I have dreamt of doing many things with cars, but something I never imagined could ever happen, just did. I sat in a vehicle as it drove down a boat ramp, and into the water without sinking, all thanks to the quirky Amphicar.
As a volunteer at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, I have been able to do quite a few things that would make gearheads envious. I have driven a Citroen 2CV, Renault Sport Spyder, and even the only Honda N-One outside of Japan. But one of the things I thought was a forbidden fruit, was actually being able to experience the famous Amphicar, in its watery, unnaturally natural habitat.
A few months ago I received an email titled “Lane Motor Museum Volunteer Appreciation Amphicar rides!” The Amphicar was produced by Deutsche Waggon-und Maschinenfabriken GmbH in Germany (in case you couldn’t tell) between 1961 and 1968. They only produced 3878 at an original cost of $2,800 – 3,300. To say I was excited would be an understatement.
Getting to the Lane, we walked into the parking garage and met the fleet of vehicles we were caravanning to Piercy Priest Lake. They included a Citroen Dyane, Chevrolet Corvair 700 Wagon, Porsche 914, and Fisker Karma. I jumped in the Dyane with a Lane employee and we went on our way. Traffic occasionally came to a crawl as people gawked at the eccentric group plodding down the way. The 1964 Amphicar’s Triumph 4-cylinder, 1147cc, 43hp engine did everything it could to keep up with traffic while the brakes did absolutely nothing to help it stop. Following it was a practice in patience and good clutch work.
As we approached the Seven Points Boat Ramp on Percy Priest Lake, every head turned to see the quirky group of cars, arriving for a fun day on the water. People in middle of loading boats forgot what they we’re doing. All the cars found a spot to park, Jeff Lane (The Lane Motor Museum President and Founder) got a group all loaded in the Amphicar. They turned the secondary door sealing handles, and drove straight into the water with actual speed and water sprayed all over the hood and windshield of the car. Even with an excess of knowledge on the car, it was a sight too odd to comprehend in person at first.
After everyone had a chance to ride in the Amphicar, Jeff gave a few of us the once in a lifetime chance to drive it. Since the brakes were not exactly in top form, he drove it into the water, switched seats and let us plod around. The sensation of driving a car into water should be terrifying, but instead, the rear-engine, rear wheel drive Amphicar just splashes in and starts cruising along. The first thing I noticed was the extreme stability of the platform in the water. Even with two grown men standing up and moving about the cramped space, it could not have moved less. With the high draft line, the car did not have a lot of place to pitch and roll as a boat often does. As I sat down in the seat I took in the quirkiness of what I was doing. I was in a car with four tires, an accelerator, a brake pedal, a clutch, turn signals, wipers and a gear shifter on the floor but I was also staring out across the hood directly onto an expanse of water.
Hitting the accelerator pedal, you can feel the two propellers under the rear deck lid of the Amphicar surge ever so slowly to a blazing top speed of 7 knots, the equivalent of 8 miles per hour. The front wheels act as the rudders making the steering vague, but it becomes more effective as speed increases. As odd as the sensation is, the actual operation takes a only a minute or so to get into the groove of it. At that point you’re just driving a car as normal. You only remember that this is a land and water based vehicle once it’s time to head back in. Jeff explained the procedure as we approached the ramp. “Press the clutch in and put it in 2nd gear, then right as the front tires touch, go ahead and press the gas some more and we’ll be right up” he said. I did exactly what he said with the 4-speed manual, and next thing I knew were we’re cruising around the parking lot; the Amphicar happily drip drying in the breeze with the bilge pump evacuating the water that had seeped into the car. At the end of the day, we all jumped back into the caravan cars and made our way back to the Lane.
As I drove the land yacht, a Corvair 700 Wagon, back the Lane, I couldn’t help but smile. For most people, even seeing an amphibious car is rare enough, but driving one is something even fewer will experience. These are the things you dreamt of. The things you never forget. And now, all I can think about it how much I want to do it again.
Huge thank you to the Lane Motor Museum for giving me this opportunity! Also, thank you to Meghan Palik at the Lane for snapping the photos of me driving the boat… car… whatever it is.