You might recognize these cars from the movies, like Inspector Clouseau, but if you want a chance to see and ride one you’ll need to head to Florida’s Disney World, where I spotted this bunch. I’d never seen an Amphicar before and it was fun watching them drive in, around, and out of a large lagoon.
Amphicars were the first mass-produced vehicles to be driveable both on land and water. The car was designed by Hanns Trippel and production began in Germany in 1961. The Amphicar’s 4 cylinder engine was mounted at the rear of the craft, driving the rear wheels. For use in the water, the same engine drove a pair of reversible propellers situated under the rear bumper. Once in the water, the main gear lever would normally be left in neutral. By engaging first gear as well as the drive to the propellers when approaching a boat ramp, the Amphicar could drive itself out of the water. It could reach speeds of 7 knots in the water and 70 mph (110 km/h) on land.
The company had high hopes of selling up to 20,000 cars/year, but that was not to be. Production ended in 1965, with less than 4,000 Amphicars in total having been produced. The main markets were the United States and United Kingdom. Some cars were purchased by the Berlin Police Fire Department and some were designed to be used in water rescue situations.
Some noteable achievements of the Amphicar include navigating the Yukon River, crossing the English Channel in gale force winds, and crossing the ocean from the California mainland to Catalina Island. President Johnson (LBJ) owned an Amphicar. Johnson, a practical joker, was said to enjoy frightening visitors to his Texas ranch by driving them downhill into a lake, claiming break failure during the quick descent into the water!
The car has become highly sought after by collectors.
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