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Gear: Amphibious 4x4s

9 January 2018


Amphibious 4x4s take the concept of off-road driving to a whole new level. These vehicles won’t even let deep water stop them in their tracks. Pity, then, that they tend to look so silly…

Being able to keep going when the road disappears is exactly why owning a proper off-road vehicle is so alluring. In a pukka 4×4, you do not need to stick to the roads that have been created for you, you can blaze your own trail. You are the master of your own destiny. Until you run into a river or ocean, that is. A body of water will bring an end to an overland adventure quicker than an avaricious border official. Unless you have an amphibious vehicle. Yes, an amphibious 4×4 promises to extend your horizons exponentially in every direction. It is the ultimate off-roader, able to cross just about any terrain. So it’s a shame that your typical amphibious vehicle is epically uncool: leaky, creaky and ugly as a duckling. Turning a car into a boat requires a whole list of design and engineering compromises, which leaves you with a hodgepodge of odd angles and unflattering lines. Is it impossible, therefore, to create a ‘cool’ amphibious car? Hard? Yes. Impossible? No. Here are five vehicles that are both buoyant and (fairly) attractive.


You couldn’t call the DUKW ‘sleek’ or ‘attractive’ by traditional standards. As far as automotive design goes, it leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, only the presence of six wheels underneath even hint at the fact that it is anything more than a rusty old fishing boat. But there is something about its no-frills-no-fuss design that’s quite cool. Here is a vehicle built not to turn heads, but to get the job done: the same philosophy that inspired vehicles like the Jeep, Land Rover and Gelandewagen. As you can undoubtedly tell, the DUKW was specifically created for military applications, particularly during World War II and the Korean War. It was based on the US military’s CCKW trucks, and boasted all-wheel drive. It was only produced from 1942 to 1945 but many examples exist to this day, and have found a second life as tourist buses.


The 597 Jagdwagen started life as an attempt by Porsche to create a light military transport vehicle for Nato. In the end, Nato went for the DKW Munga, which was apparently simpler and cheaper to produce. With R&D already complete, Porsche decided to transform the 597 into a vehicle for hunters, and the Jagdwagen was born. Only 71 examples were created, though, and were built between 1955 and 1958. At last count, a mere 15 were still around, with only one or two in decent condition. The one pictured here is purportedly the most original example in existence, and is worth around $400 000. The Jagdwagen was powered by a 356 engine, mated to a four-speed manual gearbox.


The 70-Series Land Cruiser is already an excellent overland vehicle, but what if it could be modified to traverse water, too? That was the thinking behind the Amphicruiser. Developed by Dutch Amphibious Transport (DAT) in the Netherlands, this 4×4 takes the go-anywhere capability of Toyota’s classic, and adds some real water-going ability to the mix. Admittedly, not very much of the original Cruiser remains. The basic shape is still there, sure, but the body is new. The engine, however, is the well-known 4.2-litre Cruiser powerplant. You can opt for a 4×2 version, but a 4×4 version is also available.


Its massive tyres aside, the Aton Impulse Viking actually looks like a fairly typical 4×4. Unlike the DUKW, for example, the Viking doesn’t look like a boat with wheels. It looks, well, like a pukka off-roader. It’s arguably the best- looking amphibious vehicle around. But there is a catch: the three-ton Viking is powered by the same little 1.8-litre VAZ engine that powers the Lada Niva. The Russian behemoth is a tad underpowered, then. The engine develops 61kW of power, and provides a top speed of only 60km/h. It can manage around 15km/h on water. On the plus side, though, the tyre pressures can be adjusted on the fly, and the suspension can be raised by an extra 250mm when necessary. Sure, it’s slow and impractical around town, but the Viking is a respectable amphibious 4×4.


The Russian SHERP ATV looks absurd, but it’s the most nimble and capable amphibious vehicle you can buy. It’s just 3.4m long, yet it can climb obstacles as tall as 70cm. It can also float (obviously) and turn on a dime. Like the Viking, it has a small engine (1.5 litres) and can only travel at 45km/h, but almost nothing can stop it. The price is around R680 000, which is remarkably cheap for a vehicle like this. The Amphicruiser, for comparison, will set you back R3.4 million.

Text: GG van Rooyen