Hooniverse Motorboat Monday – Amphibious Ambitions

(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.

The Gibbs Aquada

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.

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  1. Mr_Biggles Avatar

    But they ARE pretty pictures, and it's an interesting claim to fame for a final year project. I made some aluminum hubs for a dune buggy I never got to drive.
    I'm a little fuzzy on the overlapping shadow people in the drawing. Is it a single seater with adjustments for large and small, or is there McLaren F1 style seating for more than one?
    Great read.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      It's a sort of 1+2 seating arrangement, witth the driver central and forward, the passengers sit outboard but with shoulder space behind the driver. Diagram shows from 2.5%tile female to 97.5%tile male.
      I was at the Colchester Winter Ale festival on saturday when I recieved notification that this would run today, I can wholly recommend Brentwood Resolution IPA, Elmstead Stout and Harwich Highlight.

  2. Charles_Barrett Avatar

    "Today, the four foot long model takes up a chunk of my living room…"
    Dude, you need a bigger bath tub, or maybe an Olympic-size pool in which to play with that bad-boy tub toy…!
    Excellent write-up on a very interesting story. Thank you, Rusty…!
    PS — I also like how the male driver and passengers are apparently all Vulcan… Going after the export markets is a great idea.

  3. skitter Avatar

    I'm not a fan of amphibious cars, mostly for the reasons listed above. Any esoteric problem they might solve would probably be even better answered by a hovercraft or straight-up flight. Finally, back in my Baja SAE days, the team wouldn't skip the race with the water feature, and the time we spent on flotation and propulsion always sank us for the next two races.

  4. Lotte Avatar

    Shaweet! I tried to make a clay model once…no previous experience/skill plus water based clay=kinda lumpy and rough-to-the-touch afterwards. I applaud you trying to break away from pure styling and injecting it with a bit of engineering.
    Can you produce a stereotypical car designer (flashy shiny big marker strokes) concept car rendering? 😉

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      We did all that fun stuff, but my rendering technique was never quite as flashy as I wanted it to be. Two of mine:-
      <img src="http://i531.photobucket.com/albums/dd356/rover8002000/rova.jpg&quot; width="400/">
      <img src="http://i531.photobucket.com/albums/dd356/rover8002000/roader.jpg&quot; width=400>
      They were never quite as free or flowing as i wanted them to be. I keep wanting to get around to some more practice work. As I say it's been over five years since I did a proper rendering…

  5. Van Sarockin Avatar
    Van Sarockin

    That's a wonderful project Rusty! For being so speculative, it seems to have real potential to actually be fabricated. For your mention of the mammal seals, I would worry most about the door and mechanical seals needed. The larger problem, I think involves contradictory needs of hull form for aquatics and aerodynamics – you want the front of the hull to lift and the hull to plane on the surface of the water, but you want sufficient weight on the front wheels of a car to steer and handle at speed.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      You're one of the few people I have come across who have picked up on the dichotomy of Aerodynamics vs Hydrodynamics! I actually had to wind tunnel test the model to investigate that issue, and found that it only presented a problem at higher speeds. Actual lift-off would be at well over 100mph. It also varied depending on the stance of the car, if I increased the ride height at the back so the nose pointed to the ground, it reduced the lift by a measurable degree.
      These kind of "what if?" projects are so much fun!

      1. Van Sarockin Avatar
        Van Sarockin

        I came across it first in discussions about the James Bond Esprit submarine. Being designed for downforce, it always wanted to dive to the bottom in the aquatic shots – you can see the dive planes maxed out to try to counteract that. Most aquatic cars are so slow in the water (and generally no so swift out of it, either) that hull shape doesn't matter too much, either.

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