The Amphicar was created by Hans Tripple, a German Industrial Designer, in the late 50’s and sold from 1961 to 1968. If you’re not aware of Hans Tripple, he’s the man who created the Gulwing doors for the 1952 Mercedes-Benz 300SL before taking control of Bugatti, so I’m not exactly sure what midlife crisis caused him to release this Frankenstein. However he was a massive supporter of the Nazi’s and he took over the Bugatti factory in 1940, so I guess that after living through that, creating an Amphicar probably didn’t seem that insane and idea.
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Hans took the idea from the Volkswagen Schwimmwagen, which means “swimming car”, during the 1940’s when he was running Bugatti and although the rest of the people on the planet would tell you the Schwimmwagen was terrible and Hitler was an awful person Herr Tripple would disagree with you on both counts.
He began production of the car in 1960, however he halted production in 1963 due to a suprising lack of demand. Between 1963 and 1965 they used the rest of the items left in the parts bin to build more units, they had lots of parts left as they had anticipated a sale of 25,000 units. It’s very strange for a German to have such grandiose ideas. The car was sold through to 1968 and because the cars at the time were titled based on the year sold, not the year assembled. They had to stop selling them in the US in 1968 due to new environmental regulations, so they had to sell the remaining models in other countries. Even the Berlin Police got in on the madness, using them as rescue operation vehicles in the 1960’s.
The car looks like someone took a 50’s Cadillac that someone had taken to their garage with mild steel and ruined it, the under carriage was set high above the wheels so on land it looks like a pickup truck without the truck bed and on land it looks like a mid life crisis. It did have some interesting features too such as a windshield which was curved and a fold-able top that made it a convertible. The twin propellers were mounted under the rear bumper.
In terms of performance it was even worse, even though they sold massively in the United States, it wasn’t given a roaring Chrysler or Ford V8, instead they went for the obvious choice and stole a 1149 engine from a Triumph Herald 1200. Although I can imagine you are now on your keyboard, laughing so hard that there is no emoji to allow us to portray this in an article, you need to remember that this engine was considered “State of the Art” at the time but people living in the Leylands who thought that Birmingham was also a “Metropolitan” area in line with New York. The engine had a power output of 43 bhp, slightly more than in the Triumph Herald due to a configuration with a shorter exhaust.
It’s nautical 0 to 60 mph time is non existent as it would only go 7 mph in the water and on land it’s top speed was 70 mph which it could reach with severe difficulty. These performance figures earned it the name the Model 770 as it went 7 mph in the water and 70 mph at sea. Later versions were available with a 1493 cc engine, producing 75 bhp, and was still utterly useless.
One owner was quoted as saying “We like to think of it as the fastest car on the water and fastest boat on the road.”
The strange thing is, although it was a truly horrendous creation, it became a cultural icon, people loved it, possibly due to the drug culture and new supply of Marijuana from Mexico in the 1960’s.
My first time seeing this car was in the Simpsons, when they mentioned in an old film clip Springfield’s famous “aqua-car” factory, showing Amphicars rolling off an assembly line and into the water. When I went to do some research for this article I was surprised by the fact that this thing actually did some incredible stuff, for example navigating the Yukon River in Alaska and crossing the English Channel. President Lyndon B. Johnson owned one but apparently this was to terrify guests on his Texas ranch by driving it down a hill and into a lake on his land.
Oh it was also on Wheeler Dealer, but out of respect for Ed China, I won’t mention the war.
If you want to take a ride in one of these, you can fly to Disney Land, Florida and take a ride in one for $125. My advise on if you’re planning to do this would be take this money and go to Cuba instead where you can drive around in nicer cars and $125 will buy you 40 bottles of Havana Club Rum.