Is It a Car or a Boat? Amphicars Are Both

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LAKE OZARK, Mo. Amphicar drivers are a fun bunch.

At a recent gathering of the International Amphicar Owners Club, they plunged their amphibious little cars down boat ramps and into the water like kids doing cannonballs into a pool. The bigger the splash, the wider their smiles.

An Amphicar is about the size of an old Volkswagen Beetle, and it was built in Germany from 1961 to 1968. The body is watertight as long as you remember to lock the doors. The bottom of the car is roughly shaped like a boat and it has two propellers in back.

A special transmission allows the wheels and propellers to be operated either independently or simultaneously. Top speed is about 7 miles per hour on water and 70 mph on land. The front wheels are the rudders when theyre in water. Power comes from a 43-horsepower British Herald engine mounted behind the back seat.

About 3,878 Amphicars were built, and 90 percent of them came to the U.S. market. They were more novelty than anything, and many ended up as promotional tools for radio stations and companies. Today, collectors are snapping them up.

Its pretty rare to see one Amphicar, much less a dozen of em, but on Sept. 16-17, about that many gathered at Lake of the Ozarks, hosted by Roger Sallee. Sallee grew up in Chanute, Kan., lived in Lees Summit and now resides at Lake Ozark. He restores Amphicars as a hobby.

If a group of ducks is called a flock and a bunch of geese is called a gaggle, what do you call a flotilla of Amphicars? A party.

Just ask the folks at Bayou Bills, a Lake Ozark watering hole that seemed to be convention central. On a Friday night, as the sun slipped behind the horizon, Ken Richter from Louisiana whipped up a batch of crawfish etouffee on the restaurants deck while a couple of die-hard Amphicar owners took their cars for one last swim around the dock. Amphicars don’t go boating, they swim.

Dave the Wave Derer from Mendota, Ill., saw his first Amphicar at Santas Village in Dundee, Ill., when he was just a kid. His fascination with this little car grew and grew until now he has an Amphicar restoration business. So why is the Amphicar so special to him? He chuckled and said, It floats.

Looking at his website reveals a deeper appreciation. He wrote:
Years ago when I prayed to God for direction, I would never have guessed the answer would be in a form of an Amphicar.

The days move by us. Our youth somehow vanishes without saying good-bye. The great thing about being young is the newness of all that comes your way. Then something happens and you realize its gone. The Amphicar fills that void. When I drive up to a boat ramp, watching the water spin and move, my heart beats faster, in nervous anticipation. It is a new experience every time. I get younger when I drive in. I get younger when I smile. I get younger when I share the Amphicar.

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Tom Strongman

Automotive Expert

Tom Strongman began writing about automobiles for The Kansas City Star 20 years ago. He was the full-time Automotive Editor from 1991 to 2001. Now he is a Contributing Editor who works on contract for the paper. His syndicated column also appears in The St. Louis Suburban Journals and The Columbus Dispatch. He writes a bi-monthly column for AAA's Home and Away Magazine. Strongman's "Behind the Wheel" segment airs weekly on KSHB Channel 41 in Kansas City.

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