Lyndon Johnson’s Amphibious Auto

By S. Grant on Thursday, July 3, 2014
LBJAmphicar
“A vehicle that promised to revolutionize drowning, the Amphicar was the peacetime descendant of the Nazi Schwimmwagen (say it out loud — it’s fun!).” —TIME Magazine’s 50 Worst Cars of All Time

In A Nutshell

Picking up the presidential reigns after Kennedy’s assassination and then dealing with the Vietnam War undoubtedly led to serious pressures for Lyndon B. Johnson. To combat these, he managed to de-stress in some most unusual ways, including driving on water in an amphibious car. While he obviously loved cruising across the water, it seems his biggest pleasure from the experience came from shocking unsuspecting passengers as he drove them, in what seemed like an ordinary car, straight into a lake.

The Whole Bushel

While all presidents have their fair share of eccentricities, some of Lyndon B. Johnson’s behaviors seem downright bizarre. Not only did he conduct meetings on the toilet and occasionally whip out his . . . er . . . johnson to make a point, he also got his jollies out of terrifying visiting friends and dignitaries by spontaneously driving them into lakes. Of course, his victims were not in any real danger, since the car he’d plunge into the water was the Amphicar—an amphibious automobile built between 1961 and 1968 that could traverse both land and lake.

Johnson kept the Amphicar, as well as a host of other collectible cars, at his ranch in Stonewall, Texas where he often stayed to unwind from his presidential demands. In one particular incident, Johnson had some visitors to the ranch and was casually driving them around the property in his convertible when he suddenly started careening toward a lake. In hopes of truly sending his passengers into a panic, the President shouted, “The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!” One passenger nearly jumped from the car in fright but realized just in the nick of time that the automobile was leveling and was, in fact, amphibious. Apparently, the President was completely delighted with his practical joke and roared with laughter for the rest of the excursion.

Despite the President being an adoring fan of his lagoon-blue model, the Amphicar didn’t prove to be much more than a novelty, and only 3,878 of the vehicles were made. Owners have described it as the “fastest car on water and the fastest boat on the road,” which is a nice way of saying it wasn’t very good at either one. Ultimately, it was only good for getting the attention of onlookers or, as Johnson proved, frightening clueless passengers.

Aside from the Amphicar, President Johnson famously drove a Lincoln Continental, a Jolly 500 Ghia, a 1934 Ford Phaeton, and a donkey cart.

Show Me The Proof

National Park Service: Presidential Vehicles
AOL Autos: LBJ’s Amphibious Car Caught Friends and Dignitaries By Surprise
Bold Ride: It Even Floats: The Story of the Amphicar