Top Gear’s Top 9: amphibious cars
Is it a car? Is it a boat? Well, both, actually
Meet the fastest amphibious car in the world, according to its American makers. With its 3.7-litre V6 engine it can reach 43mph out at sea, and should you have a pair of water skis handy, it’ll also tow someone along nay problem. Training not included, mind.
And that’s not all, because you can also use it for your weekly supermarket run, too. See, Prodrive imported this particular example from California-based company Watercar, and set to work making it compliant to UK road regs – and capable of speeds of up to 80mph. Not, of course, if you’ve read our own Captain Kew’s recent review, that you’ll ever want to.
It’s currently available for £165,000, but those interested will need to be quick – because Watercar has recently gone under (they’re all at sea, some might say…), Prodrive can’t get their hands on any more, making this a very unique one-off, er, vessel.Advertisement - Page continues below
This is anything but your standard Lotus Elise. Inspired by Bond’s Lotus Esprit road-going submarine from 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, Rinspeed founder and CEO Frank M. Rinderknecht decided he wanted to have a go too.
Much like 007’s, it was designed to be more submarine than boat. Powered by twin electric-powered propellers, it can be submerged to a depth of 10 metres, with passengers, y’know, staying alive thanks to scuba-style breathing equipment. No sign of wetsuits in the promo pics though, meaning we’d recommend a change of clothes.
However, with a top speed of just 2mph underwater, getting away from those pesky villains might have proven troublesome. No such problems on road, however, with the sQuba maxing out at 75mph.
Project Sea Lion
Not to be confused with Operation Sea Lion (Google it, kids), Project Sea Lion was a six-year project designed to compete for the title of the world’s fastest amphibious car on land and water. It didn’t quite make the record books, but kudos for trying.
Constructed from TIG-welded aluminium and equipped with a Mazda 13B rotary engine, inventor Marc Witt claimed that it could potentially reach 180mph on land and 60mph in water, in the right hands and with an upgraded engine. That coincidentally also makes it considerably faster than its namesake (25mph, according to our resident zoologist).
Not that Marc was prepared see it through to the end – it was last seen back in 2012 when he listed it for sale for just over $250k, and a promise to assist the buyer on any future modifications “to venture further into the record books”.
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Launched at the 1961 New York Motor Show, 3,878 Amphicars were sold until production ceased in 1968, making this the only mass-produced amphibious vehicle available to the buying public. And you thought they weren’t mainstream, huh?
Power came courtesy of a rear-mounted 1.1-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, as found in the Triumph Herald 1200, outputting, erm, 38bhp. Power was either sent to the rear wheels on terra firma, or twin propellors, mounted beneath the rear bumper, when riding the waves. Steering was via the front wheels, which acted as rudders.
It proved its boating prowess back in 1965 when not one but two Amphicars crossed the English Channel. Former US President Lyndon Johnson also reportedly enjoyed frightening guests by driving onto his lake while proclaiming that his brakes had failed. Joker.
Image: Bonhams Auctions
Back in 2004, the Gibbs Aquada, piloted by Richard Branson, set the record for the fastest English Channel crossing by an amphibious vehicle with an official time of one hour, 40 minutes and six seconds.
And while it may look like a Mazda MX-5 / monster truck crossover, in reality it shares nothing with the sportscar other than its headlights.
There’s a McLaren F1-style three-seat layout, with driver sat centrally and passengers located either site. Power, meanwhile, comes from a 2.5-litre Rover V6 engine, with the Aquada capable of over 100mph on land and over 30mph on water.
It’s no secret that we love the Suzuki Jimny, so much so that we shed a tear last year when it was booted out of Great Britain due to emissions regulations. So a land and sea-faring Jimny leaves us asking one question… where do we sign?
It all comes courtesy of former kit car manufacturer Dutton. The premise is simple: you either buy the conversion kit and do the work yourself, or supply a donor Jimny and they’ll do it for you. Said work consists of swapping the mechanical parts from the Jimny into the new stainless steel/plastic body, complete with water jet-propulsion system.
Dutton claims the Surf is good for a top speed of 6mph on water, no matter how much you floor the accelerator. Won’t be breaking any speed records, that’s for sure, but at least you shouldn’t disturb the local wildlife too much, right?
An amphibious car, but not as you know it. See, the Rinspeed Splash is actually a hydrofoil, meaning it can ‘fly’ about 60cm above the water. And if you’ve ever seen the America’s Cup, you’ll also know how cool (and physics-defying) these things are.
How does it work? Well, at low depths/speeds, the Splash operates much like any other amphibious vehicle thanks to its propellor. Once you’ve reached a depth of 1.3 meters, however, you can deploy fins at the side and rear. Give it the beans and physics takes over, with the fins forcing the Splash upwards so it glides through the water at up to 50mph.
Powered by a 750cc twin-cylinder snowmobile engine putting out 139bhp and 111lb ft of torque, the Splash is equally adept on the road. A weight of just 825kg contributes to a zero to 62mph time of under six seconds on to a top speed of 124mph. Rad.Advertisement - Page continues below
This isn’t like any hobbycar we’ve ever seen before. Introduced to the world at the 1992 Paris Motor Show, the B612 was a mid-engined four-seater available as a hard-top, soft-top, or pick-up. The 1.9-litre four-cylinder powered both the four-wheel drive system on the road, or two hydro jets on water, controlled by a joystick.
But watersports aren’t a hobby for everyone, y’know. Just ask Lane Motor Museum in Tennessee, resident to one of 52 Hobbycars ever built. Back in 2018, demonstrating the, er, capabilities of the Hobbycar, it lost its sea legs and sank to the bottom of the lake. Oops.
Fortunately, no one was hurt during the accident, with another of the museum’s amphibious vehicles, a 1964 Amphicar as detailed above, deployed on a rescue mission. The Hobbycar too was rescued a couple of days later, though if it can’t handle a lake we can’t imagine it’ll be sent out to conquer the high seas any time soon.
Image: Lane Motor Museum
We couldn’t do a list of Top 9 amphibious vehicles and not include this, arguably the unsung hero of World War Two. Pronounced Duck, like the one that goes quack, the six-wheel-drive amphibious vehicle, used by the U.S. military and Allied forces, enabled the transportation of cargo from larger ships based out at sea to where they were needed ashore.
A modified version of the GMC 2.5-tonne truck, and lorry-like in size, they could carry more than 25 soldiers or two tonnes of equipment in one trip. Over 20,000 saw service during WW2.
These days, the few remaining DUKWs (D for designed in 1942; U referring to the utility body style; K for all-wheel drive; and W for dual rear axles, FYI) can be found ferrying tourists around the likes of London, Dublin and Boston. So if anyone asks if you want to go on a Duck tour, know it’s not to feed the residents down the local park.Advertisement - Page continues below