping down the Dodge Street Expressway from his Elkhorn home. Especially when the doors are off and windshield is down.

Everyone wants to know about…the Thing.

Thus Yahnke penned, “It Takes a Village to Build a VW Thing,” an ode to those who helped him with his beloved ride—his sons, Omaha VW Club members, engine and body shops, and parts stores.

“I wrote that right after the engine transplant,” says Yahnke, an Omaha native and vice president at Essex Corp., provider of senior living communities. “I guess I was moved. I get so many inquiries about it and I really feel so fondly about it.”

It’s not his first Thing. Yahnke and his wife of 38 years, Pam, owned one before their four children came along. As the kids have come and gone, so have the cars.

Lots of them.

Layne and Pam Yahnke


Yahnke figures he has owned 60 automobiles in his life. His car fancy began as a kid growing up in Dundee where a friend’s dad spent his spare time restoring English cars. Yahnke spent hours in his garage and developed a love for Triumphs and MGs. His first car purchase was a 1962 Triumph for $425 in 1972. It wasn’t long, though, until he sold it at a profit.

“That’s what kicked off the buying and selling of English cars,” he says. “I discovered I could enjoy my transportation, but then as soon as someone wanted to buy it for more than I paid for it, out it went.”

These days, you never know what will be parked in the Yahnke driveway. Currently, there’s a Honda pickup, a VW Jetta, VW Multivan, and a 2001 Audi TT Quatro Convertible—purchased in apropos silver for his 25th wedding anniversary.

It’s the Thing he most enjoys driving. He logs about 1,000 miles on it each year. Most of those have come topless—Yahnke long ago gave it away to another Thing enthusiast and now only drives it sans roof.

“Anyone who sees this car has only seen it top-down,” he says. “I just got caught once in the rain, and that was probably a month ago. The cool thing about the Thing is you leave it out in the sun and it dries out and is ready to go.”

It says, “Summer is here,” Yahnke says.

“People speed up all the time to try to figure out what it is. It’s just a happy car and it’s so darn versatile. It puts smiles on peoples’ faces.”



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