The AMPHICAR Chronicles
This program will run as a Six session tune-up/exploration series of a truly fascinating and exotic vehicle; The Amphicar! Students will learn the history of the Amphicar while having a hands-on experience as they discover all aspects of how this vehicle works both on land and in the water!
Email or Call Seth Warden to sign up your 12-16 year old today! Limited Space. 518.587.1935
Session 1: In The Books!
Session 2: In The Books!: Operating on land
Session 3: In The Books!: Operating on land
Session 4: In The Books!: Operating in water
Session 5: June 8, 10am-12pm: Operating in water
Session 6: TBD, 10am-12pm: Drive the car, float the boat
AMPHICAR PROJECT IN FULL SWING AT AUTO MUSEUM
Visitors to the Saratoga Automobile Museum have long been intrigued by the Amphicar generously donated to the SAM collection by Mary Lou Whitney, whose late husband Sonny had acquired the unique vehicle decades ago. With a group of area students currently engaged in servicing the aqua-colored beauty, we’ll look first at the vehicle and, in the future, chronicle the activities of the students.
The term Amphicar comes from a combination of “amphibious” and “car” and covers the approximately 4000 German vehicles designed by Hans Trippel and manufactured by the Quandt Group at Lubeck and Berlin-Borsigwalde in the 1960’s.
Power was supplied by a rear-mounted Triumph engine normally found in the British Triumph Herald 1200, with the 1147 cc/69 cubic inch, 8:1 compression ratio engines cranking out some 38 horsepower. The relatively small cars had a 7’ wheelbase, were just over 14’ long and, due to heavier than standard sheet metal, weighed in at just over 2300 pounds with the 13 gallon gas tank full.
Hermes, manufacturer of transmissions for Porsche, provided a land-and-water transmission that let the wheels and propellers be operated both independently and simultaneously, offering a choice of four speeds plus reverse on land and one speed in each direction in the water.
The Amphicar’s electric system was a basic Lucas 12-volt positive ground system, with the choice of colors equally simple – white, red, blue or aqua. More complicated was the door sealing system, with heavy duty seals keeping water out with the aid of a second door handle mechanism that pulled the door tighter than standard vehicles. And along with the standard automotive fittings of the day, the cars also featured water navigation lights and an electric bilge pump to expel any water that leaked in.
The rather tall bodies were topped by a convertible top that was perfect for both land and water excursions in good weather, with the twin propellers under the rear bumper giving those unfamiliar with the car their first indication of its dual capabilities. The car’s speed ratings were seven knots in the water and 70 mph on dry land, with some owners fitting 1296 cc and then 1493 cc engines to increase speed as Triumph upgraded their sports car offerings over the years.
The front wheels directed the Amphicar both on land and in the water, so it was less maneuverable than a convention boat, but its poor performance was more than made up for by the looks it got from observers when it rolled from land into a lake, river or ocean and kept on going.
“It’s not a good car and it’s not a good boat but it does just fine,” offered one owner in the 1960’s, with another adding “We like to think of it as the fastest car on the water and the fastest boat on the road.” Either way, the vehicle, sold here by Amphicar Corporation of America, was still a lot of fun for the driver and passengers.
One observer, Time’s Dan Neil, described the Amphicar as “a vehicle that promised to revolutionize drowning,” though others noted that a well maintained Amphicar did not leak at all and could be left in the water for many days without sinking.
While the factory had initially estimated sales of 20,000 cars a year in the US and Great Britain when production began in 1961, total sales did not reach 4000 units and production was soon halted, though a huge parts inventory let assembly continue through 1965. Some cars are titled as being newer, as the date used was the date the car went into service, not the build date.
Of the 3,878 cars actually built, some 3,046 came to the US, with the rest mostly sold in Great Britain, though the Berlin police did acquire a few cars for rescue duty. All shared the model number 707, a number derived from the top speed of 7 knots in the water and 70 mph on land, with a retail price ranging from $2800 to $3300.
While a bit pricey for the day, that obstacle to sales was not fatal. But the introduction of tighter EPA and DOT regulations in 1968 was, and with the US representing almost the entire Amphicar market, its end came far too soon, despite such impressive feats as crossing the English Channel from England to France and being driven to Catalina Island from the California coast.
To check out the car in person, visit the Saratoga Automobile Museum, where the car is on display daily. And nobody will fault you for contemplating an Amphicar ride around Saratoga Springs on a nice summer day, topped by a short ride on nearby Saratoga Lake to round out your fantasy.