The "sports car that swims" was the slogan used in the 60's to advertise the Amphicar and it definitely could live up to that reputation. The Amphicar is the only civilian amphibious vehicle ever commercially produced. It was manufactured from 1961 to 1968 in Berlin, Germany by the Amphicar Corporation. Only 3,787 Amphicars were ever produced.
The original idea for the Amphicar came from a German inventor by the name of Hans Trippel. In 1929 Trippel built his first amphibious vehicle which did not prove to be efficient on land or water and fell through. In 1932 and 1933 Trippel designed two more amphibious cars for the German war effort. In 1934 the German General Staff was impressed and finally gave Trippel a contract to build a military amphibian. His prototype sank and everyone lost interest in his ideas to build amphibious vehicles. Hans Trippel did not give up and in 1934 he bought a proper factory in Saar. For the next 10 years Trippel experimented with several different models and built over 1000 amphibians. In 1942, with the help of Porsche and Volkswagen, Trippel improved on one of his earlier models and was finally able to impress the German military enough for them to start using them in full force.
After the war, Trippel made himself known again at the 1959 Geneva motor show with his new amphibian, the Eurocar. The Eurocar was a work in progress and took on a new name the next year; the Amphicar. Trippel's first Amphicar cost five million dollars to design throughout the 1950's and rolled off the production line in 1961. The funding for Trippel's Amphicar Corporation came mainly from Quandt Industries. Quandt was able to obtain the Amphicar's Triumph-Herald engine from Great Britain at a reasonable price. The engine was a four cylinder, 43 horse-power, water-cooled engine. Trippel's original amphibious vehicles used air-cooled engines which weren't a problem in Germany, but United States regulations required that his new Amphicar have a water-cooled engine which was one reason the Triumph-Herald was used. The transmission for the Amphicar was developed by Hermes and is based on the Porsche 356 transmission. The transmission had a unique water drive to operate the propellers and wheels at different times or simultaneously. The Amphicar was able to do about 70 M.P.H. on land and 7 M.P.H. in the water and was thus dubbed the Model 770 by some car enthusiasts. The car's original price was about $2,800 to $3,400 depending on which year it was purchased. It was cheaper to buy the Amphicar in later years than when the car was first produced. From 1961 to 1967, 90% of Amphicar sales were from the United States.
In 1968 the Amphicar Corporation went out of business because new regulations in the United States prevented the Amphicar from being imported any longer. All of the remaining Amphicar parts were purchased by Hugh Gordon in California who runs Gordon Imports which is one of the only places where original Amphicar replacement parts can be found. Today an estimated 500 Amphicars are still in working condition with only 7 of those in England and 80 in the rest of Europe.
Today the Amphicar is still one of the most unique and exciting cars and collectors all over the country agree that the Amphicar is good for one thing: fun! The International Amphicar Owners Club (IAOC) is the largest club of Amphicar enthusiasts and holds events called swim-ins every year for its members. In Celina, Ohio each year Amphicar collectors and enthusiasts gather for the biggest annual swim-in. An Amphicar parade is held and the whole town gathers to watch the only parade that could ever be on land and sea without trailers. There are workshops about restoring Amphicars and vendors with original and refurbished parts.
Such a unique car as the Amphicar provides for some very interesting facts and trivia. The Amphicar has the highest rear fins of any car. It handles extremely well in snow because of rear wheel drive and a 10 inch ground clearance. Three Amphicars crossed the English Channel and one crossed during a fierce storm. An Amphicar was once featured in a Pepsi commercial plunging into a lake at 50 M.P.H. and in a Columbia Footwear ad for shoes that "thought they were a boat." Many famous people own or have owned an Amphicar including Dan Akyroid, President Johnson and Madonna. The Amphicar has appeared in several movies, the most recent of which was Pontiac Moon in 1994. In the 60's a few specialized Amphicars were produced for the German government to be used as rescue vehicles and for police.
The Amphicar is definitely one of the most unique cars ever manufactured. Though it did not take off very well in the 60's, the Amphicar was interesting enough for enthusiasts to keep it alive until today and is much more popular today than ever before. It may not be a very well known car but that is part of what makes it interesting. When people see it for the first time they are just struck with amazement and excitement. The Amphicar truly is the only car that is, as a vintage ad described, a sensation on land and water.
Having always thought Amphicars were cool as a child growing up in the 1960's, Tony went seeking them out on the internet, late summer of 2005. Little did he realize that there was a whole amphibious world about to open up to him.
One day he proclaimed to the little woman that he wanted one. He often talked about getting a boat or an ATV, so she didn't think too much about it. They were all toys they couldn't really afford. She reminded him of the Bobcat Skid Steer toy he had just bought a few years earlier that was taking up room in their backyard. But he was persistent. So she said, "what do you need that for," to which he replied, "everyone needs a hobby." He was smart. He knew the little woman was the queen of hobbies (albeit cheaper ones) so she couldn't argue with that logic.
