Bouyancy is Important: 1960s Amphicar

Looking back through automotive history you can find an example of just about every crazy idea you can think of.  For example, numerous companies are making the news as they try to be the first to market with a modern flying car.  While new technology is nice, are we better off not trying to combine wildly different types of vehicles?  If you want to add something to your garage that attempts to combine boating with driving, reader Bo has found an auction you might be interested in.  This “1960s” Amphicar for sale on Live Auctioneers website in Williston, Vermont may be just the vehicle for you.  With bidding ending on December 13, is this left in the rain Amphicar a buy at something more than the $10,000 starting bid?

All of us have ideas.  Some are good.  Some are great.  Some make others question our sanity.  The latter may have been the first reaction when folks in the United States saw their first Amphicar 770 at the New York Auto Show in 1961.  Designed by Hans Trippel and marketed by the Quandt Group of West Germany, the Amphicar was designed to be adept at both road travel and the occasional jaunt into the water.  It was based on earlier German amphibious vehicles designed for military service and was powered by a four -cylinder Triumph engine.

The whole vehicle was an exercise in compromises.  In the front of this rear-engine vehicle was a slanted belly pan that would help lift the bow up in the water as it plodded along.  In the rear was a set of propellers that would provide the forward motion in the nearest lake or river.  Adorning the car were navigation lights and a flag holder to make sure it complied with U.S. Coast Guard regulations.  Traveling in choppy water or open ocean conditions was not a wise idea.  The top of the passenger compartment was uncomfortably close to the surface.

As you can imagine, the 1,147 cc Triumph engine didn’t quite make the Amphicar a drag strip standout on land.  It also wasn’t going to star in any water ski shows when motoring through the water either.  Contemporary accounts have it traveling at 7 knots on the water and 70 MPH on a very level and smooth surface when on land.  The whole thing was more of a curiosity, sort of like a talking dog.  It isn’t exactly what the dog said.  It is just that the dog talked at all.  Well, it was a car and it was a boat if you look at the broader definitions of the words.  It just didn’t stand out as either.

So, nobody in the right mind bought one for their daily commute.  Amphicars were a rich person’s toy and were treated as such.  Perhaps the most famous Amphicar owner was President Lyndon Johnson.  Johnson kept one at his Texas ranch and used it to play pranks on visitors who weren’t expecting the little convertible he carted them around in to float when he hit the water at breakneck speed.  Rapidly descending a ramp towards his lake, Johnson would pull the old “no brakes” trick on them.  The trick either worked a lot, or passengers humored him in playing along as if the car with propellers wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

Amphicars were marketed here and in the rest of the world from 1961 through 1968.  Curiously, production stopped in 1965 and they had enough leftovers to sell for the next three years.  They may have had more than that, as numerous regulations kicked in for cars sold in the United States that year.  Complying might have been difficult or impossible.  Or everyone had caught on to Lyndon Johnson’s practical joke and didn’t find the Amphicar funny anymore.  For whatever reason, the beach party was over.

In total, 3,878 of these little amphibious convertibles were sold both here and in Europe.  Most were sold in the United States, but 97 right-hand drive models ended up in England.  As time wore on, used Amphicars ended up being cared for less and less by their original owners.  Once set outside, a used convertible doesn’t last very long.  When you add the requirement for an Amphicar to be watertight to accomplish one of its two primary missions, you can see where moisture combined with mild steel could be a problem.

Which brings us to this particular Amphicar.  We are given precious little information about this soon-to-be auctioned vehicle.  We are told that it is all original and was fully restored and functional before barn storage.  Something must have happened to that barn.  The pictures show a convertible that has been exposed to either the weather or an over-ambitious auction assistant with a fire hose.  Clues like water-logged kick panels, swollen and water-stained door panels, and a puddle of water trapped in the front trunk point to this rare and expensive car being shoved out into the elements and left there rather unceremoniously.

There are clues that the restoration part may be partly true.  The paint job looks like a new coat of paint was applied without the water sanding and buffing required to finish the job.  The gas tank looks new, and there are a few pieces here and there that might not be factory original.  As a whole, it would be reasonable to assume that a partial cosmetic restoration was performed.  Does it function as a boat?  Probably not as it sits.  As a car?  It could probably be returned to the road rather painlessly by a competent mechanic with a strong desire for folding money.

With a $10,000 starting bid, the auction house must have some clue as to this Amphicar’s value.  Despite this, we see pictures of a water-logged amphibious car and we aren’t even told what year it is or if there is a title available.  There may be a bargain here if it doesn’t sell in the first auction attempt.  Perhaps a Barn Finds reader well versed in Amphicars can give us their opinion on this one in the comments.


  1. HoA Howard A Member

    I could see a commute across a calm body of water, saving 100 miles by road, but not much else. We get the usual comments, why wasn’t it fiberglass and who in their right mind would go out on a lake in this, stuff, but not many vehicles through history, have gotten the attention like an Amphicar. Bridging 2 worlds, road and water, and not doing either very well. Good thing they don’t fly. I see people in these with no life jackets on, as if riding in a car on water exempts them from that, but they are slow, and can swamp easily, and a clear example of east is east, and west is west, and never the two, shall meet. No thanks. I like to be able to walk home if need be.

    Like 12
  2. Jim

    How can it be all original AND fully restored?

    Like 6
  3. Carole W.

    I used to see this car on the CT River in Brattleboro VT.

    Like 0
  4. Howie

    Buyers premium 26%!!

