(Editors Note: This is another submission by our good friend across the pond, Chris Haining, aka Rust-MyEnemy. He described his experiences with amphibious vehicles while at University. It’s a great read, and a great Hooniverse Motorboat Monday Piece.)
Seals are incredible animals. Their beguilingly innocent faces with those teary, doe-eyes belie their astonishing grace and agility in the water. Unfortunately, once on land they transform from streamlined torpedoes into ungainly, lumbering brutes. They have amphibious abilities, but are far happier in a marine environment than on terra firma.
Historically, the vast majority of amphibious cars suffered similar problems, typically being hopeless when the going gets wet. The sole quality a vehicle seemed to need to be declared amphibious was an ability to float and this could be achieved by just making it watertight and adding buoyancy material. The next step was to add some kind of propulsion system and then you could nominally call it a boat.
This was true until at least the ‘80s. Every “amphibious” wheeled vehicle had been capable of no more than displacement speeds, velocity being determined by the volume of water their primitive hull-forms had to push aside, and of course the amount of power available.
Only in more recent times have amphibians managed to finally combine a proper, fast, hull with decent usability on the road; notables like the Gibbs Aquada with its hybrid cathedral-shallow-vee planing hull, and the Rinspeed Splash with its deployable hydrofoil. There are others too, many of which have been documented on these pages.
I had the chance to indulge my fascination in these schizophrenic curiosities when I was at University. For my final year placement I had been working at Gibbs, and went on to try and develop the amphibian concept a little further as my final year project. With the wild optimism I had at the time, I saw amphibious cars as having a new relevance in our overcrowded cities. Where there was a river, I saw an under-used, watery highway, and London particularly, one mostly unencumbered by speed limits.
After hundreds of ideas and sketches, my final design for an enclosed, useable high-speed amphibian used a shallow-vee hull for the main hull, with a pair of close-coupled sponsons housing the front-wheel retraction system. When in the “Up” position the wheelwells would be completely concealed for minimum drag. I built a model to prove the retraction system could work in conjunction with steering, the biggest difficulty would be making it light enough. Interestingly, the system that Gibbs used, and which I wanted to avoid, used pneumatics and spheres from Citroen.
To eliminate heavy mechanical linkages I proposed that it be powered by a diesel electric system, like a scaled down locomotive. The modern, small diesel engine would excite a generator sending power to two motors, with a third coming in to play to spin the waterjet when on water. This also meant I could probably call it a “hybrid”, so it fell outside the scope of the London Congestion charge.
At the end of the day, alas, it’s all vapourware. I acknowledge to this day the multitude of engineering headaches that would have to be circumvented to make the whole thing achievable, and really all I had achieved was a really cool model and a series of pretty pictures. But the germ of an idea was there. If I had infinite disposable funds I’d love to have a go at building it, or at least something along the same lines. Nothing about it is impossible, all the technologies exist individually, it would just be a case of making them work together. However, seeing corporate designers (hello Mercedes) earning money from creating totally unfeasible “inspiration pieces” like the Biome concept, makes me more than a little jealous.
My amphiban project proved to be the last time I’d yield a set of markers in anger. I soon became mired in the world of car sales, and the dream of being a designer took a back seat. Today, the four foot long model takes up a chunk of my living room, and the only design work I do is doodling while on the phone at work. However, having felt involved in that sector of the industry certainly heightens my appreciation for the work of others.