Lifestyle

World War II-Era Amphibious Car


The 1944 Volkswagen Schwimmwagen had four-wheel drive, a watertight, doorless hull, and a retractable propeller

Porsche's Type 60 (the Volkswagen prototype), with its strong backbone chassis and air-cooled engine, had been recognized as an ideal basis for the German army's proposed K?belwagen ("bucket car")?? lightweight, open utility vehicle.

A small number of Type 62 K??belwagens were in service by the time war broke out. Experience with these early vehicles soon led to a number of modifications, the result being the definitive Type 82 that would see service on virtually every front.

A variant of the Type 82 was the Type 166 Schwimmwagen, an amphibious vehicle that represented almost total re-engineering rather than mere further development. The Schwimmwagen featured a watertight, doorless hull??esigned by Porsche's colleague Erwin Komenda??our-wheel drive, and a power take-off from the engine that drove a retractable propeller.

This example of the most mass-produced amphibious car ever was first registered in Italy on August 25, 1947, by the current owner's father. Completely restored in 1994, this Schwimmwagen has been fitted with a more modern 1,300-cc engine, while the mechanicals and propeller system work very well. Described as in very good condition, the vehicle is offered with restoration invoices and Italian registration papers.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $231,725 at the Bonhams Monte Carlo sale on May 10, 2008.

Most sources list total Schwimmwagen production at around 15,000, including a few assembled by the British out of spare parts??erhaps the first-ever "continuation car." As with many military vehicles whose usefulness expires with the last shot fired, the survivorship rate is small; estimates are that about 500 Schwimmwagens still exist.

The average lifespan of a Schwimmwagen after leaving the Wehrmacht vehicle mustering area in Kassel was about six weeks. Most probably wound up abandoned when they ran out of fuel or were damaged. Many fell prey to marauding Mustang, Typhoon, and Thunderbolt air attacks, or still rest on European river bottoms.

Schwimmwagens with documented long-term history like this one??nd several others advertised on the Schwimmwagen web site at www.schwimmwagen.co.uk??ere obviously foundlings. Since the history of this one starts in 1947 in Italy, it is a fair bet that it was left behind during "Smiling Albert" Kesselring's stubborn defense of Italy in 1944. A rather sinister aside to the Schwimmwagen story is the fact that most were not allocated to regular Wehrmacht units but to elite and notoriously heavy-handed Waffen SS units.

Schwimmwagens worked reasonably well because Porsche and Komenda (later the body designer of the 356) kept things exceedingly simple. The prop folded up onto the engine compartment lid when not in use and folded down and hooked up to a drive off the crankshaft when it was time to schwimm. Since it only spun in one direction, the only way to reverse in the water was to use the wheels and put it in reverse (assuming they were touching bottom). The front wheels also doubled as the rudder. Unlike the later Amphicar, the tub-like Schwimmwagen had no doors to leak through and was less prone to swamping.

More Schwimmwagens still out there

It's difficult to peg the average Schwimmwagen owner. As of this writing, one Schwimmwagen was for sale on the web??ot priced but suggesting a partial trade for either a vintage Ferrari or an NSU Kettenkrad, an odd half-artillery tractor, half-motorcycle (see SCM "Bike Buys," January 2007). But judging by the galleries on the web, Schwimmwagen owners seem to be an enthusiastic lot who actually use the historic vehicles and are often seen in the company of drastically less hip Amphicars.

Since the Type 166 was used by the Nazis everywhere from North Africa to the Soviet Union, it is conceivable there are still a fair number of Schwimmwagens out there remaining to be found. It sort of sums up the difference between rural Europe and the rural U.S.??ut the grass in front of a double-wide and all you're likely to find is a '72 Gremlin.

In terms of restoration costs, light military vehicles, because of their small size, Spartan nature, and low standards of finish, can be less demanding and less costly to restore. While public sales of Schwimmwagens are very infrequent, if the chatboards are to be believed, complete vehicles with needs can sometimes be found for less than half of what this one brought.

Assuming nothing is missing, and that this price wasn't a complete anomaly, one might do well to consider searching overgrown hedges in Normandy for Schwimmwagens.

Details

Years Produced: 1942-44

Number Produced: 15,000 approx.

Original List Price: N/A

SCM Valuation: $75,000-$250,000

Tune-up Cost: $150 (for later 1,300-cc VW)

Distributor Caps: $10

Chassis # Location: Volkswagenwerk GmbH ID-plate above engine and on hull near jack point

Engine # Location: Stamped on case below pulley

Club Info: www.vw166.com

Alternatives: 1942-45 Willys Jeep; 1961-68 Amphicar 770; 1942-45 General Motors DUKW

Investment Grade: B

Provided by Sports Car Market??he Insider's Guide to Collecting, Investing, Values and Trends

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