BY SHERI TRUSTY
When Amphicars were first built between 1960 to 1963, German makers thought they had struck a gold mine. Who wouldn’t want an amphibious automobile that could drive off the road and into the water? Apparently, not many people did. When the cars were revealed at the 1961 New York Auto Show, people were impressed – but not enough to open their wallets to buy one.
“They thought they’d get a big market over here,” said Billy Syx, who owns a 1961 yellow Amphicar.
The project received added pressure from major U.S. automobile manufacturers who had nothing like it to market to their customers.
“The big three had nothing to offer in response to it,” Syx said. “The Amphicars didn’t sell and many of them sat in a parking lot getting rusty.”
Regardless of the Amphicar’s shaky history, they were a big hit as the International Amphicar Owners Club hosted a regional event in Port Clinton on Sunday. The group kicked off the event with a stop at Dock’s Beach House, where they gave rides to delighted beachgoers who had the chance of a lifetime to drive on water.
“I’ve already given rides to about 100 people,” Syx said just an hour into the event.
Among the riders was Gina Ehlers of Granville who said the experience was “amazing,” and Bailey Del Greco of Mansfield who was surprised to see such an unique car in person.
“What is neat is that it can move on land and get in the water,” she said.
About 4,500 Amphicars were built, and Syx estimates there are between 600 and 800 left. As a restoration expert, he says one good thing came from the early manufacturer’s overestimation of the car’s popularity. They planned ahead and prebuilt parts.
“Gordon Imports out of California sells the parts and makes limited runs of parts that don’t have a shelf-life,” Syx said.
Thanks to the availability of parts, Amphicar owners can give historic rides in the cars, like Syx did at Dock’s. Ashley Markley of Mansfield said the ride was not what she expected.
“It was like a boat, but the feeling was different. It was fun,” she said.
Courtney Del Greco of Mansfield had seen Amphicars at Put-in-Bay before, but this was her first ride in one.
“I never thought I’d have the opportunity to ride in one,” she said. “It’s super cool he’s doing this.”
After giving rides, the Amphicar owners had their traditional dinner at Docks and then took a “Shake Down Cruise” down the Portage River and into Lake Erie. On Monday, they took the ferry to Put-in-Bay for a few days of island fun.
“We take the ferry because it takes too long to drive to the island. I’ve done it, but it’s tedious. By the time you get there an hour and a half later, you’re ready for the bars,” Syx said.
Amphicar owner Jeff McKeown was looking forward to the group’s annual trip to Put-in-Bay.
“It’s fun. Everyone loves it,” he said.
McKeown was at Dock’s with the 1964 Amphicar that he purchased about six years ago.
“I always wanted one. I have other cars, but this is my favorite,” he said.
McKeown enjoys the unique freedom an Amphicar provides.
“I like going in and out of the water. When you’re in the water, you can explore a lot more. You can cruise around and pull into an area nobody else can, like here at Dock’s, and then drive it down the road,” he said.
McKeown had fun at the club’s international event in Celina the week prior, where the town came out in droves to watch the Amphicar parade. The event included a tech session taught by Syx and an annual visit to Otterbein St. Mary’s, where they gave rides to the facility’s seniors.
“I swear they live another year to get another Amphicar ride,” Syx said. “They light up when we get there.”