Everybody’s still waiting for a flying car, but floating cars have been around for a long time. The Amphicar 770 was the first mass-produced amphibious vehicle available. Between 1961 and 1968, the Quandt Group built about 4,000 Amphicars. The International Amphicar Owners Club figures about 2,000 are still left in existence.
You might recall that the Quandt family is one of the wealthiest in Germany. At one point, the family portfolio consisted of 200 companies, including a 10 percent stake in Daimler-Benz and a 30 percent chunk of BMW. Harald Quandt, one of the two sons who inherited the family fortune when patriarch Günther Quandt died in 1954, was a passionate supporter of the amphibious automobile, and was the driving force behind the company’s foundation.
Despite its German heritage, the Amphicar 770 is powered by a Triumph engine, from the Triumph Herald 1200. The 43hp inline four-cylinder mates to a custom land and water gearbox which was produced by Hermes. The transmission allowed the wheels and the propeller to either operate together, or independently.
On land, an Amphicar was said to be able to travel at 70 miles per hour, using the four-speed manual transmission. With the prop engaged, it was capable of seven knots on the water. It doesn’t feature a rudder, instead using the steering wheels to change direction on the water, as well.
The key to a floating car is obviously its ability to keep water out. The only openings to the water are the two doors, which are double-sealed. The props run through a valence panel, but the entire driveline is located in the rear of the car, and completely sealed from the water.
There’s no sound in this video, but it provides an excellent view of the car’s seals and some action footage in the water.
As with most European products from the 1950s and 1960s, exports to the United States were critical. Of the 3,878 vehicles built, 3,046 came to the United States. Several things kept the Amphicar from continuing after 1968. First, the car’s major supporter — Harald Quandt — passed away in 1967. Second, the United States enacted its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), and the Amphicar would’ve required extensive redesign to pass.
The most notable Amphicar owner was President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had one on his ranch in Texas. His assistant, Joseph A. Califano, Jr. describes his first experience with the President’s Amphicar at the National Parks Service’s website:
“The President, with Vicky McCammon [President Johnson’s secretary] in the seat alongside him and me in the back, was now driving around in a small blue car with the top down. We reached a steep incline at the edge of the lake and the car started rolling rapidly toward the water. The President shouted, ‘The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!’ The car splashed into the water. I started to get out. Just then the car leveled and I realized we were in a Amphicar. The President laughed. As we putted along the lake then (and throughout the evening), he teased me. ‘Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.’ Then he’d roar.”
Today, Amphicar owners are rabidly enthusiastic, participating in the International Amphicar Owner’s Club’s “Swim-Ins” around the country. The Taunton Daily Gazette recently reported on , who put their Amphicar in Taunton’s Lake Sabbatia, as part of a profile on the WCVB-TV show Chronicle in the coming weeks.