Unusual Vehicles is a segment that shines a light on history’s most unconventional motors. The Amphicar had a weird design that made it look like a cross between a car and a boat. As an amphibious vehicle, the Amphicar could be used on land and water. It was a descendant of the Volkswagen Schwimmwagen and offered an unusual driving experience.
The Amphicar was designed by Hanns Trippel in West Germany. The design featured a 1147 cc rear-mounted engine from the Triumph Herald 1200 and 4-speed manual transmission. In the water, the engine activated a pair of reversible propellers, with a second gear lever being responsible for forward and reverse drive. The main gear lever would normally be left in neutral when the vehicle was in the water.
While on land the Amphicar could reach 70 mph and in the water it reached 7 knots. The Amphicar’s unusual appearance was made up of a one-piece curved windscreen, foldable top and low bumpers.
The Amphicar was launched at the 1961 New York Auto Show. It offered a modest performance on land and in water. One owner said “it’s not a good car and it’s not a good boat, but it does just fine.” Another owner said “we like to think of it as the fastest car on the water and fastest boat on the road.”
The Amphicar’s unorthodox design gave it a novelty appeal among many people. Two were used to cross the English Channel in 1965, where they were exposed to 20-foot waves and strong gales.
President Lyndon B Johnson gained notoriety for his ownership of an Amphicar. Known as a practical joker, he enjoyed scaring visitors when they came to his ranch in Texas. Johnson liked to drive the Amphicar downhill and into the property’s lake, screaming that the brakes were malfunctioning.
The car also made several movie appearances, being a part of Rotten to the Core, Inspector Clouseau, The Laughing Woman, Savannah Smiles and Pontiac Moon. In total, 3878 Amphicars were produced.