Prodrive WaterCar Panther Review 2023 | Top Gear
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Prodrive WaterCar Panther review

Published: 16 Jul 2021
What do you get for someone who has everything? A soft-top off-roading speedboat, that’s what

Good stuff

Brilliant at being a boat...

Bad stuff

... terrible at being a car.


What is it?

It’s a street-legal off-roading convertible powerboat, obviously.

Welcome to the world of WaterCar, a company founded in California (where else?) at the end of the 20th Century with a worthy mission: to build the fastest amphibious car on the planet. 

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After two decades of toil, this noble feat was achieved with the one-off, purpose-built WaterCar Python, after which someone had a great idea. Something along the lines of ‘why don’t we build some more with a V6 instead of a V8, and sell them to the general public?’ In 2013, 27 patents later, the WaterCar Panther was born.

How fast is this record-breaker?

With dry land under its tyres, it’s good for 70-80 miles an hour. It’s tricky to get a definitive answer on that, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to find out. Let’s just say you could technically drive it around the M25 in the outside lane, but you probably wouldn’t want to for very long. 

On open water, the Panther’s V6-powered ‘Panther Jet’ will rocket it up to a heady 38 knots. That’s 44 miles an hour, and that makes the Panther technically a speedboat. This is the only amphibious car in the world that’s quick enough to tow a waterskier. 

As anyone who’s ever ridden a banana-boat or been tugged along in one of those inflatable donut rubber ring things will attest, 40 miles an hour on water feels a lot, lot faster than 40 miles an hour on terra firma.

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Is it expensive?

In a word, yes. In more words, yes, it’s very expensive indeed. But it’s also a multi-multi-multi-purpose vehicle. Most cars only try to be one thing: a car. Some try to be a car and an off-roader, or a car with a roof that comes off. But this is an off-roading four-seater soft-top that floats. And rides waves. And can start your very own lakeside extreme sports business. So $198,000 is probably a bargain. 

This particular Panther is the best example in the world, because it’s had three years of fettling from British engineering and racing team Prodrive. 

Yep, the very same folks who conquered the World Rally Championship with Subaru, set up Aston Martin’s Le Mans cars and are in charge of the Extreme E Odyssey field. Their CV glitters so brightly if you look directly at their LinkedIn page, you’ll go blind. 

What’s it doing in the UK?

The company’s founder David Richards (spot him in the passenger seat during our voyage) came across a Panther while on holiday in Los Angeles a few years ago. Being a fan of stuff that goes fast and makes lots of noise (and also nursing a penchant for boats) he bravely decided to import one to Britain with an eye on selling them on this side of The Pond, and promptly set Prodrive’s engineers the task of buffing it up for the European market. 

But fate is cruel. Having been comprehensively honed, the American mothership has gone bust and there won’t be any more Panthers unless someone else buys the tooling. So, this Anglicised orphan is now for sale. Before it finds an eccentric owner, Prodrive invited Top Gear to take it for a spin. And a dip.

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

Think of it like a four-wheeled seal. Useless on land, but elegantly agile once it's wet

By any measure, the Panther is a dreadful car. It’s uncomfortable, unwieldly, and if the brakes or the handling don’t get you, the fug of petrol fumes surely will. It’s pricey, impractical, loud, and eye-wateringly ugly. Tricky to park, too.

But – it’s also a boat. And no car that’s capable of catching air and riding a wave while a V6 shouts itself hoarse in the background can possibly be anything other than a huge laugh. 

Allegedly the Panther is a staple in the car collections of Middle East royalty and West Coast glitterati, alongside McLarens and Paganis. So what if it’s not a very good car? It’s a brilliant toy, and there’s simply nothing else like it. Its have-a-go attitude of try-anything versatility is hilarious. And there’s no ignoring the fact that it’s rapid on land and downright quick in the water.

If you need an amphibious car in your life, you need the quickest one out there. 

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