The idea of flying cars has taken hold in our automotive imaginations, but don’t forget the wonders of cars that can double as boats. It’s very James Bond, although technically he drove a Lotus Esprit that turned into a submarine. The Amphicar is about as close as you can get and I had a chance to take a ride/cruise in one this weekend in Orlando, Florida.
These things look like they were cobbled together by the folks at Disney, yet they’re vintage cars that were built in the 1960s by the Quandt Group. The Amphicar Model 770 was the first mass-produced car of its kind and was designed by Hanns Trippel in Germany with the intent of selling it in the United States.
It wasn’t a great car and it wasn’t a great boat, but it’s hard not to love a vehicle that drives into the water, cruises around, and then drives right back up onto the shore. The engine is an inline 4-cylinder from a Triumph Herald 1200 that produces a whopping 43 horsepower. It’s paired to a 4-speed manual transmission that also controls the dual propellers at the rear of the vehicle.
It can hit 70 mph on land, which our captain said he managed when their fleet of 9 vehicles was being delivered to The Boathouse restaurant where they’re part of the amusements at Downtown Disney. On water, top speed is seven knots and the captain uses the steering wheel to steer rather than a rudder to guide it through the water. Although we didn’t take it out on the road, we took a nice cruise on the water at Downtown Disney and it was absolutely an E-ticket ride.
There’s enough room for the captain plus three, so we sat in back and were chauffeured across the water. It’s surprisingly quiet both on land and in the water. There’s no powerful, modern, beast of an engine back there so you can easily chat about the scenery even at top speeds. We stayed nice and dry in our wonder of the ’60s except for the splash as we entered the water and it came up all the way over the hood. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it looked like we were going down.
But the Amphicar popped right back up and merrily went on its way. We got a little splash and that was it, although the water feels perilously close to the top edge of the doors. This is a cabrio, so if you put your hand over the edge, just like you’d do on land, then your fingers are in the water.
Since you don’t see these everyday, you will also feel like a celebrity for the duration of the 20-minute ride as tourists stop to take pictures and wave. You will wave back and smile because, come on, you’re in an car/boat from the 1960s.
There’s nothing visibly different about how the doors close, yet they are designed specially to keep out the water with double seals. You can see that the doors are fully closed by a little chrome latch that pops into place. That’s it. Just a little piece of chrome stands between you and an unexpected swim.
There were less than 4,000 units produced with even fewer remaining today. They’re hard to come by and I still want one in my garage. It’s completely impractical and not at all safe by any of today’s standards, but your soul has shriveled up and died if you don’t instantly want to own an Amphicar when you see one.
Even if you can’t find one to buy, you can take one for a ride for $125 if you happen to visit The Boathouse at Downtown Disney.