By on May 1, 2010

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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14 Comments on “The Amphicar: The Little Floater With Big Plans...”


  • avatar
    baabthesaab

    I knew several people with these back in the day. The version of the quote I remember is “It’s a lousy car and a worse boat”. Same thing, though. The only owner for whom it made any sense was an elderly man with paralized legs. He loved to fish, and he could get in the car at home from his wheel chair, drive down to, and off, the beach, fish to his heart’s content, then go home to the wheelchair.

    Just imagine what the salty ocean water did to these, though!

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    As I was a boy growing up in Farmington Michigan, there was a house at (IIRC) Middlebelt and 11.5 Mile Rd. that had two, maybe three, of these cars in the yard. Every time we drove by (usually on the way to Sears), I always made it a point to look out the car window at these fascinating vehicles.

    Most unusual place I have ever seen an Amphicar? On the deck of a big boat on the Seine river in Paris! (I even have a fuzzy pic of it.)

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    In the early 1960s, the Toronto, Canada, police tried to stop an Amphicar. The driver headed for Lake Ontario, reached the waterline and kept on going. I don’t remember whether they caught him.

  • avatar
    mdensch

    There is a car show around here every summer in a large park along the river and an Amphicar club almost always brings several of these and even gives people rides up and down the river. They seem to ride awfully low in the water and under power have a pronounced nose-up/tail-down attitude making them look as though they would be easily swamped. And the door seals always seem to leak, at least a little.

    Still, while I wouldn’t want one, I’m glad to live in a world where they exist.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    It’s a twin screw, cool!

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    “Damnit! This thing handles like a boat!”

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    There was a documentary that covered the Amphicar recently. Apparently when they prepared for production, they stocked 20,000 of every part. So, there is a vast supply of parts for these cars, which is why something like 700 of the original 4000 are still running.

    There are Amphicar clubs and websites, and a place called Gordon Imports that stocks the parts.

  • avatar
    postjosh

    let’s not forget the amphicar’s role in the most awesome movie of all time: the president’s analyst.

    http://josh.com/zebob/analyst.jpg

  • avatar
    obbop

    In a humble hamlet dozing immediately adjacent to the cultural backwater of Omaha, Nebraska exists an amphibious conveyance.

    I forget if it is the VW based or other-based version but I do remember my close-up parking lot perusal made me think VW due to the instrumentation… that was very similar to what was in the 1965 Bug I drove in my youth.

    The owner drove it in local parades and showed it at various car shows and crept across local water bodies at times.

    Doubt if it would function well as an anti-submarine vessel due to the weight of anti-sub torpedoes and electronic gear required to prosecute modern submarines, whether pig- or nuke-boats.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Amphicars bring outrageous money at Barret-Jackson.

    Growing up at my father’s marina during the time they were new I used to occasionally see them, one can only wonder how they would fair in rough water. My guess is not too well.

  • avatar

    Meh, entire deal is screwed up, going wrong way bad.

    Should take quality bass boat and make part time car out of it.

  • avatar
    texlovera

    So, is this a “Dockside Classic”??

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    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!

  • avatar
    JamesGarfield

    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.

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