Underwater Since ’85: Sunk Amphicar Rescue

When researching some background data on the recent Amphicar we featured, I came across this excellent story about an Amphicar that sank in a lake in western Massachusetts and was left sitting there until the early 2000s – when a group of explorers that included the original owner set out to the find the car. This is a great story and worth reading, and you’ll find one witness account here on Amphicar.net.

The Stockbridge Bowl, also known as Lake Mahkeenac, is located just north of Stockbridge, Mass. If any of you have taken your kids on a road trip through New England, Stockbridge is one of those places you likely stopped to stretch your legs, as it features a pretty decent colonial village recreation with some good history lessons baked in, along with plenty of souvenirs to buy. The story goes that some friends were out booze-cruising (sorry, just sailing) in their Amphicar when it suddenly took on water and went nose-up. This sonar scan shows it sitting in about 52′ of water.

The sonar scan was made possible by a connection one of the explorers had with an individual who was on the team that discovered the Titanic. Needless to say, finding an Amphicar at the bottom of a man-made lake was child’s play. The team then made the decision to send a diver down to determine what condition the Amphicar remained in. There was zero visibility at the lake bottom, with silt so thick that only way it was found was when the diver’s leg bumped into the fender. Fortunately, the presence of a solid body extended beyond the fender, thanks to the fresh water it sank in.

Amazingly, after raising the Amphicar with the help of floatation devices and towing it in, the car rolled up the very dock it drove in on with air still in the tires, the owner’s wallet in the glovebox and chrome that gleamed with a simple wipe. Hell, the paint still looks good once the silt was cleaned off. The search party reported that while the lake muck was thick, the seats were still soft and cleaned off nicely. It’s incredible to think that after sitting at the bottom of a lake since 1985, a vintage Amphicar could look this solid.

Considering how many examples we’ve seen that have resided on dry land and appeared in far worst condition, this is a story for the ages. We just wish we could find out what the current status of the Amphicar is, as the original owner had plans to fully restore it. I can’t imagine what kind of connection you would have to a vehicle like this knowing the adventures it inspired and the folklore that surrounded it. Does anyone know the owner or whether it was fully restored and swimming again? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. 4504 Member

    nice story, should be an interesting read on locating it. but can you imagine the chagrin of the occupants as the vehicle left them on its way to a watery grave? that being said, looks pretty good for being underwater all that time. my kudos for the team responsible for finding and raising this vehicle… must have been a great time for the team.

    Like 20
  2. CanuckCarGuy

    Perhaps they call it, an Amphican’t…?

    Like 18
    • Mark S.


      Like 14
  3. Rex Kahrs Member

    “Hey Larry, I got my car stuck in the mud. Can you help me get it out?”.

    Like 21
    • GliveCo

      Sure. I’ll be there in 17 years.

      Like 20
  4. Miguel

    I love these cars with minor flood damage.

    Like 19
    • C.Jay

      So Amphicars have to be registered as a boat to go in the water in some states.(Still required to be registered as a car to use the highways)
      So can a boat title be branded Flood Damaged?

      Like 10
      • Miguel

        I think that would be redundant.

        Like 2
    • Art M.

      “Fresh water damage”.

      Like 4
  5. Dick Johnson

    Wonder if the statute of limitations has expired with the EPA, DNR, and the Massachusetts High Zoot Society for Old Money. Shudder to think that any petroleum products might have floated to the lake’s surface to bespoil a Great Gatsby type moment.

    Like 10
  6. Dave Wright

    Fun story……..this is the kind of work I have done (with my company) for the last 30 years. Modern technology has made it easier than ever. 52 feet……an easy amateur job. We raised a Cessna 185 float plane from 180’.

    Like 29
    • redsresto

      The irony of that last sentence makes me chuckle.

      Like 31
      • Mountainwoodie

        Good catch! Close readin!

        Like 2
  7. Classic Steel

    Whatever float your amp mobile !
    It actually looks okay for under water.

    How many fish hooks come with it !

    Like 7
  8. Dave Mc

    Funny, I just saw one today on Minneapolis Craigslist.
    Beaucoup bucks.

