The Amphicar is the only amphibious car to reach proper mass-production. As a plaything for rivers and calm lakes it was enormous fun. But for anything more seagoing it was a precarious hazard, as shown in 1965 by a revealing report in Autocar magazine.
Two Amphicars attempted to cross the English Channel. One broke down after letting in too much water and the second had to tow it, after disentangling the towrope from its propellers. When the overworked car’s puny 12-gallon (45-liter) fuel tank was empty, it had to be refilled. “A rather precarious operation,” the report noted, “which involved opening the roof and pouring the fuel into the tank from over the windscreen”.
No doubt the German manufacturer didn’t advocate this type of journey, but the cars did finally reach land. They were aimed primarily at rich outdoorsmen in the US, where 80 percent of Amphicars were sold.
The car was designed by German engineer Hans Trippel. It had a 70ci (1,147cc) Triumph Herald engine, a two-part transmission with an adapted VW Beetle gearbox for the road, and a two-speed (forward-and-back) in-water unit. The wheels and the twin propellers could operate independently and the steering wheel controlled the rudders – the front wheels.
Manufacture stopped in 1963 after over-ambitious forecasts produced a huge inventory of parts. Amphicars were then built from the remaining stock until 1968.
Using technology and experience gained from wartime amphibious vehicles. Hans Trippel boldly launched, in more than one sense, theworld’s first commercially available amphibious car in 1961.
Rear-mounted Triumph engine
After initial experiments with the over-heavy Mercedes 190SL engine and BMCs A veries unit. Triumph’s 1,147-cc four-cylinder engine was chosen for production cars. Mounted in the trunk, it powers the Amphicar to a top speed of 65 mph on land and 7.5 knots on water.
There is ample space for four passengers in the Amphicar on tilting separate front seats and a bench rear seat All the upholstery is fully waterproof.
To comply with Coast Guard regulations* Amphicars were fitted with boat navigation lights. On the options list was a marine kit consisting of a fire extinguisher, floating cushions, flares and a paddle; you could also buy a special anchor and cleats.
There are two nylon screws at the back of the car. driven by independent twin-jointed shafts from the transmission. A lever inside the cockpit is used for water travel instead of the usual four-speed gear shifter: you push the lever forward to advance and backward, with your foot hard on the gas pedal when you want to slow down.
Unitary construction was the key to keeping the Amphicar watertight. All the welds were performed electrically, and the doors incorporate an extra locking lever to seal them shut. However, rust was a serious problem once the steel body-work came into contact with salt water, causing sealing difficulties in the long run
The folding roof un be completely unzipped and removed. All Amphicars came with a convertible roof.
“It was found better to motor up the wave with the accelerator full down, and when the top of the wave was reached to slacken off and gently motor down the other side”
Autocar Magazine, 1965
Video: model of the car Amphicar 770
Specification: model of the car Amphicar 770
YEAR REVEALED: 1961
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Berlin, West Germany
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: four-cylinder, 70ci (1,147 cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 43bhp
LAYOUT: rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: four-seater convertible
TOP SPEED: 70mph (112kph) on land; 7mph (12kph) in water
NUMBER BUILT: 3,878