CARS THAT SWIM: Meet the Amphicar 770

Credit: Original article published by Barrett-Jackson.


Is it a car? Is it a boat? One legendary classic is both. Meet the Amphicar, the only civilian amphibious passenger automobile to be mass-produced. Built from 1961 to 1968 in Germany, 3,878 Amphicars were produced. Of those, 3,046 were imported into the United States between 1961 and 1967.

As a result of Ralph Nader’s best-selling book, Unsafe at Any Speed, the U.S. government created the Department of Transportation which, together with the EPA, put into effect many new safety regulations beginning with the 1968-model-year vehicles. Regulations included padded instrument panels and breakaway inside mirrors, and all vehicles had to survive a 30 mph crash into a concrete barrier, demonstrating survivability of standardized test dummies in the front seats. As a result, the 1968 Amphicar could not be directly imported into the United States. At the time, America accounted for about 90% of all Amphicar sales, and the change in regulations led to significant financial distress for the Amphicar Corporation. The German factory was permanently closed in 1968.

The Amphicar’s ability to travel on land and water is what makes it so unique. It’s a head-turner, for sure. The Amphicar was uniquely engineered for the task by placing the engine at the vehicle’s rear. Similar to a boat, this was done to ensure the weight of the engine would not cause the front of the car to be dragged down under water.

Power is supplied by a 4-cylinder British-built Triumph Herald engine rated to produce 43 horsepower and is connected to a special two-part land-and-water transmission built by Hermes, known for producing the Porsche transmission. The transmission allows the wheels and propellers to operate independently or simultaneously. The “land transmission” is a 4-speed-plus-reverse unit similar to those found in classic Volkswagen Beetles, while the “water transmission” offers two gears: forward or reverse. In the water, the Amphicar is moved by its twin nylon propellers, while the front wheels act as rudders to “steer” the car in the desired direction.

In terms of performance, the Amphicar has a top speed of 7 mph (or 6 knots) on water and 70 mph on land, from which its “Model 770″ name is derived. Members of the International Amphicar Owners Club affectionately refer to it as “the fastest car on the water and fastest boat on the road.”

One of the most famous Amphicar owners was former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who liked to prank unsuspecting guests. In a 1965 profile of the president, journalist Robert Sempler wrote: “The scenario is familiar now. Unsuspecting guest is lured into Amphicar. President says they’re going for a little spin. President heads for water. Guest cries, ‘Hey, you’re going into the water!’ President flips a lever that locks doors, prevents leakage. Car hits water with a whoosh. Guest gasps, then realizes he isn’t sinking. Color returns to face, and he and President go putt-putting along at about 5 knots.”

The Amphicar was only ever offered as a convertible, and only four color options were available: Beach Sand White, Regatta Red, Lagoon Blue and Fjord Green. When the Amphicar was new, it sold for approximately $2,800. Currently, the highest-selling Amphicar at an auction was a 1965 model that crossed the Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach block in April 2022 for $161,700.

Barrett-Jackson’s Palm Beach Auction provides not only the opportunity to see an Amphicar up close, but also the prospect of taking one to the Atlantic Ocean or Lake Worth with the winning bid. The 2023 Palm Beach Auction will be held April 13-15 at the South Florida Fairgrounds. Enjoy this selection of Amphicars, each selling with No Reserve.

There were only 3,878 Amphicars’ produced between 1961 and 1968. This 1963 Amphicar 770 custom convertible, known as the “Toad Car” is powered by a 43hp, 4-cylinder Triumph 1147cc engine and paired to a Porsche 4-speed manual transmission. This example was produced in 1963 with the production number 101536 and has been swim tested with marine numbers. This well restored example had taken three years to complete and is finished in red with the original style red/white interior. 25 miles since restoration. From the private collection of Jeff Elson.

1964 AMPHICAR 770 – No Reserve
This matching-numbers 1964 Amphicar 770 was registered in Oklahoma by the previous owner for over 20 years. It is finished in the original Lagoon Blue paint with white and yellow two-tone trim. The soft-top and tonneau covers are in good condition and the car is mechanically sorted with brakes, drivetrain and electrical systems in working order. The interior is correct, showing no significant wear. The original floor pan and other structural body components are in good condition. Is well-documented, including some original registration receipts with recorded mileage, original Bill of Sale, owner’s manual and other memorabilia.

Known as the “Frog Car,” this 1964 Amphicar 770 custom convertible is powered by a 43hp, 4-cylinder Triumph 1147cc engine and paired to a Porsche 4-speed manual transmission. This well restored example took 3 years to complete. Featuring a custom green and White Alligator interior with a custom green canvas convertible top, the “Frog car” has been swim tested with marine numbers. It is equipped with a frog sounding turn signal, custom LED lighting front around headlights and rear deck, Bluetooth radio, 4-speakers, a tachometer to match the original dash gauge and solid brass propellors. 841 miles since restoration. From the private collection of Jeff Elson.

This 1964 Amphicar 770 custom convertible, known as the “AMP Car” is the only known 100% electric Amphicar. Powered by a Hyper 9V electric motor with 6-Tesla cells with a 232ah capacity, it has a range of 110 miles on a full charge. The AMP car has been swim tested and features a custom Tommy Bahama interior with picnic basket and has been completely restored. It is equipped with Bluetooth, radio and 4 speakers. From the private collection of Jeff Elson.