It’s a car. It’s a boat. Actually, it’s both. Developed in West Germany, the Amphicar was aimed squarely at America’s leisure market and debuted at the 1961 New York Auto Show. As the culmination of a 15-year, $25 million development program, the Amphicar was the creation of amphibious-vehicle pioneer Hans Trippel.

A mid-rear-mounted Triumph Herald 4-cylinder engine was mated to a German Hermes transmission, which directed power to the rear wheels on land and, once on water, to twin propellers at the rear. The front wheels provided directional control both on land and water, the doors had special watertight seals, and the front compartment contained the fuel tank, spare tire and tools.

Amphicar marketing highlighted the vehicle’s ease of operation, and its unofficial “770” designation referred to its factory-claimed top speeds of seven knots on water and 70 mph on land. It is generally agreed that 3,878 were built through 1967, with the majority exported to the United States until the onset of the first wave of federally mandated safety and emissions regulations for 1968.

The 1965 Amphicar 770 offered here was the subject of a nut-and-bolt rotisserie restoration by noted Amphicar restoration specialist Roger Sallee. Fewer than 900 miles have been driven since then, and the vehicle is said to remain in excellent condition. With perhaps the most festive and sought-after color combination of Fjord Green with an Apricot interior, this Amphicar is certainly eye-catching, whether in use or parked in a garage or boathouse.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1965 Amphicar 770 convertible

This car, Lot 163, sold for $63,250, including buyer’s premium, at RM Auctions’ Amelia Island sale on March 10, 2012.

There’s a fascination about Amphicars that stems from their surreal ability to drive into a river or lake and keep going. It’s a bit like being naked in a phone box. A mate of mine has a phone box as his downstairs shower cubicle; it’s very odd to begin with, then you get used to it, then it seems natural to be naked in a phone box, then… well, it’s a good thing we don’t have the old-style red phone boxes on every street corner in England anymore.

Owning an Amphicar must be like that. After you’ve amazed your friends a few times by driving down the slipway, engaging the props and churning off downstream, the novelty must wear off.

They don’t make very good cars — or boats, for that matter. Getting back up the slipway involves making sure you have enough momentum to bring the rear wheels up to the concrete so you can drive out, otherwise you suffer the ignominy of having to have another go in reverse. Or worse, throwing out the rope.

Gutless and wallowing

Then there’s the “performance.” Amphicars use a rear-mounted 1147-cc Triumph Herald engine that churns out all of 43 horsepower. Now, the Herald isn’t the most dynamically accomplished device, what with its rear swing axles, but imagine one on stilts with compromised center of gravity and weight distribution.

The Amphicar uses trailing-arm coil-sprung suspension all around, mostly for reasons of keeping the bouncy wet bits outside of the inside dry bits. Handling considerations took a back seat to buoyancy here, resulting in roly-poly cornering. And there are the brakes, with weak drums all around, almost totally ineffective when they’re full of water. Luckily, with a top speed that’s quite enough at 70 mph, this isn’t a serious issue, and you’re hardly likely to notice the wooden pedal while you grapple with the vague steering (it gets even vaguer in the water, as the front wheels are the only rudder) and the probability gear change — as in, when you move the lever, it is probable, though not certain, that a gear may be engaged.

On water, they can just about exceed the U.K. canal speed limit of 4 knots, and they require hundreds of feet to respond to the tiller. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love ’em. But there’s a time and place for everything. How many Seeps and Kubel Schwimmwagens have you seen actually schwimming?

Rust never sleeps, but it sinks

On to the serious stuff: Corrosion is a major issue on these cars — and not just for cosmetic reasons. They rust in the double-skinned hull, and if there’s a leak in one of the rockers — most have been welded here — she’s going down. For the same reason, you must ensure the bilge bung is in place and the doors are double-locked before entering the briny.

Decent door seals are understandably essential.

In the U.K., an Amphicar must have a U.K. Waterways Boat Safety Scheme certificate to use inland waterways. This is on top of its MoT to allow it to actually drive to the river, and either test should pick up any deficiencies. In the United States, the Amphicar must have a boat registration to legally wallow across the local lake and a car registration to take to the road.

By the catalog description, the rotisserie restoration this car underwent will have ensured this one is both straight and watertight.

The tires looked a bit big for the car. Originally, they teetered on tall crossplies that may have helped the steering on water if not on tarmac.

Weirdness keeps market above water

This one, with no noted issues, no cosmetic problems and only 900 miles since completion, looked about the right money, where nice examples ask £30k–£35k Sterling ($48,000 to $56,000) in the U.K. That RM was uncertain exactly how it should fare is shown in the wide pre-auction estimate of $50,000 to $75,000.

The price of your Amphicar depends a lot on whether it is truly amphibious or just a showpiece, and the catalog made no mention of whether this one was seaworthy; but after its total restoration, one would hope it can perform wet or dry. Interestingly, the list price when new of $3,395 was similar to that of an Austin-Healey 3000, and that comparison still holds true as the money paid here is about what you’d pay for a very nice big Healey.

The Amphicar’s rarity, cuteness and just plain bonkersness mean that somewhere, somehow, there will always be a buyer for one of these, and this time the attractive period-original color certainly helped, as many have been painted the ubiquitous red. I’d say correctly bought and sold. And good luck to all who sail in her.

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