The Amphicar: The Little Floater With Big Plans

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
the amphicar the little floater with big plans

We seem to have sunk into an amphibious mode this morning, although we got our feet wet earlier this week with that seminal and still most-built floating car, the VW Schwimmwagen. But Hanns Trippel saw civilian potential, and convinced the Quandt Group (BMW) to back production of his Amphicar design. Although it floated well, enough, the business case for it didn’t.

Somewhat surprisingly, it wasn’t VW based. Trippel wanted more power, to move through the water at somewhat more than the Schwimmwagen’s snail pace. Not that water skiing was likely, given challenges of pushing a blunt car body with its wheels adding drag.The new 1147cc engine from the Triumph Herald had all of 42 hp, which gave the Amphicar a top speed in the water of all of 8 mph. That’s the problem in a nutshell.

The Amphicar’s main market was the US, not surprisingly. Ze Amerikans are always suckers for a new fad, no? Well, the Germans’s optimism was somewhat misplaced: production plans were set at 20k floaters per year. Only 4000 Amphicars were sold in the end, over a seven year period from 1961 to 1968.

The best way to sum up the Amphicar is with this owner’s quote: “It’s not a good car and it’s not a good boat”.

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  • Redmondjp Redmondjp on May 03, 2010

    I grew up in the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, Richland) in eastern WA. Before the I-182 bridge was completed, providing a direct link from Richland to west Pasco, one had to drive all the way to Kennewick to cross over the Columbia River and then double back on the other side. Short story long, I remember one family that had (IIRC) two of these in their carport overlooking the river on the Pasco side. The dad used one daily to commute, across the river, to the Hanford site north of Richland. Saved him maybe 1.5 hours per day vs. driving the long way around. Sadly, I never got to personally witness this. And these cars came w/o a rudder--you use the steering wheel; the front tires steer both in and out of the water!

  • JamesGarfield JamesGarfield on Dec 18, 2013

    Wow, does this bring back the memories. I rode in one of these things many years ago. My dad was friends with a guy down in South Texas, who had a Studebaker dealership (which should tell ya how long ago that was), and they also sold Amphicars. For years I thought the Amphicar was made by Studebaker, until that childhood memory error was corrected by more recent research. But yes, they were really cool machines. The little 1145cc 4-cylinder inline made 'acceptable' performance, if you weren't in a big hurry. It had a smooth, hydrostatic transfer of power from the wheels to the propellers. You would drive slowly into the water on wheel power, then move the lever and the wheels stopped and the propellers started. The front wheels were the 'rudder', which made the Amphicar steer quite differently than a normal boat. There was an extra lever on each door when when pulled, engaged a watertight gasket in the door sills. These little 'boats' still had various little seepages, which required the use of an electric bilge pump. The exhaust was high-mounted on the trunk lid to keep it out of the water. The hood ornament was the red-green navigation light as on a boat. And as another poster commented here -- yes, the freeboard was not muchl, less than 12 inches below the window sills. I remember sitting in the back seat and dragging my fingertips in the water. So yes, as a boat, you'd definately want calm waters. However, I have read of some Amphicar fanatics operating with the windows closed and the convertable roof up, taking them through some fairly heavy seas. More guts for them than this old guy has, fur sure. We tooled around Laguna Madre in that Amphicar one quiet afternoon, back in the late 60's. I haven't confirmed this but was told, that there was a tragic sinking of an Amphicar near this time (reason unknown), that killed a young family, and this was a death blow to the market. But yes, there are several of these unique machines still around and running. They had steel 'hulls' and rusted -- an inconvienence for a car, but death to a boat. Anyway, thanks for the memory trip.

  • Carlson Fan I think it is pretty cool & grew up with a '75 Ford window van so I can attest to their utility. $60K is a lot for any vehicle and I'm not convinced EV's are ready for prime time for a number of reasons. It would make an awesome 2nd or 3rd vehicle in a multi-car household but again the price would keep most from considering it.I agree with the other comments that those who have to have it will buy it and then sales will drop off. Offer a panel version for the commercial market, that could have possibilities.
  • Wjtinfwb Panther Black? or Black Panther? Shaped like a decade old Ford detectives sedan? Seems like an odd way to send out your marquee car...
  • Kwik_Shift Instead of blacked, how about chromed? Don't follow the herd.
  • Carlson Fan Nicest looking dash/gage cluster ever put in any PU truck. After all these years it still looks so good.
  • Wheatridger Correct me if I'm wrong, but has the widescreen digital dash usurped the space formerly occupied in every other car by an HVAC vent? I see one prominent vent well right of center, where there should be two. I rely on twin driver's side vents to warm my hands on cold mornings, and I wouldn't give that up for more screen area.