Aaron DiManna
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The Fascinating Story of the First Amphibious Car

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A front view of a teal Amphicar, the only mass-produced amphibious vehicle ever made
Photo: Rudolph Stricker via CC

Much like flying cars, amphibious vehicles are sort of a curio in the automotive world. We have the technology to make them a reality, but have they ever been widely available? Can you still buy one? If you could, is there even a market for such a thing? As it turns out, there’s a story that answers all three questions — the history of the Amphicar.

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In the beginning

The Amphicar’s story doesn’t begin under the best of circumstances. It was originally designed as a Nazi war vehicle in WWII. The idea was to have an automobile that could seamlessly transition from roads to water, which would theoretically increase troops’ mobility on the battlefield. According to All That’s Interesting’s Natasha Ishak, only 200 models were produced.

A brief period of popularity

After the war, things got a little better for the Amphicar. In 1961, its designer, Hans Tripple, teamed up with the Quandt Group to begin manufacturing the first — and only — mass-produced consumer-available amphibious vehicle: the Amphicar 770. Ishak states that it “had a 15.5-foot long body and weighed around 1,738 pounds. To drive it from the streets and into the water, its steel unibody had double seals on the doors that could be activated by pulling a lever, preventing the amphibious car from taking on water.” At the time, it cost a whopping $2,800.

Despite the fact that it was only in production from 1961 to 1968 and the Quandt Group shipped fewer than 4,000 models, the Amphicar was strangely successful in the American market — as evidenced by its appearance in the Pepsi commercial above. In fact, roughly 90 percent of its total sales were in America, with the remaining 10 percent split between Germany and the U.K. At one point, President Lyndon B. Johnson owned an Amphicar and routinely used it to prank guests at Camp David.

The amphibious apocalypse

Unfortunately, the gimmick that made the Amphicar a niche hit with some buyers wasn’t enough to convince the general populace to take the plunge. It goes without saying that since it was the only mass-produced amphibious car in the history of the industry, major automakers weren’t too keen on the idea either.

Fear not, though. If you’re determined to drive off the pier without wrecking your car, you can still find somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 Amphicars in America.

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