It’s a boat and a car but not particularly good at being either!
Imagine a mass-produced car that was capable as a road-going vehicle and a water-going boat. Although it may sound like an incredibly modern invention, this idea was once materialised in the 1960s in the form of the Amphicar!
The tale of the Amphicar is an interesting one. It starts with an ambitious sales estimate of 20,000 units per year whereas, in reality, less than 4,000 units of this all-capable machine were sold.
Produced by the Quandt Group, a relatively small German manufacturer that had a family history that was “linked inseparably with the crimes of the Nazis” during WWII, the Amphicar was based on a WWII amphibious off-roader called the Volkswagen Schwimmwagen. The Schwimmwagen was used extensively by Nazi ground forces and one of the two models produced, the Type 166, is the most numerous mass-produced amphibious vehicle of all time.
So, what did the Amphicar get right and what did it get so wrong that it was such a commercial failure?
Well, firstly, the Model 770 is a pretty cute-looking car, now a stylish and somewhat iconic-looking classic! Sporting the rear fins of the 50s and an overall shape and style that isn’t too dissimilar to a Triumph Herald. Funnily enough, the Amphicar was powered by the engine from the exact same car, a 1147 cc straight-4 taken straight from a Herald 1200.
Unfortunately, the Amphicar Model 770 wasn’t the best car and it wasn’t the best boat either. The engine, which was state of the art at the time, was ample on the road producing 43hp and topping out at around 70mph (or just under). However, being a boat and a car, it’s unsurprising that it compromised for both functions.
As a car it handled poorly, was uncomfortable and lacked the luxuries of other ordinary cars of the time. As a boat, it had a max speed of 7 knots and had very poor steering capability due to it using the front wheels as rudders. It is said that it can be described as “the fastest car on the water and fastest boat on the road”.
That being said, Time’s Dan Neil also called it “a vehicle that promised to revolutionize drowning”.
Despite it looking rather low in the water and it having many more points for potential leaks than a boat, the Amphicar proved to be a very capable boat, with two Amphicars navigating the Yukon River in 1965 and two more crossing the English Channel in the same year, facing 20-foot waves and strong winds.
The Amphicar may have been a failure, stopping after just 3,800 made after 6 years of production, but examples in good condition now fetch around £50-75k! It’s quirky, unique and most importantly, it’s a car that can take to the sea! The Amphicar is a fantastically weird car!
Let us know what you think of the Amphicar in the comments below.
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