The Amphicar: One Sweet Ride Float

This post steps outside our usual preferred timeframe, but we try to be flexible…

We don’t recall if we’ve shared with you before that our father owned, for more than thirty years, a Volvo dealership (for some of that time, he co-owned it with his father). Though they sold Volvos throughout that span, over the years they occasionally took on a second line of cars to sell (though they ended up carrying each of these secondary lines only briefly): Toyota, Triumph, Sunbeam.

Our favorite of these additional makes of cars was the Amphicar. This was a West German car, manufactured for just a few years in the 1960s, that you could drive right into a lake and then skim about on the surface of the water like a boat (but more slowly, one assumes). The Amphicar was somehow sealed so as not to sink (we read something somewhere about a bilge pump?), and it featured propellers that allowed it to putter about on the surface of an open body of water.

We can recall once, when we were very young, getting to ride in an Amphicar. Our father at the wheel, we set out for a lake near our hometown of Oklahoma City (we don’t recall which one) and were all set to drive into the water when it was decided that there was too much wind that day (as there so often is in Oklahoma) and the water was too choppy for us to safely take the plunge (if you will).

You can imagine our disappointment.

LBJ with friends, taking a spin in a lake in his Amphicar

What we didn’t know until recently was that none other than Lyndon Baines Johnson used to own an Amphicar. The story goes that he liked nothing more than to load guests visiting his Texas ranch into the Amphicar (without telling them in advance about its unusual capabilities), point it down a steeply inclined stretch of lakeshore and exclaim with feigned panic as they neared the water, “The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!”

Of course, the car was designed to go deftly from land to water, and our prankster President and his guests were able to navigate the surface of the lake successfully.

We’re pleased to have found this picture of LBJ behind the wheel of his Amphicar, primarily because it assures everyone we’ve told about this unlikely vehicle over the years that we’re not delusional, that they reall did exist.

Long ago and far away in a town called Midland Park

the 1965 Midland Park High School yearbookWe’ve been thinking a bit of late about the scavenging through artifacts left behind from decades not long past that we do on a regular basis.

They often yield surprises we don’t expect.

A few years ago (aw heck, we’ll come clean—it was 1997), we were wandering through a tiny flea market in our Manhattan neighborhood, just a few blocks from where we reside.

We were taken by a 1965 yearbook from Midland Park Junior/Senior High School in Midland Park, New Jersey. We kind of liked the design of the book, and we enjoyed, as we always do when browsing old yearbooks, taking in the faces and fashions of the students and faculty. The year 1965 was on that cusp between the bouffants and crew cuts of the Fifties and early Sixties and the coming Mod look of the late Sixties. Most of the pictures could just as easily have come from a 1959 yearbook, frankly, but there were a few signs of what was to come: In one candid shot, for example, a boy was dressed in rather psychedelic-era duds, with longish hair and a beret (though it seemed to have been a costume).

But mostly, we were intrigued by the mystery of whose yearbook it was. There were, throughout, inscriptions to someone named “Jack” [We’ve changed all the names in this account to preserve anonymity]. One full page one was filled with the sentiments of a young man bemoaning the fact that he and Jack had never gotten closer, though he expressed agreement with the way Jack had once assessed their relationship: They were too much alike, Jack felt, to ever be very close.

Despite that, Bob, the inscriber, praised Jack. “You, as the ‘Banger,’ really know how to make the wild scene, but always keep your sense of values within firm grasp.” Bob goes on to urge Jack to remember that, “[H]aving a good time means many things to many different people—never ridicule anyone who would rather sit home and read rather than go ‘upstate.'” Bob quickly dropped that stance, however, admitting that he had no place to lecture Jack.

Jack’s English teacher, Cathy Cartwright, an attractive young brunette in a black turtleneck sweater and with a B.A. from Paterson State College in Paterson, N.J., writes, “Jack—One of the few we shall never forget. It was quite an experience having you in class these two years. You made it worth it [emphasis Miss Cartwright’s]. Keep in touch tomorrows.”
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