    Like 5
  9. Bob S

    Back in the early 60s, I rode in one, and driving down the beach into the water, and having the water come up to within 6 inches of the top of the doors, was somewhat unnerving. (There were 4 of us in the car).
    There were mechanical door locks on the floor that had to be secured, and I am willing to bet that the driver of this car forgot to lock them.
    Rolling up the windows helps prevent swamping because of waves from the side, but there is minimal protection behind the passengers, so it would not be difficult to swamp the car.
    I can imagine a converstion something like this.
    “Where is your car?”
    “Oh, it is safe from prying eyes, by the way, do you happen to have a sonar?”
    I don’t know if it would be important to mention that it sunk once when you go to sell it.

    Like 7
    • Dave Mc

      I’ve seen a few here and there in the water and all that I could think of is “anchor”

      Like 1
  10. Doug

    So the original owner is no longer underwater with his investment?

    Like 34
  11. Doyler

    The wheeler dealer episode for the amphicar is certainly one of the better ones

    Like 8
  12. Sunbeamdon

    It’s tax day, or maybe it’s snot; but anyway this storey has put a big smile on my face – I’m betting the silt helped preserve the ??? vessel

    Here’s hoping the US Treasury was not swamped by a Foreign Body

    Like 4
  13. Rex Kahrs Member

    Wait a minute…I know there are collision and comprehensive coverages, but is there a “submersion” rider available? You bring the adjuster out to the lake and point to a spot somewhere in the middle?

    Like 6
  14. glen

    Wouldn’t the car have been written off by the insurance company?, can it be put back on the road?

    Like 8
    • Miguel

      Not all old cars have insurance. I would expect most don’t.

      Like 2
      • Bang-A-Trailer

        Which is too bad, if kept as a collector, insurance is very affordable.

        Like 4
  15. Dolphin Member

    A frequent observation about the Amphicar was that it was both a poor car and a poor boat. I’d be surprised if this was the only Amphicar that ended up underwater. Even if somebody got this for free they would be underwater once they got very far into a restoration.

    Like 8
  16. Craig

    I was riding in NH behind a flatbed with two amphicars on it last summer and I was tempted to keep following it to see where they were going.

    Like 6
    • charles

      I have an interesting friend from New Hampshire, who had hollowed out an old Grayhound bus and installed ramps. He then traveled around the country looking for old Amphicars that he could drive into that bus and drag home. I think that he could fit three of them in the bus at a time, or perhaps he could even stack them on two levels, but I am not sure. He had amassed a colection of 47 Amphicars, and still has most of them today. I am sure that if you saw two on a trailer in New Hampshire, that was probably my good friend Dave!

      Like 10
      • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

        charles, where in NH is Dave? I’m wondering if he displays any of his collection. It would be neat to see them.

        I do recall seeing one or two at car shows in the past, maybe it was him?

      • Charles

        Unfortunately, he is very private about his collection and about his location. He had 47 Amphicars at one time in various states of disrepair and several that were running and swimming on a regular basis, including one that had been stretched into an Amphizine! He is a very colorful character, and he has many fascinating stories including a midnight retrieval of an Amphicar that he sunk in the Charles River two or three decades ago!

  17. Chinga-Trailer

    Maybe he’ll restore it, but I suspect he’ll still be underwater . . .

    Like 3
  18. John leyshon Member

    Trying to forget my tax liability as i enjoy sardines on saltines for dinner.

    Pretty cool recovery !

    Why the hell did the Howell’s , Mary Ann, Ginger and the professor choose to take the SS minnow ? Were they going to rent that amphicar that sank ? How did Gilligan and the Skipper get them on board ? Some things just don’t add up…

    Like 5
  19. canadainmarkseh Member

    I’ll bet once restored it never goes in a lake again, at least under current ownership.

    Like 9
  20. Redwagon

    So why did the Bugatti rust?

    Like 4
  21. angliagt angliagt Member

    So,if you park your car in the lake in the Winter,
    will it prevent it from rusting?

    Like 6
  22. John leyshon Member

    Is there a remote island in that lake ? Hope all the passengers on the manifest were accounted for. The sales pitch of a 3 hour tour sounds swell until that 1 barrel sucks in a gulp of water…

    Like 4
    • alfaguy

      I live in this town, less than 1/2 mile from this lake. This was an urban legend for awhile until proved true.

      There is actually a small island on this lake, never thought to see if Gillian, the skipper, and all the others have been there all this time.

