The shiny red vintage car that sits proudly on the back of a houseboat in Paris, is a sight well known to Parisians that take time out from the bustling boulevards to walk along the banks of the river Seine. This evening I saw it again, for the umpteenth time and finally, it clicked. How could I have missed it? Ofcourse! This was the same car captured by LIFE magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt crossing the Seine in 1963– the Amphicar!
A little further digging (why has it taken me so long?) and a website dedicated to Amphicars had the scoop from a Paris resident who is friends with the owner:
The amphicar in Paris is owned by Undersea Architect and visionary Jacques Rougerie. Its a 1964 and he has had it for about 15 years.
It was restored in France, with all of the parts being purchased from Hugh Gordon in California. Jacques and I have cruised the Champs-Elysee many times in it, but Ive yet to take it in the Seine. It has some very unique cleats above the front wheel wells. I have no idea where they came from, but they look great.
The boat that it sits on is a Pineche, or French river barge that has been converted to his home and office. Inside, he has an aquarium full of lake sturgeon which you can actually dive into and hang out in a bell. The rest of Jaques daily life is equally as interesting.
I wonder if this is the exact same car in Eisenstaedt’s photograph. Amphicars are known to be prone to rust but a modern paint job and some wax would have fixed that.
Let’s find out more about the Amphicars…
They were manufactured in Berlin from 1962 to 1967 and around 4500 were produced, of which at least 3700 models were sent to the US. Up to 500 amphicars are still in regular use today; almost 90 cars still in Europe.
Amphicar was and still is the only non-military amphibious vehicle ever put into production on a commercial basis. The many rules and regulations for road and amphibious vehicles make it very unlikely that another one will ever be produced commercially.
Amphicar is capable of over 70mph on road and 8 knots on water. It’s comfortable enough to drive 500 miles a day and road behavior is similar to a good 1960s European saloon car or a 1980s American car.
It cost around $5m to design in the late 1950’s and is totally watertight. Two rubber strips seal the doors like the seal on a refrigerator. The engine is in the rear, it is the same as used in the Triumph Herald, 1147cc, 43HP and the transmission drives the rear wheels through a unique land/water gearbox. It steers in water using the front wheels.
Amphicar unfortunately failed and the company later went belly up because it was too expensive when first-hand and the marketing was all wrong. Amphicar didn’t even employ marketing staff, only engineers. However, it is capable of some serious sea crossings, for example from Africa to Spain, San Diego to Catalina Island and England to France (3 times, once in a force 6 gale).
The last two companies to attempt production of amphibious vehicles were Hobbycar of France and AmphiRanger of Germany. The production always was small scale / build to order but the factories finally closed in 1996
When they go on the market, these vehicles can fetch up to $100K today. Ofcourse, you would need two licences, one for land and one for water.
Here is a stunning example of an Amphicar that sold recently…
And here’s a 1961 Model in Lagoon Blue FOR SALE for £45,000 in the UK!
Thanks to Amphicars.com for enlightening us on this automotive amphibious marvel today!
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