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Cruising the Trent-Severn Waterway in a 1960's Amphicar

By: Steven Bull (Host, Water Ways)

Amphicar on Trent-Severn Waterway
Photo- Steven Bull / Water Ways TV

I fully appreciate how wildly privileged my boating life has been due to my career. I’ve been one of the first people on the planet to get on board some of the coolest new watercraft from PWCs to 60-foot Sea Rays (when they still made those), but this one will stick with me for a long time.

Through a somewhat random series of events I ended up MC’ing the Sigma Chi Fraternity’s 100th Anniversary in Canada at the Royal York (I joined while at the University of Windsor). I was asked to submit a short bio for the program and when I mentioned I was preparing to launch Water Ways the program chair asked if I had any interest in an amphibious car, as his friend owned “a few of them."

As I arrived at the Royal York’s Grand Ballroom in a tux, I was greeted by this fraternity brother I had never met who told me he had called his buddy John and that he was willing to take us for a ride in “one of his amphicars."

From Tux to Trent was only a few weeks and – as you can see in the video – I was giddy. This was one of those boating bucket list things for me.

The Amphicar was launched at the 1961 New York Auto Show but didn’t make it out of the decade.

Less than 4,000 were produced and by the late ‘60s it could not pass US emissions standards and, given the US was the primary market, it ceased production. But these odd little convertibles with a stumpy 84-inch wheelbase, whitewall tires, and twin props tucked under the rear bumper struck a chord and have since become a cult classic in the automotive world.

Diehard collectors and restoration pros have kept them afloat. There’s no official count but the best guess is a few hundred have survived. The biggest collection seems to be a Disney Springs in Florida where you can go for a tour of Lake Buena Vista.

So when I was connected to John Dewar in Peterborough, I was excited to see my first Amphicar. I had no idea he had a fleet!

He pulled out two of his “floaters” for the Water Ways shoot and told me that, not only was there a third, but he had two more just for parts.

Five Amphicars is a collection beyond comprehension. It’s a massively high percentage, especially when you consider how few have survived to the 2020’s from the 1960’s.

To put this into context, let’s forget the impossible to pin down the number of Amphicars surviving and round the initial production number to 4,000. Five of those is 0.125% of all Amphicars ever made.

That may seem small but that percentage of Toyota Corollas ever made (44 million) would be 55,125 cars, or rounding Tesla’s total production to 2 million vehicles would mean a similar percentage collection would be 2,500 electric cars.

The point is -- this is an unbelievable collection of an unreal car. And I got to sit in one!

The 43-horsepower engine ripped us down the street towards the Peterborough Lift Lock before I begged to splash it. John obliged and we found ourselves driving a vehicle headfirst into the Trent-Severn. An odd feeling to be sure!

It feels like it’s going to swamp the interior but then the hood – or is it the bow at that point? – bobs up and you’re floating.

The twin props push you along slowly and the rudders are actually the front tires.

“It’s a terrible boat and a terrible car, all in one,” John said with a smile that was nowhere near the size of mine.

We included this segment in Episode 2 of the first series of Water Ways. On the one hand, I’m thrilled I got to include this in an early episode but, on the other hand, this was an experience that will be hard to top!

Check out the Amphicar episode below, or you can see more content including cool boats, events and destinations on the Water Ways YouTube channel.

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