It’s the fastest car on the water and the fastest boat on the road. Scott Panattoni’s amphicar could be seen last week floating on Hahas Lakes, near Kimberley.
The amphicars were in production from 1961 to 1967. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was said to enjoy surprising unsuspecting passengers by driving into the lake at his ranch shouting about a brake malfunction.
Panottoni’s grandfather bought one of the German produced amphicars new in 1964. His grandfather had lived in Invermere and a year after buying the amphicar, he and Panottoni’s father were out on the lake and the wheel bearing failed.
“You couldn’t get parts for them,” Panottoni said. “So he parked his for 15 years.”
Panottoni’s grandfather bought the one he has now for parts around 1980, when Panottoni was 15.
“The guy that owned the one that I have was an amphicar dealer and it came with a bunch of spare parts, including the wheel bearing for my grandfather’s,” he said. “So he put the used wheel bearing in his and then he had this used amphicar sitting there, so I bought it when I was 16 and gave it to my dad as a birthday present.”
His father left him the amphicar in his will.
The amphicar model was known as the 770, which stood for the seven knots it could do in the water and the 70 mph it could achieve on the road.
The cars are definitely a rarity and there were only 4,000 amphicars ever built.
“They say there’s only between 3-500 left that still swim — as they say in amphicar speak,” he said.
He explained that the car has a four speed manual transmission for on land. Once it goes in the water a transfer case allows you to switch over and engage two propellors.
“It’s just like switching into four wheel drive,” he said.
The whole car was built in Germany, except for its heart, which is British.
“It has lots of Mercedes components and stuff like that, and kind of a Porsche component transmission, but it has a Triumph engine in it,” he said. “It was the same one they put in the Spitfires.”
So how does it drive on land?
“It’s pretty rough — I mean when you’re doing 65 miles an hour in it, it feels like your doing 140, just because it’s so short and light.”
In the water, he said it is quite stable. In 1968, two amphicars successfully crossed the English Channel enduring six metre waves and gale-force winds, and in 1965, two amphicars navigated the Yukon River.
“They say there is only about 14 inches of the car sitting above the water line, but if you roll the windows up and put the top up you have about three feet sticking up, so it’s pretty stable in the water.”
He said while he doesn’t drive the car in the winter, it is actually not a bad winter car since the engine and transmission are in the back, which puts them over the drive wheels.