On September 17, 1965, four adventurous Englishmen arrive at the Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany after crossing the English Channel by Amphicar, the world’s only mass-produced amphibious passenger car. Despite choppy waters, stiff winds, and one flooded engine, the two vehicles made it across the water in about seven hours.
The Amphicar’s design, by the German engineer Hans Trippel, derived from the Schwimmwagen, the amphibious all-wheel-drive vehicle that Volkswagen had produced for the German armed forces during World War II. A company called the Quandt Group produced the Amphicars for seven years, from 1961 to1968; in all, they built about 3,900 of the little swimming convertibles.
Amphicars came in four colors–Beach White, Regatta Red, Lagoon Blue, and Fjord Green–and were powered from the rear by a 43-horsepower, four-cylinder Triumph Herald engine. On land, the cars used a four-speed-plus-reverse manual transmission. In the water, they used a transfer case that had two speeds: forward and backward. With the top and windows up, the Amphicar was remarkably seaworthy: Its front wheels acted as rudders and two nylon propellers chugged along in back. The car’s builders called it the “770,” because–in theory, at least–it could go 7 mph in the water and 70 mph on land. To see an Amphicar hit either one of these speeds was rare, however: According to one owner, it was “the fastest car on the water and the fastest boat on the road.”
The four Englishmen left London on the morning of September 16, rolled down the ramp at Dover, and headed for France. About halfway across the Channel, a blocked bilge pump flooded one of the Amphicars; the other towed it the rest of the way to shore. When they arrived at Calais, the four travelers (with the help of the crowd that had gathered to see them) managed to drag the cars over the beach and to the gas station. The next day, they headed off to Frankfurt.
About 3,000 Amphicars were imported into the United States. In fact, Quandt sold such a large proportion of the cars to Americans that in 1968, when the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Act raised emissions standards to a level that the Amphicar couldn’t meet, the company just stopped building the cars altogether. Amphicar enthusiasts estimate that between 300 and 600 seaworthy vehicles remain on the road today.