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January 17, 2014

It’s a car, it’s a boat, no it’s the Amphicar

by Paul Daniel

The fastest car on the water and fastest boat on the road

My regular blog followers already know this about me so for the first timers, I really like unusual cars. Maybe part of the reason I owned an AMC amphicar, Amphibious Vehicles, savageonwheels.com, collector cars, classic carsPacer. Stop laughing, I really did. Maybe that’s also why I like the Amphicar. So my aunt and uncle live on Kelly Lake, about 30 minutes west of Green Bay, and told me about this guy who had this car that was also a boat, or a boat which was also a car. Being in TV at the time, I called the guy, set up a time and off I went with a photographer.

It was the first and maybe the last amphibious automobile

Designed by by Hans Trippel and built in Germany, production started in 1961. The company set a goal of 20,000 units per year based on the then booming American leisure market. Hans make potential customers aware of the new car and in 1962 he got it. His Amphicar set sail across the often-turbulent English Channel from France to Britain. Slam dunk on this right? It naturally captured the attention of both car and boating enthusiasts all over the world. He got the U.S. market’s attention because around 3,000 units of the the 4,oo0 total produced were sold because of it.

Powered by a Triumph four-cylinder engine of 1147 cc, 8.0 compression ratio, rated at 38.3 bhp., used a Porsche gearbox, just over 14 feet long, five feet long, and had a 13 gallon gas tank. Guess you didn’t plan any long trips. In the water the owner used the steering wheel to turn the car instead of a rudder like you’d find on a boat. Compared to most boats or cars, its performance was modest. It got about 32 mpg on land and about 1.5 gallons per hour in the water.

How did it transition to water?

amphicar channel crossingBasically it’s a boat with wheels hung on it. The hull is all sealed up, and the two doors have rubber seals around their edges that press against seals on the door frames when the doors are shut, they form a watertight seal. Once the doors are shut along with the hood and the bilge plug are both secured, you just drive down to the water’s edge, put the transmission in neutral, engage the dual propellers of the water drive with the smaller stick shift on the floor and off you go. Kind of freaky for first time riders. In fact former president LBJ owned an Amphicar and loved the reaction. That’s LBJ’s car on the left.

OK, why is it not made anymore?

A couple of reasons, one because it would leak, was made of steel so was prone to rust, noisy, and the profit margin on the car was too low. The west coast port-of-entry price in 1967 was only a little more than $3,000, twice the cost of a VW Beetle. Production ended in 1968.

An Amphibious Car Refuses to Sink into Oblivionamphicar channel crossing

There are collector clubs and very devoted members. “United We Float, Divided We Sink” has been the motto of Amphicar enthusiasts for a long time. They seem to be a fun bunch. During the fourth week in July, Amphicar owners convene at Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio. These events, amphicar channel crossingand similar ones nationwide, are called “swim-ins”. Pretty excited about this little car……yup, I see you shaking your head, yes? I went to Hemmings and found this ride. Love the seller’s opening line in the ad “Up for sail is a nicely sorted Amphicar. Runs and swims well”. While this one is priced at $55,000, the average price is around 32 grand. Nope, didn’t forget the video. Click on the image and come along for a ride or sail.

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