By on August 2, 2006

whiterace22.jpgA recent TTAC post asked for nominations for the car most likely to get you “a date” (as my wife puts it).  Our well-informed readers made all the obvious suggestions: studly Italian V12’s, check-out-my-package Teutons, midlife-crisis American roadsters, horny-royal Astons and phallic-as-you-wanna-be XKE’s. Yet nobody mentioned the absolute sure thing getluckymobile: the Amphicar. Yes, we’re talking about that 1960’s-era wackiness that answered the question nobody asked:  “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a car that floats?” Schwing!

The Amphicar is the only amphibious civilian vehicle ever put into commercial production. The machines trace their ancestry to the Wehrmacht’s Schwimmwagens, Ferdinand Porsche’s VW-based creation for Hitler’s Third Reich. After the war, a company backed by the Quandt family (which also owned a controlling share of a then-tiny German car company called BMW) produced a civilian amphibious vehicle that took up where the stark military motorfowl left off. During seven years of operation, Amphicar built 3878 Model 770’s. At a stroke, U.S. emissions regulations ended the company’s viability. About half of the vehicles produced survive. Somewhere between 300 and 600 are still “swimmers”– the Amphiphile’s term for ones that still float.

With a bespoke land-and-water transmission, Amphicarians can use either the machine’s wheelsor its twin props. As detailed by amphicar.com, the platypussian beast’s "land transmission" is a four-speed-plus-reverse unit similar to those found in the old Volkswagen Beetle. The "water transmission" is a two-speed transfer case, offering only forward and reverse gears.  The Amphicar’s one major innovation in an admittedly limited genre: the front wheels double as rudders.

So what’s this tremendously odd creation of a normally sane people like to drive?  Novice seaplane pilots will tell you that your first reaction to an obstacle in the water is to step on the brakes. I’m sure that many new Amphicar drivers have discovered that this approach isn’t any more effective in an amphibious car than it is in a Cessna 185 on floats. In fact, piloting an Amphicar in the water requires no more skill than steering a small boat. But there are unique “challenges.” For example, to launch an Amphicar into the water, you must either enter very slowly or very fast. Anything in between and you risk turning a 2300-pound lump of German steel into a submarine.  And after you’ve driven ashore, remember that the Amphi’s brakes don’t work; the drums and shoes are totally aslosh.

Drivers/helmsmen engage the Amphicar’s twin screws (no pun intended) via the two-speed transfer case. Unlike wooden or fiberglass boats, Amphicars have no natural buoyancy. If the convertible top and windows are down, an errant wake or sudden waves can turn a swimmer into a drowner. And heaven help the passengers who forget where they are and open a door. No wonder Amphicars have a secondary door-snugging handle to guard against this distinctly unnautical behavior.

The Amphicar’s 1950’s Triumph Herald pushrod four has a carburetor the size of a can of orange-juice concentrate and produces 43 hp. The Amphi’s zero-to-60 time is 43 seconds. (No, not 4.3 seconds, forty-three.) Maximum speed on water is seven miles per hour, while 70 mph on land (allegedly) is all you get. To paraphrase car reviewers in the day, the Amphicar “was a lousy car and a worse boat.” Or, as a lost-in-the-mists-of-history Car and Driver writer put it, “As a car, it handled like a boat.”

Yes, but– Mechanix Illustrated’s Tom McCahill understood the utter meaningless of the model’s on-road performance. He knew that owning an Amphicar made you the instant king of the lake. “Hey babe, wanta ride?”  Think about it.  Hot sun, summer vacation, beach, beer, bathing suits, a cool little car that turns into a boat with a back seat…what more do you need?

Once you pointed that puppy down the boat ramp and hit the water runnin’, no summertime honey would care about the Amphicar’s skid pad numbers or whether it could out-accelerate a Crosley Hotshot. Hell, you’re already halfway home. You’re in shorts trying to hide your wood and she’s wearing one of those new two-pieces called a bikini. You’re engaging the twin props and revving that suddenly throaty Triumph, she’s already what might as well be 80 percent undressed and is squealing that your cute little car is “far out.” That’s what we said in the‘60s.  It was the Age of Aquarius, and the Amphicar should have been its ride.

Most moderately restored Amphis go for $20k to $35k. The occasional garage queen pulls down $50k. When an Amphicar sold for just over $124k at last winter’s big Barrett-Jackson auction, it served as a prime example of what can happen when bidding fever overwhelms common sense.  Admittedly, the john did buy 12 other cars that day as well, so perhaps he thought he was bidding on an Amilcar.

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21 Comments on “Amphicar...”


  • avatar
    UnclePete

    When I was growing up, I got a ride in a friend's dad's Amphicar. It felt like it was going to tip over on the road any time you turned a corner, and in the water, it didn't inspire much confidence either. However, it was one of the coolest things I had seen at my young age.
    That particular family also owned an Isetta 600 as their daily driver, so they marched to a different drummer at all times!

  • avatar
    UnclePete

    When I was growing up, I got a ride in a friend's dad's Amphicar. It
    felt like it was going to tip over on the road any time you turned a
    corner, and in the water, it didn't inspire much confidence either.
    However, it was one of the coolest things I had seen at my young age.That particular family also owned an Isetta 600 as their daily driver, so they marched to a different drummer at all times!

