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Sunday, June 1, 2014

It Even Floats: The Story of the Amphicar


@ BOLD RIDE                               

1967 Amphicar

It boasts one of the premier features of a James Bond-style car, yet it looks like the ultimate nerd-mobile. It has the classic styling elements of a vehicle from 1960s Detroit, yet it was built in Germany.

 And, while it runs great on land, it gets around just fine in water as well. “It” is the Amphicar, one of the quirkiest yet most ingenious vehicles in automotive history.

Introduced to the US market in 1961, the Amphicar took the concept of an all-terrain vehicle to a new level by doubling as a watercraft. It was powered by an 1147 cc (451 cubic inch) Triumph four-cylinder engine.

The motor channeled 43 horses through a unique transmission that propelled both the wheels and a pair of marine-style propellers at the vehicle’s rear.

The Amphicar was a shade over 14 feet long and weighed a little more than a ton when the 13 gallon tank was full. On the highway it topped out at 70 MPH, while in the water it could do seven knots, or a bit over 8 MPH. In place of a rudder, the Amphicar
maneuvered while in aqua-mode by turning the front tires with the steering wheel. As one owner said of the little craft, “we like to think of it as the fastest car on water and the fastest boat on the road.”

1967 Amphicar 2

As one can imagine, there was no middle ground with the Amphicar. Drivers either loved them or despised them. Time Magazine fell into the latter category, describing it as, “a vehicle that promised to revolutionize drowning.”

 On the other hand, enthusiasts went to great lengths to show just what the funky little machines could do. In 1965, two Amphicars successfully challenged Alaska’s mighty Yukon River, and in 1968 a pair crossed the English Channel despite gale-force winds and 20 foot waves.

But perhaps the biggest fan of the Amphicar was President Lyndon Johnson, who used it to play a friendly joke on visitors to his ranch. He would drive them around on land for a while, then floor the accelerator and launch the vehicle directly into a lake, screaming “the brakes are out!” the whole time.

 Any reactions that visitors had to his little prank are lost to history, though the fact we’ve survived this long without a nuclear war indicates he never tried it on the Soviets.

Photo Credit: Mecum Auctions