    Like 6
    • mike Member

      Yeah 26% plus don’t forget the 6% Vermont Sales Tax !!!!!!!!!!!!

      Like 3
      • Jim Mueller

        The cars were easily swamped and sank verrrry quickly.

        Like 0
  5. Rick

    Seeing an amphibious vehicle with two tires low on air doesn’t do anything to boost buyer confidence it can cross a body of water.

    Like 6
    • J.C. Conway

      1965 .. Pt.Stanley,Ontario,Canada .. 3 of us swimming in the nude after dark, see this car / boat coming into shore and panicking,I run out of the water,not really knowing what it was or who. Never lived that down. Too funny.

      Like 6
  6. Robert Atkinson, Jr.

    Watching one of these float is like watching a dog walk on only two legs. The amazing part isn’t how well or poorly it does it, but that it does it at all! With that said, I’ve seen restored and fully functional examples sell at auction for over six figures, the problem with this example is that you’ll probably spend six figures restoring it to fully functional condition! One of these was restored on the Motor Trend Fantom Works TV show, and IIRC, the restoration cost close to $100k, and it was in as bad or slightly worse condition than this one. Which proves the old joke about the classic car hobby:

    Q: How do you make a small fortune in classic cars?

    A: Start with a large fortune, LOL!

    Like 10
  7. mike

    lousy car terrible boat …BUT for some reason they were hitting $75 K just a few years ago idea what they are now but that buyers prem plus 10% sales tax in my home state to register it is outrageous that is an extra $18K if it sold for $50K ..even BJ is not that high or Mecum

    Like 0
  8. RogerH

    Perhaps this vehicle fell victim to the tragic floods that hit the Northeast.

    Like 0
  9. Gerald Edgar

    WWII saw EXTENSIVE use of Army/Navy amphibious vehicles, all-steel. You see some still in use @ Wis. Dells. I assume our military has some current amphib vehicles? Given our economy i.e. lots of disposable income out there, that would be a market for these, especially if you live in an area with lots of lakes/rivers and wish to take shortcuts!

    Like 3
  10. Dr Ron

    It’s interesting that the Amphicar had a built in four cylinder boat anchor.

    Like 5
  11. Gary Raymond Member

    Excellent write up! On one episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, he and Jeff Dunham ‘raced’ on some SoCal lake in their fully restored amphicars. Proving only that if you throw enough cash at something…

    Like 5
  12. Mark Haigler

    These vehicles, as interesting as they are, are also a good example of when trying to make a tool do two things often result in the tool doing nether task very well. In the right environment, i.e. calm fresh water, it would be a fun toy. For years, inventors have tried to make flying cars. The result has been similar, not a very good car nor a good airplane.

    Like 4
  13. chrlsful

    all ways check-in on these where ever I see’um.
    Dont no who to thank for the listing/write up as none’s there.
    Next ‘thanks goes for naming the motor supplier, never knew it’s
    a Brit (Tryumph). And thnx 4 leavin out the LBJ story !

    Like 2
    • 370zpp 370zpp Member

      Good thing you weren’t asked to write the owner’s manual.

      Like 5
    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      No LBJ comment (so far), but here is one about them having fully restored Amphicars available for rides on the Disney World property.

      Like 2
  14. Tony C

    Okay, they aren’t pretty, nor are they really great in either of the two roles they were meant to fill (kind of like a pair of half-zip/half-pull boots, probably the stupidest styling fad of boot designing ever…but that’s another story). But, they do make for a nice, eye-catching novelty. I’ve seen more than one example of these cars in my life, the most recent being on display in a car museum in Manhattan, Kansas.

    Like 0
  15. OldNSlo

    There isn’t a single car guy living or dead that doesn’t want one of these.

    Like 3
  16. gippy

    Never ceases to amaze me how people can come up with an idea and actually get into production for a product that has absolutely no practical value. Flying cars and floating cars are examples that 99.9% of the population have never had an occasion to need or use.

    Like 3
    • mark lellman

      Do you own anything just for the fun it brings you?
      We have owned an Amphicar for 36 years. Taking friends for a ride to an island for a shore picnic, or across the lake to a restaurant on the other side, or a moonlight cruise after yachts have all docked, has brought more fun memories to all concerned than I thought possible. My wife proclaimed that I was nuts to buy it. It is probably the only thing she has easily admitted being wrong about. Our Amphi has been an active part of our family, even though it sleeps from September to May.

      Like 2
  17. Larry Ashcraft

    The town of Loveland CO has a nice size lake on the west side of town. Around the lake are houses with lake frontage. So, in the 60s and 70s there were several of these to be seen around town.

    Like 1
  18. Melton Mooney

    When I was 7-8 years old in the mid 60s, I got to ride the lake in one of these with my parents and the car’s owner. It was a Sunday afternoon, and we were still wearing our Sunday best from church. My mother and I were in the back seat and she was wearing a big hat. We must have looked like a magazine ad for Amphicar.

    Like 3
  19. joe m.

    one thing on my bucket list was to ride in an amphicar at Disney Springs in Orlando Florida…my son gave it me for my birthday in 2019…it will not break any speed records on the water but it was cool little ride though tooling around their lake…it’s not cheap though…$125 for 4 people and about 20-25 minute tour…

    Like 1
  20. Gerald Edgar

    I’ve seen them a couple times around lake in Wis & MN – make a LOT of sense if you wish to literally travel between home, grocery store/restaurant and around your lake. So much flexibility! Much like flying cars!

    Like 1

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