  • avatar
    chanman

    Would a WW2 vintage Duck be the ultimate party wagon then? a rollin, floating orgymobile? ^^
    btw, for some reason, the article looks like a lot of spaces are missing.  Is someone's spacebar gummed up? 

  • avatar
    dolo54

    And now you can get a car that performs pretty well on both land and water, the WaterCar: http://www.watercar.com/specs.html

  • avatar
    NeonCat93

    Humorous article, my only quibble is a pronounced lack of spaces between words.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    For the ultimate in amphibious vehicles, try the Terra Wind.  It even has a king sized bed in case you get really lucky.

    http://www.terrawind.com/terrawind.htm

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    The huge difference between the Amphicar and things like the Watercar and the British amphibian in which Richard Branson crossed the English Channel awhile ago is that the Amphicar cost approximately $3,000 new and they made nearly 4,000 of them.  The new contenders cost six digits–the Brit goes for nearly a quarter of a million dollars–and maybe one or two of each have been built.

  • avatar
    shabster

    I guess the hot summer has weakened the need for TTAC to post editorials with meaty content…..

  • avatar
    imageWIS

    Did anyone see the amphibious car episode of Top Gear? Very
    funny.
     
    Jon.  

  • avatar
    liquidflorian

    http://www.forumspile.com/Needs-More-Amphicar.jpg
    This board really needs image posting abilities.

  • avatar
    zipper69

    Do any Brits recall a motorcycle sidecar that converted into a boat? My father had one of these pulled by a handsome red Royal Enfield twin (the real Enfield, not the subcontinent's copy).
    Sadly my teenage pleadings fell on deaf ears and he couldn't be persuaded to launch the blighter into the local canal…

  • avatar

    Somewhere around 1970, some teenagers boarded up the undercarriage of a car and drove it into the Charles River in Cambridge Mass, and drove a little way down the river. Unfortunately, I happened on the scene after the thing had sunk.

    The VW old Beetle was a particularly tight car, giving rise to a satire on the very clever ads for Beetles: "if Teddy Kennedy had been driving a Volkswagen, he'd be president."

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    David Holzman wrote:

    The VW old Beetle was a particularly tight car, giving rise to a satire on the very clever ads for Beetles: "if Teddy Kennedy had been driving a Volkswagen, he'd be president."

    That old National Lampoon feature ALWAYS comes to mind whenever I see the term, "floating car."

    Up until now (and possibly forever) there seems to be an inherent problem that arises whenever there is an attempt to marry the automobile with another transportation device, such as a boat or airplane.  The vehicle may be able to perform both of its intended functions, but it does neither particularly well.

  • avatar

    http://www.aquada.co.uk/aquada.php

    The water car looks a little, ahem, fake to me (but I could be mistaken).  I remember reading about the Terrawind when he took it on its first water voyage.  Apparently the onlookers were very concerned that the owner had lost all his marbles… :)
    The aquada is a true amphibious vehicle, with 30mph on water and 100mph on land!
    I am not affliated with Gibbs, I just think they make a cool product.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Chanman: 

    For a smaller, more user friendly version of the DUKW, check out the GPA amphibious jeep, which I believe predates the Schwimmwagen:

    http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/jeep_man/GPA.htm

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Ye, the Aquada is cool, but would you pay a $279,000 for it?  I'd prefer a Ferrari F430 and a nice Bayliner.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    The VW-Kennedy ad:

    http://www.hyperjump.net/aulus/TeddyVWad.jpg

  • avatar
    morebhp

    That is a cool looking amphib, there are lots of newer ones but this is the first classic body style I’ve seen. Here is a video of a newer car driving on land then in water that you might enjoy:

    http://www.sporttuned.com/watch.php?v_id=551

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    I was in Mt. Dora Fl last year, and the antique boat convention was featuring the amphicar that year. About 30 of them paraded down the street into a ramp and cruised around lake Dora and back out. If you want to know who laughs last, the impractical little 3k thing brings 30 to 100K depending on condition. I passed onthe opportunity to buy on that day.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Amphicars are fair-to-middlin’ machines to get to the mainland, if you live on an island not far from said mainland – so I have been told. A pal of mine, Ed Bishop, who used to be general manager for McLeod Auctions (and now works for Silver Auctions as the man on the mike with information on offerings being sold) had several Amphicars; and brought a couple he tired of, back before the Barrett-Jackson hysteria, to sell at auction. That’s where I first saw these strange German hybrid machines.
    But don’t ask Ed how much he got for his. I did, earlier this year, and he just said, “Don’t talk to me about it.” It sure wasn’t 115K.

  • avatar
    Bilgemaster

    Don’t get me wrong, I do LOVE my Amphicar, and before I actually had one I also would also have guessed it to be like the ultimate vehicular babe magnet. In actual practice though, I regret to inform all you horntoads out there that it’s usually toothless inbred nitwits with rotten bad breath that I see sprinting across the parking lot after me…Never once have I spotted a thong-clad supermodel lookalike in the rear view mirror. Never once.

    ~Bilgey~


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