When you restore one of these, you want to make sure you have found all the holes in the body.


There are better cars, and there are better boats, but there is no better way to draw a crowd than with an Amphicar.

Designed by Hans Trippel and built in Germany, the Amphicar was a recreational vehicle aimed squarely at the American leisure market. It was a concept devoid of utility. unless its owner lived on an island in an extremely calm lake. But the cars were undeniably fun and brought a swarm of onlookers each time they splashed into the water.

This highly original, impressively equipped, and seaworthy Amphicar delivers more smiles-per-dollar than any other car offered in Arizona this weekend. Even among the contenders, which of them can be driven into Lake Meade for a Sunday fishing trip?

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1964 Amphicar Convertible
Years Produced:1961-1968
Number Produced:Approx. 3,875
Original List Price:$2,800-$3,400
SCM Valuation:$15,000-$22,500
Tune Up Cost:$250
Distributor Caps:$22
Chassis Number Location:Firewal/top well bulkhead, center in the U.S., right side in Europe
Engine Number Location:Boss on block above starter
Club Info:International Amphicar Owners Club, P.O. Box 760, Burlington, KY 41005
Alternatives:VW Bug towing vintage fishing boat, Triumph Herald towing same rig
Investment Grade:C

This 1964 Amphicar Convertible sold for $29,700 at the RM Phoenix auction, January 23, 2004.

Let’s take a little trip back in time. It was a cold but bright November day in 1964, the Friday after Thanksgiving. I was 17. A few miles west of Dundee, Ilinois, the remaining snow from a few days prior crunched under the tires of a strange looking car that pulled up our gravel driveway and parked next to my TR3. I didn’t recognize the man that knocked on our breezeway door asking for my father, but I invited him in and yelled for dad. Then we all walked outside to see the Amphicar.

You see, my dad managed an amusement park called “Santa’s Village,” and thought this amphibious vehicle might have a place in the park.

The salesman asked if we could go for a “swim” in the pond behind our house. But dad figured we’d get stuck in the mud upon beaching this weird thing, so it was decided that the best place to demonstrate the water prowess of the car was the nearby boat ramp on the Fox River. The Amphicar representative offered to let me drive while he did his best to close the deal.

After assuring him I was adept at driving a stick, we headed off to the boat ramp. All three of us were pretty big and the pig-slow car struggled to 60 mph down Huntley Blacktop toward town. As we pulled into the parking area adjacent to the launching ramp, the guy asked me to stop so we could close the auxiliary door latches. We did, and making sure the windows were all the way up, engaged the twin propellers and headed for the water.

As we plunged down the ramp and into the calm of the Fox, I’d guess we were doing about 20 mph-too fast, as the little red car’s momentum was enough to bring a huge wave of water up over the front end and convertible top.

“Jesus, Craig,” my normally calm father yelled. “He didn’t say it was an effing submarine!” This was the first time in my life that I would hear my father use this expletive, but it would not be the last.

We cruised around in the river-slowly-then back up the ramp. As it turned out, the salesman knocked one out of the park that afternoon. My dad placed an order for 21 cars, and Santa’s Village became an Amphicar dealer.

This idea was that the Amphicar Convertible would become the newest attraction at one of America’s first multi-location theme parks. (Santa’s Village was a precursor, of sorts, to Six Flags or even Disney’s theme park operations.) The Amphicars turned out to be a rather short-lived endeavor, as they were just not up to the constant abuse of teenage operators. Many ended up sitting out behind the maintenance building, serving as the parts supply for the surviving fleet. Fortunately, in a worst-case scenario the water they were traversing was only deep enough to get people a little wet.

In researching this profile I was amazed to find that a number of former Santa’s Village cars are among the some 700 Amphicars still swimming around North America.

The Amphicar is one of a long list of amphibious cars developed since the dawn of the motorcar era, by the likes of Porsche, Ford, Voisin, DAF, and many more-obscure builders. (The list continues to grow longer: Rinspeed showed a new amphibious car at the 2004 Geneva Motor Show.) One of the most prolific designers of amphibious vehicles was Hans Trippel (1908-2001).

His first amphibious vehicle was based on a DKW chassis and demonstrated in 1934. Two years later, the Wehrmacht awarded Trippel an order for 800 amphibious vehicles, but the 15,000 smaller, lighter Porsche-designed VW Schwimmwagens overshadowed that production run. Trippel was soon sent to take over a factory in Molsheim, France (belonging to Ettore Bugatti, of all people), in order to increase production. This plant eventually became a primary supplier of torpedoes for Germany, which enraged the French and led to Trippel’s imprisonment from the end of World War II until 1949. Trippel went on to develop a number of other amphibious vehicles for both civilian and military use.

The Amphicar was a truly international product, assembled in Germany by Deutsche Wagen & Machinen Fabrik, and powered by English Triumph Herald 1200 engines linked to proprietary Hermes transmissions. Amphicars had Italian Ceat tires and other components were produced by both English and Dutch suppliers. Amphicars were rather expensive when they were first imported to the U.S., with pricing in the same range as an Alfa Romeo or Porsche. They were quite slow, offering boat-like performance on land and car-like behavior in the water.

For a collector, the cars offer a lot of “look at me” potential, along with a number of neat features. There’s not much else on the road that has bilge pumps, a separate forward/reverse transmission driving twin propellers, a hood mounted horn, a receptacle for a flag on the rear deck, and red and green navigation lights as well as a white taillight. What you can do to hop up a Triumph Spitfire you can also do to an Amphicar, though nothing you do will make performance this vehicle’s forte.

The 1964 Amphicar Convertible pictured here was represented as an original, unrestored car, with no rust or metal repair, which is as amazing as it is desirable. Should the new owner wish to restore the car, I’m told there is a good supply of NOS parts, and new production body panels and rubber sealing parts are available through Hugh’s Imports in Santa Fe Springs, CA. As one restorer states on his Web site: “When you restore one of these, you want to make sure you have found all the holes in the body.”

The Amphicar has a fairly large fraternity of enthusiasts and an extensive support network. Many of the cars are in their second or third generations of family ownership as they get handed down to children-the target demographic at Santa’s Village-who enjoy the ability to drive off into the sunset… on a lake.

While nearly $30k seems like pretty strong money, Amphicar club members will tell you that some pristine, modified examples have been bringing up to $50,000 in private sales. We’ve yet to see an Amphicar hit that kind of jackpot at a public auction, however. I’ll be the first to tell you that these vehicles don’t make a lot of sense, but neither do the great majority of collector cars. So if something like this floats your boat, just remember to slow it down on the launch ramp.-Craig Morningstar

Comments are closed.