If there are amphibians in the animal kingdom, there are also amphibians in the automotive world. Cars that do more than run on road are a very cool thing to have. Thank the inventors during the World War II for making cars that can swim. During the 60s, the creation of amphibian passenger cars was on the rise, but it still continues to spark interest in inventors today.
An amphibious vehicle mixing 43 hp Triumph Herald engines and faux-Cadillac fins, German-built Amphicar was one of those amphibians that gained mainstream attention. To publicize it, the company drove it across the English Channel. President Lyndon Johnson, reportedly, liked to scare houseguests riding his Amphicar by pretending that his car’s brakes had malfunctioned and driving it to the lake.
The Amphicar was built for five years starting in 1961, and was marketed in the United States during 1961 to 1967. It was manufactured by the Quandt Group at Lübeck and at Berlin-Borsigwalde, and was designed by Hanns Trippel. During its five-year production, only 3,878 cars were made, and most of them came to America.
It was a compact convertible with a mild steel body, and double seals at the doors. The car drove the rear wheels mounted with a 1.2-liter four-cylinder Triumph engine, moving through a Porsche transaxle. With a 43 hp, it can run in the road up to 70 mph. When at the water, the front wheels would serve as rudders. Entering a river or a lake with the Amphicar was easy with a ground clearance of 11 inches.
Overall, the Amphicar offered only modest performance and its body being made from steel, not from a corrosion resistant fiberglass, is such a downer.
2. Volkswagen Schwimmwagen
During World War II, Volkswagen produced the four-wheel drive Kübelwagen for the German army. In 1941, the company taught the military off-roader how to doggy paddle, creating the Schwimmwagen (which literally means “floating/swimming car”) 128 and 166. Type 166 became the most numerous mass-produced amphibious vehicle ever.
The Schwimmwagen had the engines and mechanics of the VW Type 86 prototype of Kübelwagen, and the Type 87 ‘Kübel/Beetle’ Command Car, which was based on the platform of the famous Volkswagen Beetle. The car was powered by a 1.2-liter air-cooled flat four engine that drove a single propeller. The car uses the front wheels as rudders when travelling in water. As it goes back at land, the propeller would swing up and disengage from the engine.
Fun fact: Volkswagen’s car body designer was forced to develop a new an entirely new bodytub structure because existing flat floorplan chassis in Volkswagen vehicles cannot make a smooth movement when transitioning into water.
Type 128 was a prototype, but it was deemed unacceptable to mass-produce as an amphibious vehicle. It was Type 166 that was used by the military and mass-produced in different facilities. According to the Schwimmwagen Registry, only 189 units out of more than 30,000 produced were still alive until today – with 13 of them surviving without any restoration work.
3. Gibbs Aquada
In 1996, British automaker Lotus was commissioned by Alan Gibbs to conduct a study of the engineering viability of an amphibious car. This development later led to the establishment of Gibbs Sports Amphibians that produced the Gibbs Aquada, a high-speed amphibious car.
Gibbs Aquada is a concept car that can run with speeds of over 160 kph in land and 50 kph in water. Produced in 2003 and 2004, it made history as the fastest amphibious vehicle that crossed the English Channel, when it was used by English business magnate Richard Branson in just one hour and 40 minutes during March 2004.
The vehicle comes with hydraulically retractable wheels on struts, and has a single 2.5-liter Rover engine that powers the rear wheels. It is also equipped with a jet pump drive for marine travel. The Aquada made way for the latest-released amphibious vehicles, with over 60 patents covering technical innovations.
4. Rinspeed Splash
Created by Swiss sportscar tuning company Rinspeed, Rinspeed Splash is concept amphibious car with hydrofoil design that can go up to 45 knots on water and around 200 km/h on land. It comes with a 750 cc, two-cylinder, 140 hp engine that can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in just 5.9 seconds. It also uses a single propeller that lowers into water with the foils.
Another plus point for this car is that it is powered by natural gas, which makes it the first amphibian vehicle fueled with an environmentally friendly resource. The Rinspeed Splash launched at the 2004 Geneva Motor Show and was featured in Top Gear. It was also a record setter as the first hydrofoil car that crossed the English Channel.
Mike Ryan from England is fond of making amphibian cars with different vehicle styles and calls them the SeaRoader. It all started in the 1980s when he decided to create an amphibious car using Ford 1600 crossflow unit. Testing became a disaster, but Ryan did not give up until he made the car float and travel on water. Since then, he has converted motorcycles, jeeps, taxi cabs and even an ice cream van. His creations were featured in AutoTrader, Autocar, Parkers, AutoExpress. He also builds amphibious cars for Top Gear.
Ryan’s first production amphibian was a Land Rover. The four-wheel drive’s original 1.7-liter turbodiesel engine provides the on-road propulsion. When in water, the separate marine engine and output jet in the back can push it to 6 mph.
The SeaRoader made waves again, not just in the waters but also in the media, when Ryan released the world’s first amphibious Lamborghini by modifying a Lamborghini Countach. If you can’t have a boat and a Lamborghini at the same time, it would be great to have this. Sadly, this was already sold in 2016 for £18,995.
6. Dutton Surf
Based on a Suzuki Jimny, the Dutton Surf is a dodgy amphibian created by veteran kit car manufacturer Tim Dutton in 2006. Dutton has made plenty of great vehicles over his career and the Dutton Surf was one of his most interesting yet.
The Dutton Surf can run up to 85 mph on land 6 mph on water. It has proved its seaworthiness by crossing the English Channel for seven hours, with an average speed of 4.2 mph.
This was Dutton’s third amphicar, after the Mariner and the Commander. Dutton has sold Surf around the world, and all sorts of people have bought them – from the military to sailors to people who just want to have fun.
7. Watercar Python
Watercar Python is the fastest, highest-performing amphibious car ever built. This amphibious convertible SUV can run 125 mph on road and 60 mph on water. The Python can also run from 0 to 60 in just 4.5 seconds! You can imagine an awesome high-speed police chase with this bad boy, where you could just drive from the street then straight into the water by pressing just one button to retract the wheels and another to start the jet.
Python is a custom-built hot rod – looks like part Dodge and Chevy Corvette – created by car builder and designer Dave March and launched in 2009. He started experimenting on amphibious cars in the mid-1970s, and said he had no plans to market an amphibious cars originally. In creating the Python, March made the 14-foot car able to run 45.2 knots on the water, which was initially impossible with the original car he started with. But he did it, and he offered the car in Corvette V8 engines from LS1 up to Corvette’s ZR1’s 6.2 liter supercharged LS9.