Antique car doubles as watercraft

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Here's an Amphicar article from the Eagle tribune.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004
Antique car doubles as watercraft
By By Meir Rinde
Staff Writer

ANDOVER -- Arthur J. Gonsalves drove his car into a lake yesterday -- three
or four times -- and drew the usual responses: delighted laughter from his
passengers and amazed gazes from the shore.

"All right! Here we go!" Gonsalves announced as his antique, German-made
convertible hit the water with a splash. "Hold your nose!"

But instead of sinking to the bottom as it left the shore or floating away as
old Volkswagen Beetles supposedly will do, the 1964 Amphicar buzzed full
steam ahead, powered by two propellers in the back.

Cars that double as boats have been around for decades. World War II
amphibious landing vehicles that serve as tourist "duck boats" are a common
sight in
Boston. Submarine cars are practically mandatory in James Bond films, and just
last year a British company jetted a $274,000 amphibious sports car along the
Thames River.

But for Gonsalves, 64, and his wife and four children, the miniature white
car with 1950s-style tail fins has been an everyday plaything for almost 25
years. Ever since one of his sons saw an Amphicar at a car show and Gonsalves
tracked one down to add to the car collection at his Jenkins Road home, the
vehicle they call Popeye has been a part of family folklore.

"My son said, 'What the heck is that?'" recalled Gonsalves, in one of many
anecdotes he offered during a demonstration in North Reading's Martin's Pond.
"He said, 'Dad, you've got to get one. Unless you get a car that flies, you'll
never get a better one.'"

Since then, Gonsalves said he has given rides to countless children on Lake
Quannapowitt in Wakefield, watched Fourth of July fireworks while piloting down
the Charles River, and astounded whale watchers by boating past them in
Boston Harbor.

"You had to roll the window up to keep the water from coming up over the
sides," he said.

Gonsalves, who served in the military for three years, said he named the boat
after Popeye the Sailor because the cartoon character is a symbol of American
strength and goodness. Gonsalves wore a Popeye T-shirt and a white Navy hat
yesterday, and the Amphicar sported an American flag, a decal of the cartoon
character and a can of Popeye brand spinach.

But Gonsalves also recalled that when he bought the car, he was not sure it
was truly seaworthy.

"When I first went in the water, I didn't know anything about it," he said.
"So I tied a rope to it and to the front of my wife's car. I said, 'If I start
to sink, back up!'"

The Amphicar has its roots in a prototype built 70 years ago by a German car
racer, Hanns Trippel, according to several Web sites devoted to the vehicle.
In 1935, Adolf Hitler saw a second prototype and the Germany army sponsored
Trippel, though it preferred a smaller amphibious car, the VW Schwimmwagen.

In the decades after World War II, Trippel tried and failed to market various
amphibious car designs. The Amphicar was designed for the American leisure
car market and finally went into production in 1961. Almost 4,000 were produced
through 1968, and about 500 working models now survive worldwide.

"Unfortunately, nobody bought them," Gonsalves said. "It's a lousy boat, and
it's a lousy car."

The Amphicar can travel up to 65 mph on the road and a maximum of 5 to 7 mph
in the water, which may have been impressive in the 1960s but does not do much
for water-skiers, he said. In addition, Gonsalves' car is leaking these days.
He will only take it on quick, 2-minute spins on the water and is planning

But his son, also named Arthur Gonsalves, said he suspects the car's quirks
and its age are part of its appeal for his father.

"His cars are an extension of him," the younger Gonsalves said. "Heck, even
his lawn mower is from the '50s. He wants everything to be as old as him so he
doesn't feel old. He still thinks he's in high school."

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