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.