Spotlight

Is It a Boat? Is It a Car? It's an Amphicar!

John Edelstein is a guy with a sense of humor. But that's not the only reason he became the owner of an Amphicar. He's also a gregarious guy who loves the interaction with people the car engenders.

After the initial shock, when people realize the car in the middle of Miramar Lake isn't there by accident, they become fascinated with the quirky automobile. Called "the best handling boat on the road and the best driving car in the water," the Amphicar attracts a lot of attention wherever it goes. Even at the DMV, where John registered it as a car and had to make a return trip to register it as a boat.

John and his wife, Carol, view the Amphicar as a stress-reducing assistive device that offers relief from the demands of their jobs. He is manager of Quality Control at Interventional Technologies, and she is director of Human Resources at MedImpact.

They moved to "paradise," as he refers to Scripps Ranch, in 1998. He can be found on the lake most Sundays, anchored at the end, reading the paper and enjoying his morning coffee. The ducks are used to him and like to hang around the car, moving or otherwise. He keeps his oar handy in case he drifts into the reeds while he reads.

John's romance with the Amphicar began at the age of five when he saw one for the first time. He thought it would be nice to have one some day, and that day came in 1999. He approached Carol cautiously, promising her a trip to Europe if she would let him buy it.

John was allowed to test drive the car on the road before making a decision, but the seller didn't allow him to take it into the water. Since he was buying it primarily for its water capability, he was nervous about the purchase. Would it sink or would it swim? It swam! It was everything the Edelsteins hoped for and more. A bonus was the cheer and goodwill it generated in others.

The only civilian amphibious passenger automobile ever to be mass-produced, Amphicars were manufactured in Germany between 1960 and 1968. The total production was 3,878, with 3,046 arriving in the U.S. between 1961 and 1967.

Having a top speed of seven knots on water and 70 miles on the road, it was dubbed "Model 770." Fuel-wise, it gets from the high 20s to the low 30s miles-per-gallon on land, with a full tank lasting virtually all day on the water.

All Amphicars are convertibles and feature a 12-volt positive ground electrical system, a two-part land-and-water transmission by Hermes, and a bilge pump. Rough water is not a concern due to the car's high freeboard of 21 inches.

The selling price was high for its day, between $2,800 and $3,300. Now, it sells for $10,000-$40,000, depending on functionality and condition. In 1968, the U.S. government's new Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation regulations pretty much ended the import of the Amphicar into this country. The Amphicar factory, losing its best customer, closed.

John and Carol, or "Amphipoda" and "Mermaid" as they are known to other Amphicar enthusiasts, have taken the car to other lakes in San Diego. But, they prefer Miramar because it's "big and beautiful," not to mention that it's less than half a mile from home.

John recently hosted the "First Annual Southern California Swim-In" at Miramar Lake. It attracted 11 other Amphicar families and 200 spectators who came to take a look and "get a free ride." He took 48 groups on their maiden voyage.

Amphicar owners stay in touch via e-mail and newsletter, for which John writes amusing accounts of Amphicar adventures, real and imagined. They eventually meet bumper to bumper at regional "swim-ins," and at the annual "big splash" in Celina, Ohio, where 60 Amphicars converge. New friends often visit Scripps Ranch for a cruise on the lake and a barbecue at the Edelsteins.

Something nice always happens when John takes the car out. Once he "rescued" someone at the lake, towing a boat to shore with his car. One year he celebrated Thanksgiving on the lake, enjoying turkey sandwiches in the front seat. He loves the comments of passersby, and if someone looks longingly at the car, he usually ends up in the car with John.

John loves to drive in the 4th of July parade with Carol and Amphicar pals he persuades to get in the Scripps Ranch spirit. He has a fantasy about someday offering rides to couples who get married at Miramar Lake.

"I'd love to drive the bride to the wedding, with `Here Comes the Bride' playing," John says, enthusiastically, "and afterwards be the getaway car for the bride and groom."

Elinor Reiss