Amphibious vehicles are hardly a new idea; the original stems back to 1961 with the German-built Amphicar that sold an estimated 3,872 vehicles before the company eventually went under (excuse the pun). Others, too, have arrived, including the Gibbs Aquada that Sir Richard Branson piloted to set the record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel by an amphibious vehicle back in 2004. Gibbs are now rushing to see its Sport Quadski vehicle make production by the end of the year.
But for Californian company WaterCar, the day that consumers can actually buy a reliable amphibious vehicle is already here. It took 14 years to turn the idea of a purchasable product into reality. Back in 2010, the company entered the Guinness World Record Books as the fastest amphibious car with its Python model, but making the Panther a car that could comfortably handle activities on road as well as on water, while maintaining a machine that's serviceable by most skilled auto/marine mechanics, was a painstaking process.
It's clear that much of the car's design is based on a Jeep, but oddly the motor of choice is a rear-mounted 3.7-liter V-6 from the Acura MDX, sending power through a transaxle on the land and a Panther Jet drive through the water. It has a top speed on water of 38 knots (44 mph) and can to power to around 80 mph on the street. The wheels are retracted hydraulically in less than 15 seconds, allowing the driver to careen into the water and carry on almost instantaneously as a boat: "Once you enter the water, put the transmission in neutral, pull a knob to engage the jet, push a button to raise the wheels and off you go. Reverse the process when exiting the water," WaterCar says.
The Panther needs to be registered as both a boat and a car, and specialty auto insurance companies within the U.S. will insure the vehicles for use. Only a valid driver's license and, in some states, a marine operator’s license is needed to drive the car.
The best bit? The WaterCar can easily be used to tow a wakeboarder or water skier, making the Panther the ultimate summer adventure mobile. The only problem remains that, to buy one, you need to purchase the parts like the engine separately and install it yourself for the manufacturer to avoid government regulations regarding OEMs that often scupper projects like this. WaterCar will, however, arrange for a full vehicle to be produced for around $135,000.
While that remains extremely expensive, it's not as crazy as you think. Rather than requiring a car, a boat, and a suitable trailer, now you only need a Panther. And let's face it; the looks you'd garner from passing boaters would be priceless.
- Amphibious vehicles