Blog: Graeme RobertsAmphicar goes to Disney World

Graeme Roberts | 14 December 2015

Amphicar ride is one of several attractions at The Boathouse in Disney Springs, previously known as Downtown Disney, in Orlando, Florida

Amphicar ride is one of several attractions at The Boathouse in Disney Springs, previously known as Downtown Disney, in Orlando, Florida

Big kids like me, who love anything automotive or self propelled, were already catered for at various Disney parks in Orlando, Florida, by attractions like Epcot's Test Track and Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom but now comes word of a new experience - Amphicar.

According to Jeffrey Ross, in a recent Hemmings.com article, these cars were produced in Germany between 1961 and 1968, with about 3,000 making their way to US waterways and driveways. Only about 600 seaworthy examples are thought to still exist. Power comes from a rear-mounted Triumph [remember them?] 1,147cc I4 that drives the Amphicar on land through the rear wheels and on water via twin propellers mounted just behind the rear axles. The front tyres steer on road, of course, and, on the water, act as rudders.

Creating a Disney ride attraction with these little cars involved much more than finding a few in good nick, checking they started on the key and still floated, and tossing them into a handy pond on Disney's giant Orlando complex, ready to let the public loose.

Ross tells us Amphicar rides from The Boathouse at Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney, were developed by restaurateur and car collector Steven Schussler and complement The Boathouse which is a ride, museum and nautical-themed restaurant in one.

The idea is the fleet of Amphicars give riders the exhilarating experience of being in a fully functional car as it plunges into the water. It's a passenger-only experience [dang] as the cars are piloted by 'captains' who have been extensively trained both by Disney and The Boathouse.

"It is without a doubt the most fun you can have in a car at 8mph… or seven knots, if you’re down with the nautical lingo," Ross said.

Schussler is a classic car enthusiast, who spent eight years trying to sell the idea to Disney, and has already masterminded some of the most popular themed restaurants at Disney such as Rainforest Cafe, Yak & Yeti and T-Rex.

Numerous changes were made to ready the Amphicars for Walt Disney World. Powertrain updates included ignition, carburettor, cooling and exhaust for improved reliability, durability and paying passenger comfort, more rear seat space and better bilge pumps (a sinking Amphicar photographed by a thousand visitor camera phones is not the sort of PR Disney likes). About 3,200 components were engineered specifically for The Boathouse cars.

Each car required US$65,000 to $75,000 worth of upgrades, on top of the purchase price, to make sure the Amphicars could operate under conditions that they were never intended to endure.

Ross said The Boathouse is currently giving between 35 and 60 rides per day and, like everything else at Disney, the cars are expected to run 18 hours a day year-round.

A 25-minute cruise, which begins with the Amphicar driving down a ramp and a spectacular splash into the lake, currently costs $125 (for up to three passengers), about as much as a single adult's full-day admission into any Orlando theme park.

I've started saving.

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