Unusual Vehicles is a segment that looks into the history of an unconventional vehicle to see how it was created. Cars that were designed to be multifictional can have a bizarre appearance, and that was certainly the case for the Volkswagen Schwimmwagen. Developed during World War II, the vehicle was used by German ground forces. It became the most mass-produced amphibious car in history.
During WW2, motorbike-sidecar combinations were a common vehicle for reconnaissance units and the Schwimmwagen was introduced as a replacement. A vehicle with a four-wheel drive system proved to be a great improvement because of its adaptability to different terrains. The Schwimmwagen was conceived as an all-purpose machine that could deal with a variety of conditions, from uneven ground to waterlogged battlefields.
Production began at the VW and Porsche factories in Fallersleben and Stuttgart in 1941. Berlin based Ambi-Budd provided the monocoque body, while VW and Porsche worked on the rest. Prototypes were tested extensively, with the results being overwhelmingly positive. According to Ferry Porsche “this machine could carry four people…its prime purpose was for officers of advance units to move across country, ford rivers and carry out reconnaissance by water.”
The car had a wide physique with big wheels that doubled as rudders. It came with a 1130 cc engine that outputted 25 horse power. The four-wheel drive system also featured a special lever that could be shifted for cross-country travel.
Adaptable on land and in water
When the Schwimmwagen was in water it utilised a screw propeller that was lowered from the rear deck engine cover. This gave the car amphibious capabilities that made it extremely versatile. A paddle was also included in case of engine failure.
The Schwimmwagen was deployed to a range of German units, helping the troops with reconnaissance missions. The motor was also used for dispatch, transport and scouting duties. The earliest models were shipped out to the eastern front, proving useful in the Pripet Marshes. Other served in Wehrmacht units in Tunisia, Europe and North Africa. With its versatility, it’s no surprise that the Schwimmwagen was nicknamed ‘The Frog.’
Around 95% were issued to the army placement depot at Kassel, which was the nearest vehicle collection point to Fallersleben. Between 1941 and 1944 over 15,000 Schwimmwagens were produced.
Today, it’s estimated there are around 500 surviving Schwimmwagens that can be found in private collections and museums.