Who Needs a Boat When You Could Have an Amphicar?

You can still find these 1960s-era amphibious automobiles at summertime swim-ins across the country.

byKristin V. Shaw|
Culture photo

Two years ago, I visited Disney Springs, an outdoor shopping complex in Orlando, Florida, with my family. While my husband and son might have been excited about the Ghirardelli chocolate shop or the blown glass at Arribas Brothers (which is certainly spectacular), I had one goal in mind: to ride in an Amphicar.

This quirky little German-built amphibious automobile was launched at the New York Auto Show in 1961 and later advertised rides around Meadow Lake at the World’s Fair in Queens. Part boat, part car, the Amphicar 770 was named for its speed: 7 knots on the water and 70 mph on land. Impelled by twin nylon propellers, the wheels and propellers could be operated as one unit or separately. The engine was a British-built 43-horsepower Triumph Herald, and the transmission designed as a four-speed-plus-reverse like the Volkswagen Beetle. In fact, the Amphicar is a cousin of the strange but fantastic VW Schwimmwagen built in the 1940s, which could drive, swim, and off-road.  

Kristin Shaw

At 15.5 feet long around 1,700 pounds, the Amphicar was light and compact. It wasn’t fast, but it was versatile; when entering the water, the driver just had to seal the doors with a quick flip of the handle and it was watertight and ready to roll. Fewer than 4,000 of the Amphicar were made before the company ceased production in 1965, and Disney says only 400 of them are still around. Eight of them live on at Disney Springs as an attraction. You can find some for sale at Autotrader with shockingly low mileage. 

If you’ve ever been to Disney World or Disneyland, you know that it’s not an inexpensive endeavor, with tickets to the theme park at over $100 per person. A ticket for the Amphicar tour set me back $125 and up to three passengers could take a ride for that price for 20 minutes of fun. It was worth it, and I'd do it again; auto enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts love the novelty. The staff let us take bunches of pictures in and out of the car and it was a giant thrill to experience the car driving straight into the water. I may have held my breath for a second, wondering if the car-boat hybrid would really stay afloat, and the captain was jovial and informative along the way.

During the summer months, the International Amphicar Owners' Club hosts a series of "swim-in" events for Amphicar owners, the largest taking place in Celina, Ohio. Situated on the northwestern shores of Grand Lake St. Marys, Celina's Grand Lake Festival attracts 30-40 Amphicars and the owners' club says they are often willing to give rides, so I know where I'm headed this summer. 

I'll meet you there. 

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