Is it a car or is it a boat? It’s both!

I experienced an interesting ride at Disney World last week. And it didn’t have anything to do with Mickey, Donald, or a Rockin’ Roller Coaster.

I took a “spin” in an amphicar at Disney Springs, the upscale shopping mall that is part of Disney’s Florida empire.

I’ve always wanted to ride in one of these unique vehicles that can be driven right off the highway into the water to become a boat. I see one or two at Port Clinton each year and envy the drivers and passengers. I know there’s a rally or “swim-in” annually for the car-vessels at Grand Lake St. Marys.

I splurged $125 for the pleasure. I was alone and willing to plunk down the money since I figured this might be my only chance. A delightful young man named Chris was my “captain,” or driver.

Actually, I wanted to drive myself, but that was not an option.

We motored around the little harbor at Disney Springs for 25 minutes while Chris talked about the history of amphicars and how the Boardwalk restaurant there acquired and renovated eight for their concession.

He said nearly 4,000 were built in West Germany between 1961 and 1965, although they were marketed until 1968. They had Triumph engines and one big flaw that caused most to sink – the doors were not water tight! They also needed to be greased after each use, making every outing inconvenient.

Their on-road performance was not great, although Chris said they could do up to 70 mph on the highway and 7 knots in the water. The engine was rear-mounted and drove a pair of reversible propellers that were also in the rear.

I saw on the Internet that most were sold in the U.S. and President Lyndon B. Johnson owned one. I also saw that two amphicars once navigated the Yukon River in Alaska and two crossed the English Channel in gale-force winds and high waves. Both crossings took place in 1965.

Chris said there are about 400 amphicars still in operation. Generally, they are valued at about $120,000 each.

The ones at Disney Springs have been re-engineered so the doors don’t leak and they don’t need to be greased as often.

He also said amphicars were less than successful because the manufacturer marketed them to a boating audience instead of a car audience. There are more vintage car collectors than vintage boat collectors.

A friend of mine who is a car collector said he sometimes sees one go through an auto auction. He wasn’t sure what they generally fetch at those sales.

Categories: Ohio – Jane Beathard

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