Writing and Photography by Máté Boér
Today’s story begins in Germany, continues in the US and then returns to the continent, albeit Hungary. It has four wheels and drives like a car. It also has twin screws and swims like a boat. Welcome aboard the Amphicar 770! It isn’t a particularly good car, nor is it an especially good boat. Frankly, the car doesn’t make much sense; it’s essentially an absurd recreational vehicle. But that’s why people love it.
“Amphicar—the sportscar that swims” reads a sixties advertising slogan. It was a ‘sportscar’ that achieved 60 mph in forty-three seconds from dead stop yet cost as much as a Mustang. Maybe it’s the perfect recipe for disaster, but the Amphicar did find a handful of buyers and enthusiasts, primarily in the USA.
In 1961, German Hans Trippel launched the Amphicar as the world’s first mass-produced amphibious car at the New York Auto Show. Obsessed with producing a viable water/road-going combination, rumors say that Trippel built over a thousand prototypes. He was a racing driver turned engineer who ran Bugatti’s Molsheim, France plant during the German WWII occupation. He also achieved some fame for engineering the famed Mercedes-Benz Gullwing doors. Much of the technical knowledge to build the Amphicar came from the development of the WWII Volkswagen Schwimmwagen. But the Amphicar ultimately became Trippel’s most important project.
The name 770 is derived from the fact that it could achieve 7 mph in water and 70 mph on road. The 43 horsepower four-cylinder, water-cooled engine in the back comes from a Triumph Herald and is connected to a four-speed manual gearbox developed by Hermes based on the Porsche 356 transmission. First prototypes used the Mercedes 190 SL’s engine, but it proved too heavy for the little Amphicar.