Amazing Amphibious Creation

Not sure what’s more curiously interesting, the man, or the machine.  We campers at Secret Spot Park have been graced with the pleasure of meeting Paul and Mr. Snuggles, his little dachshund. Paul pulls in, driving a huge coach and pulling a custom built trailer big enough to be a garage.  He’s a tall, gangly tan guy with long flowing salt and pepper hair, and carries himself with swagger and confidence.  He reminds me of a California beach boy.

Some of us can’t help but keep an eye out for when he may open that trailer door and roll out what’s inside.  What could it be? A motorcycle?  A car?  What’s in there?  After what seems like a lifetime, he opens the trailers back ramp door, and finally initiates the grand debut.236

Well slap me silly, I simply cannot believe what I’m seeing!  Paul backs down the ramp in a cute little convertible that looks like something out of a 50’s beach party movie, and it’s turquoise, and  reminds me of our kitchen walls when I was 5 years old.  Wowza!

Ah, ha.  Paul has done this before.  He is well aware that all eyes are on him.  He takes his time preparing for his exit, so we can all get a good look.  That little car has some zip to it as he idles down the road and out of the campground. He must be really into fishing; he even attached a couple little decorative props on the underside of the back.  It’s just so cute!  People are buzzing with curiosity.  Me too.

Needless to say, Paul is in and out of the campgrounds in his little turquoise chariot frequently the next few days, with Mr. Snuggles riding shot gun.  More and more people are checking him out, me included.  Then I hear the BIG news about his little car.  A couple of the rangers told me it was far more than just a car.  Well, I couldn’t believe it. I thought they were kidding me.  So I positioned myself for a little “person to person” chance meeting with Paul (dogs are so good at creating opportunities to meet people!) and the next thing I knew we were going for a ride.235

And what a ride it was!

It’s a car. It’s a boat, wait—it’s both!  It’s the amazing Amphicar! 

What the heck is that?

It cost millions to start designing th004e Amphicar in the late 1950’s. The German military dreamed up this cute little creation with a team of engineers and an idea.  Manufacturing took place in Berlin Germany from 1962 to 1967, with zero marketing (hmmm that was their first mistake….).  The Amphicar is the only civilian amphibious passenger automobile ever to be mass produced, and the United States accounted for about 90% of the purchases of them. About 3,000 Amphicars were imported into the United States between 1962 and 1967. Back then you could buy one new for about $3K.  But then, the U.S. Government’s EPA and DOT regulations that kicked in with 1968 model year vehicles put a screeching halt to sales, resulting in a major financial disaster for the Amphicar Corporation. The Amphicar factory was forced to close in 1968.

I am stupefied. How does an Amphicar work?  The engine is in the rear, and is the same kind you’d find in a Triumph Herald. A specially designed two-part land-and-water Hermes transmission allows the wheels and propellers to work either independently or together. The “land transmission” is a 4-speed-plus-reverse unit similar to old Volkswagen Beetles.  The “water transmission” is a 2-speed, unique to the Amphicar, with single forward and reverse gears.  Turning the steering wheel turns the front wheels and steers the car through water like rudders. The second gear lever controls the propellers, (they are NOT just decorations!) forwards or backwards.  In addition to the normal dashboard dials and functions of a car, the Amphicar has marine lights and a bilge pump.  Paul’s also has a Garmin fish finder installed, of course. 

The Amphicar is made of steel much thicker than on a car, and assembled with continuous welds and lead filling around the joints. Best to stick to fresh water, and avoid salty oceans, but nevertheless, it is totally watertight.  Still, a person has to wonder if water is going to come gushing into the car as you enter the lake…or how high the water even comes.  The doors work like the seal on a refrigerator. Totally watertight. There is about 14 inches of freeboard where the rubber side strip is on the side of the car. If you roll up the windows the freeboard actually doubles.  Wow.001

The Amphicar requires two licenses, one for land and one for water. It can reach top speeds of over 70mph on the road, 8 knots on water. YES you can pull a water skier with one! It is designed to be able to drive long distances in comfort, even 500 miles a day. Traveling by water, it can go a distance from San Diego to Catalina Island easily.  It handles better than most 4 wheelers in snow, too! Talk about getting some great traction with that flat bottom, those skinny back wheels, and 10 inches of ground clearance. It has the highest rear fins of any production car, about 1 inch higher than a ’59 Cadillac.  

Don’t you just want one?  I know I do!  It’s so cute and little and multifunctional!  Too bad they are not available.

At best, maybe 4500 Amphicars were produced, and most came into the USA. There are maybe 500 still in regular use, with roughly 400 of them residing somewhere in the United States. As of today, the Amphicar remains the only non-military amphibious vehicle ever put into production and sold commercially. 

Paul tells me his story over dinner.  Although he is from Michigan, that lucky guy spends the majority of his year driving around the country with Mr. Snuggles riding shot gun, showing off his Amphicar at fairs and car shows. Like a Gypsy.  Getting a tan.  Seeing the sights.  Catching fish.  Living the dream.  Way to go, dude!  VRooooommmmmmm!



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