What a great idea – design a vehicle which is a car on dry land, but a boat on the water! People will flock to buy it. This is what executives at the German Quantd Group believed; but theory and reality are two different things.
The Amphicar was based on the German Volkswagen Schwimmwagen, or swimming car; this was an amphibious vehicle used in World War IIfor ferrying troops across rivers or other waterways. The one fly in the ointment was that a vehicle designed for warfare had one major difference with vehicles sold for civilian use; the civilian version had to obey safety and environmental rules, whilst the military vehicle did not! In the end the Amphicar was neither a good motor car, nor a good boat.
What was wrong with it?
Firstly the steering. Ideally a boat should have a rudder, but a car cannot. Consequently this vehicle was steered through it's front wheels both on land and in the water. Sometimes, unfortunately, it didn't really want to sail in the same direction that the driver wished it to.
Secondly; the power system was hardly sufficient. A Triumph Herald straight 4 1150cc engine may be just about sufficient to power the rather sedate but lightweight Herald, but the Amphicar was heavy. This resulted in a top speed on the road of just around 70 mph. Furthermore, it didn't really take all that well to being on the water! After being used as a boat it was essential to clean and grease 13 joints, one of which required the removal of the backseat! In the meanwhile salt water was playing havoc with the mild steel that the vehicle was made of.
What really killed it off however was the sheer impossibility of complying with regulations for both cars and boats; they simply could not coexist.
Was it successful?
Projected sales were around 25,000 units. However production only ran between 1960 and 1963, although assembly of existing parts continued for several years afterwards. The total number of sales was reputed to be 3787.
Was it any good?
Well, two of them actually crossed the English Channel in 1965. However corrosion was very quick to set in, which means that they didn't last very long. Add that to the fact that using them in inshore waters became illegal in most jurisdictions (which meant that the only time they could be used as a boat was when they were in international waters) so the vehicle wasn't really of much use to anyone. Uniquely, it managed to combine the worst aspects of a poorly designed car, with those of a totally inefficient boat.