      Like 6
  23. Rube Goldberg Member

    It is an odd story, and focuses on the car, and not, the I’m sure harrowing story of survival in 50 feet of water that night, possibly while wasted. I wonder why it took so long to get the car? I know, in Wisconsin, if something goes to the bottom of a lake, it must be removed and the owner is fined every day until it’s out. Cool story, and I’m sure, it’s not the only story of Amphicars taking on water,,,

    Like 6
  24. Rex Kahrs Member

    “OK everybody, make sure your door is closed, and unbuckle your seat belt!”.

    Like 6
  25. Sparkster

    I believe in the CATCH AND RELEASE type of fishing for Amphicar’s

    Like 4
  26. Andy

    No comment on its mechanical status. Is it safe to say “Ran when sank?”

    Like 19
  27. Smokey Member

    Great Lineup of lots of Barn Find Comedians! Thanks fellows for a lot of chuckles! If restored it should be christened…….TITANIC II

    Like 6
  28. Tom Member

    I wonder if it sank on its maiden voyage? Something fishy about this story!

    I have heard of reeling in an old car tire but reeling in an old tire with an entire car attached is a real fish story !!

    Like 5
  29. ken TILLY

    I wish it were mine. Always been fascinated by these cars/boats.

    Like 1
  30. MSG Bob

    Okay, I can buy that the thing sank. I can understand the recovery. But why is it 15 years later and nobody seems to know what happened afterward? Surely there would have been some follow-up. (Yeah, I know — don’t call me Shirley.)

    Like 7
  31. John bevins

    I was the one who came up with the plan to recover it from 52′. Only the occupants and i know the entire story as i was sworn to secrecy. It wee t down late at night and was not spoken of until a conversation with the owners friend who had access to specialized underwater equipment. The scanned the bottom and located it sitting on its wheels.

    We used lift bags to raise it to just below the surface and then a tow truck was sent out to it and pulled to the very ramp it drove into the lake 18 years earlier. The owner wad most surprised his wallet was still in the glove box! I asked where he thought it would go.

    The car was in remarkable condition and I’m sure with and hour or two of effort, i could have gotten it started. We didn’t try.

    The owner donated the bags to the local dive rescue. I still have a large crate with parts from it and that is restored and living the good life in Florida.

    Like 18
    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      John, thanks for chiming in. So it sounds like the car was finished and relocated to sunny, warm Florida – a well-deserved retirement after sitting in a cold western Mass. lake for years!

      Like 5
    • Roseland Pete

      Did they videotape the procedure?

    • John Taggart Member

      Downtown Disney think called Disney Springs or something like that has a fleet of these you can get into and ride around the lakes and channels of the Disney property Wonder if this went to them

  32. Rodent

    Stockbridge Massachusetts is the former home of Alice’s Restaurant and all of it’s silliness. One of Norman Rockwell’s studios was there as well.

    Like 2
  33. sunbeamdon

    ??? Me thinks Alice’s Restaurant only lives in Arlo’s memory!

    Like 1
    • Rodent

      Nope. Alice Brock hasn’t owned it for many years, and it is currently closed, but it is definitely real. The church where they had the Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat is real as well. Arlo owns it and it is called the Guthrie Center and is in nearby Great Barrington. It’s a funky little area in the Berkshires, and I couldn’t think of a better place for the Amphicar story to have happened.

      Like 5
      • Mountainwoodie

        Arlo was just out here on the West Coast a couple of weeks ago.and still doing it. City of New Orleans is my favorite still…on a side note many, many years ago I wanted to go to an experimental high school that was in Great Barrington….it had gotten rid of the typical high school curriculum……….didnt go over to well with my Dad……:)


        Like 2
  34. john m

    the link to the website with the story is down…

    • Jesse Mortensen Staff

      It works for me.

      Like 2
  35. stillrunners LAWRENCE Member

    Prices are up is maybe a good reason it was drug back up….

  36. glenn

    the cold fresh water preserved it

  37. Ric Parrish

    Why is the rear fender cleaned up right to the door, as it is being pulled from the water, lots of un-answered questions, specifically the condition after that many years.

  38. glen

    Sworn to secrecy? CIA,special ops, or an X-file?

    Like 1
  39. Arie

    Car is fully restored and functional. It’s a Beauty.

    • Charles Gould

      Do you have any photos of the restored car?

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