Grand Lake St. Marys provides perfect meeting spot for amphicars
I stopped by the 21st annual “swim-in” for amphicars at Grand Lake St. Mary’s on Saturday, July 24.
It’s the biggest gathering in the world of these convertible autos that turn into boats. And it’s been held at Grand Lake since the early 1990s to coincide with the annual Celina Lake Festival, according to Jim Golomb, president of the International Amphi-car Owners Club.
About 100 people (and 35 cars) from at least 15 states attended this year’s event. All were amphicar owners and their wives and families.
The swim-in is more about fun and socializing on the lake than serious car collecting. Owners hit the lake in their car/boats on Saturday morning to play aquatic versions of games like Scrabble and Bobbing For Booze. They then retreated to the Celina Eagle’s Club for an ice-cream social.
How did this exclusive membership pick Grand Lake for their annual gathering? According to Golomb, the organization mapped where U.S. amphicar owners lived and discovered the lake was a good central meeting place – equi-distant from most of the club’s 300 or so members.
What kind of outdoorsman or car buff owns an amphicar?
“One who likes unusual things – just something different,” Golomb joked. “Generally, they are ‘old white guys.’”
The amphicar story is one of boom and bust.
Originally manufactured in Germany between 1961 and 1968, the company only turned out about 3,800 amphicars before going under. That was far short of the 10,000 it expected to make. Of the number actually produced, about 3,000 were shipped to the United States.
“It did not perform well and missed the mark,” Golomb said.
It was introduced at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, but the display location was on the fringe of the fairgrounds. Not many fair attendees actually saw the cars.
Some were bought and used at the “Santa Village” in Chicago. Many others went to the bottom of lakes and streams as maintenance became increasingly difficult. Golomb said only about 350 remain operational and most of those are in the U.S.
Only two models (in four colors) were ever manufactured. Dates were purposely left off and only attached when a dealer sold a car. Consequently, no one knows for sure what year a car was actually produced in Germany.
Once the manufacturer went out of business, a European individual bought up all the replacement parts. Those, in turn, eventually ended up with Gordon Imports in California. That company now controls much of the repair and replacement of amphicars around the world.
In addition, only about four or five guys in the U.S. do amphicar restoration for a living.
As far as the Grand Lake swim-in goes, enthusiasts have come from all over (England, Germany, Australia) to join in the fun over the years.
Amphicar rides are free during the swim-in – especially for children.
“We’re trying to get kids interested,” Golomb said.