He started his search on eBay and quickly found a rust buck . . . uh . . . project car for a minimal price in the next state over. So he paid the fellow, rented a trailer and braved the South Boston traffic. He arrived early and took a good look at the car while the owner was still on his way there. He quickly realized what the pictures weren't showing (like no back wheels or axles!) and decided that he needed a car that was not quite so much of a project after all! So he left the car before the owner arrived and called him from home. Thankfully the guy was very understanding.
But Tony still was set on his dream. He mentioned it at work one day and a guy told him about an antique car swap meet held in Amherst, NH. He was pretty certain that Tony would find one there. Tony wasn't quite so certain but he decided to check it out any way. So one fall morning, with his family in tow, he headed off to the swap meet.
Now, you have to know that Tony wanted this thing pretty badly, because I swear, he must have smelled the durn thing the second he arrived. No sooner had he paid his admission than he was pointing one out. (Okay, it took a little longer than that.) "There's one!" he said. And sure enough there was. A nice red shiny one sitting on a trailer. Well, that's how it looked from afar. But up close, it was easy to tell that this was someone else's project car, someone whose life had gotten in the way of their passion.
The owner had done quite a bit of body work and painted it, then left it outside. It would need to all be redone. It needed new seats, a new top, new tires, engine and transmission rebuilt, and assorted other things. The largest problem was that everything was already in pieces, which can make it hard to put back together, or to even know which pieces may be missing. As much as he liked it, the price tag seemed a little hefty.
But wait! What could be sweeter than an Amphicar for sale? Two Amphicars, of course. A large sign on the car proclaimed that another car in similar condition and an extra transmission was included in the price! Whoa! Different story now.
The car was drawing a lot of attention while Tony considered it. There was a quick consult with the little woman on financing options, the best option being to borrow on one child's college fund (the other child was due to start college in a year so borrowing that was out of the question.) The plan was to fix one car up and sell it for a little profit and keep the other. It seemed a little risky using the college fund but Tony was confident he could do it. He paid the guy a deposit, brought the '64 red home that day, and picked up the '64 white a few days later. You can see more pictures here.
Over the next winter, Tony did much welding, patching, grinding and sanding on the white car's body. This car hadn't ever had any body work done on it, so he felt this one was in better shape and decided that this would be the 'keeper'. The engine and transmission were partially rebuilt. You can see more pictures here and here.
By springtime, it was ready for paint. Tony asked his cousin Leo to help him. Leo works for an auto body shop, as did their grandfather. Tony decided to go with Lagoon Blue (an Amphicar factory color) instead of the original white. You can see more pictures of the paint job here. (You won't see pictures of everything else in the garage that was painted blue.)
Some time during the summer, he put his extra transmission on eBay because you know fixing up old cars is not cheap, and one college fund was already in jeopardy. The morning the auction was to end, Tony received a call from a local guy wanting to come see it. Hold on here! Someone else nearby has an Amphi? He stopped by to see it and he turns out to be a summer resident.
He won the transmission and returned later in the day to pick it up. After lots of Amphi chatter, this guy makes an offer on the '64 red as is. Now Tony had his heart set fixing it up and getting a little extra cash for it, but as the little woman (soon to be the little mermaid) pointed out, selling it now would allow him to purchase everything he needed for his car much quicker. He could be swimming in a matter of weeks instead of years! (Isn't she clever?) After a few increases in the offer, Tony decided to sell it. An order for a windshield, a top, and a multitude of trim was placed with Gordon Imports. New upholstery was also ordered (from someone else) but a snafu has arisen (long story). Hopefully it will be sorted out soon.
So Tony was finally able to go for a swim with his new Amphi less than a year later. His maiden voyage was at our association beach on Lake Winnisquam. Wisely, no family members dared go with him on this first run. But it turned out well with minimal intake of water. Even the little mermaid was surprised it didn't sink like a stone, not because she doubted Tony's abilities, but because a floating car "just ain't right!" (She's not looking so smart now, is she?)
Now don't go worrying about the college fund. That was repaid after Tony sold the red car. The latest addition to the car is white wall tires. You can see more pictures here. It's still not ‘show ready' but it may never be.
Both of the merchildren enjoy swimming (yes, that's what it's called) with their dad in the Amphi, and life is generally good. The biggest problem is getting Tony to wear a hat and so he won't get a sunburn on his bald spot!
If you are ever in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with your Amphi, email Tony at firstname.lastname@example.org. He knows all the best swimming places and would be happy to go for a dip with you!