The Amphicar was a good idea that maybe never had a chance. Built for a few years in the 1960s, there were amphibious German droptops could do 70 mph on land and seven knots in the water.
Only a few thousand were built, and the ones that remain are mostly in private collections. I’ve seen an Amphicar here and there as a novelty at an auction or car show, but I’ve never seen one in action, splashing into a lake. And I’ve certainly never ridden in one. So when I heard there were Amphicar rides at Disney Springs-the sprawling restaurant-and-entertainment complex that’s on Disney property but outside the theme parks-I dragged my family there.
The Amphicar Launch is located next to The Boathouse, a restaurant that also features a collection of rare and cool boats-boats like the 1958 Alter Ego unlimited hydroplane, which is powered by a 1,500-hp supercharged V12 aircraft engine and was once clocked at 190 mph. We won’t be going quite that fast. Which is fine by me, because for $125 (with $25 back if you eat at the restaurant) I want some time to enjoy the ride.
Normally an Amphicar would max out at three passengers (plus the driver/captain) but my kids are small enough that the four of us pile into one of the five cars waiting at the ramp. I’d ordered a beer, expecting a wait, so I ask whether I can stash it on shore somewhere. “Bring it,” the captain says. “You’re not driving.” It still feels strange to climb into a car with an open beer, but then again this particular car is about 50 yards away from becoming a boat.
Our captain, a cheery fellow who looks like he might not be old enough to drink beer himself, gives us a brief tutorial before we set off. It really only amounts to one important rule: Don’t open the door. Somebody apparently did that once, and it’s not a cool thing to do out there on the lake.
With that, we set off down the ramp. Having backed many a boat down a boat ramp, this feels entirely and profoundly wrong: your whole goal is to keep the truck out of the water. Yet here we are, accelerating toward the abyss as onlookers on the ramp and at the restaurant point their phones to document the unlikely scene.
After a momentary splash of water over the hood, we begin a serene and surreal circumnavigation of the private lake. The rear-engined car is now a boat, its twin propellers spinning out below the bumper while the front tires act as rudders. I wouldn’t want to be out in the Atlantic in this thing, but a few wakes from passing water taxis seem to present no problems.
Speaking of salt water, that’s one reason why so few Amphicars survived. “This thing has one giant Achilles heel, and it’s the body,” our captain says. “It’s steel, so they rust.” I note that he pauses to let a water taxi go past when technically we have right of way. “If we were out on a public lake, maybe,” he says. “But this lake didn’t exist until Disney built it, so it has its own rules. One of which is the little Amphicars yield to the big boats and the guys who’ve been running those routes for years.”
As night falls we circle back to the ramp, which now looks impossibly steep from this perspective. I ask if we approach in reverse, given that the Amphicar is rear-wheel-drive. Nope-it’ll make it as long as we build up some momentum.
He throttles up to what must be top speed before engaging the drive wheels. The little engine revs up and then lugs as the rear wheels find purchase on the ramp and we claw our way back to high ground and the turntable that will spin the car around for another ride. As always, this is all observed by an interested crowd standing around the ropes. Please, paparazzi, no photos as I’m leaving Club Amphicar.
The Amphicar ride wasn’t cheap, but where else are you going to do this? Afterward, I remark to my wife that it’s amazing that those cars actually existed, that back in the 1960s you might’ve seen one on the road (or a lake) outside of a Disney property. “That was a real car?” she said. “I figured it was something Disney made up for a ride. That’s even cooler, then.” Indeed it is. There are plenty of roller coasters in the world. But only one place you can drive into the drink-and back out again.
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