On Water and Land:
Amphicar Production time: 1960-1963
Original from Ulrich Kubisch
“No flash floods in India canyons, until now, 900 people drown”; “Desert Negrev under water, French female tourist drown”, Catastrophic news like that is interesting for Hanns Trippel (85), not because he is sensation seeking, but with their help he indicates where in the world Trippel-inventions are really needed, these have 4 wheels and two props: an amphibious car. Common Jeeps are of not much help at dam brakes and floods or for rescue missions in shallows. No matter, their name is Land Rover, Jeep or Chevrolet Blazer; all these vehicles can not swim as they should in such operations to rescue life and material. “But my cars can do that!” With the news articles in his hand Hanns Trippel complains about the narrow-mind of Automobile-Industry to build 4wd cars, but omitting amphibians.
On top of the list, what all the 4WD-cars on the market can not do: like operating in sand storms, because of non-airtight engine compartments or to go into swamps and mud, where they fear of sinking helplessly;
Hanns Trippel has spent his whole profession life planning, developing and building amphibious cars. With just the exception of the VW-Schwimmwagen, a Porsche construction, the name of this imaginative self made man is connected with the amphibious idea since the early thirties.
In the thirties Trippel even started a real Amphibian production line in an old slaughter house in Homburg/Saar. 200 employers manufactured the Trippelwagen SD3, a fun utility vehicle with streamline body. At the beginnings of WWII the German Wehrmacht and SS ordered the amphibious car. To satisfy the military request, Trippel had to look for bigger production capacity. The bank of German aviation gave him the financial background to take over the Bugatti factory in Molsheim/Elsass.
By the end of the fifties the in America grounded Amphicar Corporation designated him to construct a swimming fun car for the US pleasure market. Trippel came up with the type Alligator , a three-seating convertible with the drivers seat in centre position. The company group Quandt started to get interested in this floating roadster, bought the license and improved the Alligator to the Amphicar . They hoped for 25.000 units manufactured and exported to the USA at least. But when the Amphicar production finally started most dealers on the other site of the deep ocean have changed their mind. The whole Amphicar-project stood under a dark star from beginning on.
One weak point was the manufacturing itself. While in Luebeck-Schlutupp only the naked bodies were welded, those had to be moved to the Deutsche-Waggon- und Maschinenfabrik in Berlin afterwards for completion. Trippel now disclaims this to be the main problem of production inefficiency. First in 1961, the year of building the German wall, DWM took over the production of the Amphicar body parts as well. Just before the being destroyed by the allies, the knocked down factory halls were rebuilt. But with the Amphicar-production DWM obviously was re-claimed. Still in 1962 production rate has not reached inspections.
Some additional production lines should have been building up to reach those numbers. Manufacturing the Amphicar was very expensive. Every car body had to pass a waterproof test in a diving pool. Some needed re-welding. At the end all cars again had to drive through a water pool and were test driven in the near by Tegeler lake. Only those time eating tests could guarantee the new owner was not getting wet feet.
The first and only sold in USA Berlin Amphicars did cost $3395-US also in the country of unlimited possibilities this was an expensive price for those days. Even those customers, who were not stopped from buying this fun car by the extreme price, complained soon. The Triumph engine turned out to be too weak and the car was much too small for American standards.
As a boat it had the size of a nut shell and it behaved like the same in water. Hanns Trippel later summed up: In a boat you want to sit around a table with space to move. But in the Amphicar you had to sit down in fixed small seats. The threatening crash of the export business was in view soon. The DWM management looked out for a solution. Immediately selling on the European market was started. First you could get an Amphicar in Germany only as a re-import from the US, now the ACV Amphicar-Vertriebsgesellschaft Corp., a providing company, was founded in Wuppertal and brochures in German language were printed. In big words it says: This smart-looking car is letting your nicest dream come true and gives you a happy new driving feeling unlimited without borders. You are already onboard sitting at the steering wheel"
What the Amphicar commercial brochure did not say was the fact, that many Amphicar owners had to anchor their vehicles not only in their garages, but very often at the mechanics work shop. The small roadster needed very much maintenance. After five hours in water the vehicle had to be greased. To get access to the 13 lubricating nipple the car had to be lifted and the rear seats had to be taken out. After driving in salt water it was necessary to clean the undercoat with fresh water completely; not to mention the suspension, that rattles on every minor road bump, and the door seals, that didn’t satisfy the Amphicar owner 100%. The DWM knew why they fitted a bilge pump in their Amphibians, operated from the simple dashboard not only for use when shipping water caused by high waves.
The company DWM offered their Amphicars not only as pleasure vehicles, but also for catastrophe-, rescue- and police services as well as for use harbor services. In deed the Red Cross put an unknown number of Amphicars in service in flood danger areas. (the flood disaster of 1962 in Hamburg may have gave a warning signal!) By end of 1963 the complete production was stopped. 3500 units only had left the huge production area in Wittenau, too few to be profitable. After Harald Quandt's death the Quandt family lost interest in this project.
Even years later interested customers were able to buy a new car ; the Amphicar were drug in to the market. That’s why the prices were free falling: In 1961 it cost 11200 German Marks, in 1968 the last new Amphicars were sold for 4500DM by a Berlin dealer. In the following years Trippel proclaims in defiance of all the backlash his idea of an amphibious car continued and exhibited at shows and motor exhibitions new prototypes floating in pools. His word: Your next car? Buy it right: the motorboat is gratis, that’s important! But in the end it never went into production anymore. The automobile establishment still rejects to pick up the idea of a combined land- and water vehicle.