In June 16 IssueBy Ron Cowell, Columnist
Is it a car or is it a boat? Actually, it's a car and a boat. A German development, the Amphicar was aimed at the American market, where it debuted at the 1961 New York Auto Show. Said to have been the product of 15 years of research and development at a cost of $25 million, it was the brainchild of amphibious vehicle pioneer Hans Trippel, who had been active in that field for 30 years.
Production started in 1961. From 1963 to 1965 cars were assembled from parts inventory built up in anticipation of sales of 20,000 per year. Production ended in 1965. Cars were titled in the year they actually sold rather than when they were produced, e.g. an Amphicar assembled in 1963 could be titled a 1968 if that was when it was first sold. Most Amphicars were sold in the United States. Cars were sold in the United Kingdom from 1964. Total production was 3,878 vehicles before the company folded. 99 right-hand drives were converted from left-hand drives. Some were used in the Berlin police department and others were fitted for rescue operations.
It was powered by a 1,147 cc Triumph Herald engine, located amidships and driving through a German Hermes transmission. On land this was directed to the independently-sprung rear wheels and in the water to twin propellers. The front wheels did the steering in each case, acting as rudders when in the water. The doors had special seals to keep the "hull" watertight, and the front compartment contained the fuel tank, spare tire and tools.
"Anyone who can drive an automobile can operate an Amphicar either as a car or a boat," said the company advertising. It came complete with Coast Guard-approved navigation lights. About 800 were built through 1967, some three quarters of them sold in the United States. At $3,395, it was about the price of an Austin-Healey 3000.
The Amphicar's cuteness earned it a certain following. No less than "Uncle Tom" McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated opined that "the guy who owns one of these at any of our thousands of lakes this summer will be the hit of the season."
Although it was underpowered by modern standards, a well-maintained Amphicar could be an agile and pleasant vehicle to drive on both land and water.
The fact that such a high proportion -more than 700 of the almost 4000 produced -have survived more than forty years is a testament to their high initial production quality, and to the lengths to which many owners will go in order to maintain and restore these vehicles.
You very seldom see one of these cars at a car show or cruise in. If you check on ebay I believe there is one on there for sale now at $40,000.00. Although there were very few made they still can be found if you want to pay the price.
Wouldn't it be cool to just drive to the local boat ramp and not have to mess with launching a boat, or pulling a trailer? Just drive down the ramp and into the water, perfect for Lake Cumberland.
Just a reminder, The Old Boys Toys Car Show is coming up this Saturday at Sonic in Russell Springs. Don't forget the time has been changed this year also. The show gets underway at 10:00 AM and runs till 2:00PM. Who knows, maybe you will see an Amphicar there.
That's it for this week, have a great week and till next time, "Keep Cruisin."