The General Manager at Efird, a car dealership in Florence, SC, told us that in the 1960s, an unusual car was built by the Quant Group in West Germany. Hanns Trippel designed the vehicle. Called the Amphicar, it could be driven on a road and then right into a body of water to operate as a boat. It was a true amphibious car. The Model 770 Amphicar, which launched at the 1961 New York Auto Show, was made to be sold mostly in the United States but was offered in other countries as well. This car had two doors and low-set wheels.
The amphicar wasn’t a great car nor a great boat, in fact, an anonymous Amphicar owner was quoted “It’s not a good car and it’s not a good boat, but it does just fine at both.” As it turned out this vehicle was not taken seriously in the United States. Only 3,878 ended up being created by the time it stopped being produced in 1965. Today, Amphicars are prized collectible automobiles. On the internet, there is an active Amphicar restorers club, and they work to keep the breed alive. Keep reading to learn about their history!
How Amphicars worked:
An 1147 cc, four cylinder engine from the British Triumph Herald 1200 was mounted at the car’s rear. The engine drove a four-speed manual transmission which was connected to the rear differential and rear wheels. When the Amphicar was traveling in water, the same engine drove a pair of reversible propellers at the vehicle’s rear. The way it functioned was like this: when the vehicle was in the water, the main gear shift would usually be left in neutral and the operator would engage the rear propellers with a lever. When approaching a boat ramp, by engaging the vehicle’s first gear as well as the drive to the propellers, the Amphicar would drive itself out of the water.
The Amphicar achieved speeds of seven knots in the water and seventy mph on land. Later versions of this engine displaced 1296 cc and 1493 cc and made up to 75 bhp. The vehicle was steered by the car’s front wheels in the water, making it quite a bit less maneuverable than a conventional boat. This was a point that many journalists complained about.
Most Amphicars were sold in the U.S, but 99 right-hand drive models were made and sold in Britain. Nowadays, the Boathouse at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida has many Amphicars that guides use to take visiting patrons out for rides.
Amphicar production began in 1961. Inventory was built up in anticipation of selling 20,000 per year but production concluded in 1965 with just 3,878 vehicles sold.
In the 1970s, President Lyndon B. Johnson had an Amphicar. He enjoyed frightening visitors at his Texas ranch by driving them downhill in his Amphicar, directly into his property’s lake, while shouting that the brakes had just failed.