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Amphicars go wild at annual Fleetwood Country Cruize-in

The Fleetwood Country Cruize-in is one of the coolest and largest automotive related extravaganzas in the country. Held every first weekend of June on the fabulous estate of Steve Plunkett, located just outside London, Ont., it’s a classic car cruise-in, custom car show, charity event, and rock ’n’ roll festival all rolled into one.

Unlike past years, the weather was rotten at this year’s show. At times the rains came down in biblical proportions. Plunkett figured the extra water scared off about a third of the show’s usual 1,000-plus classic car turnout.

There is one breed of classic car, however, not deterred by water — the Amphicar. In fact, it was born to swim. A clutch of them always turn out for the Fleetwood bash, and this year was no exception. As usual, their owners were giving out “swims” for charity in Plunkett’s sizeable pond.

“They’re terrible as a car, and terrible as a boat,” Ina Cabanas tells me, as she’s about to give me and Diane a ride/swim in her beautifully restored Amphicar, which she trailered from her New Jersey home. After I get in and close the passenger door, her husband, Bob, activates a second pull handle at each door, to squeeze them further against the rubber seals — our last line of defense between us and the fishes.

Well after the doors are properly latched, Ina just heads for the pond and “drives” in. One moment we’re motoring along on grass and the next we’re floating around the pond with all the other Amphicars.

Pretty cool.

It’s windy and with several “cars” in the water, Ina has her hands full trying to negotiate around the pond, which seems smaller once you’re in it. A separate transmission engages the engine to the two propellers. It “steers” in water the same way it steers on land — via the steering wheel and its two front wheels.

Sure, a tiller and a rudder would work better in water, but nobody’s going to use an Amphicar for sea crossings … OK, maybe some people have made a few, like England to France (three times), Africa to Spain, and San Diego to Catalina Island, but they were probably above-average swimmers.

Getting out of the pond is equally quick and simple. Ina gets the revs up and “drives” out. As we wheel back around the pond, the on-board bilge pump is still pumping away. So while the Amphicar is designed to float, it’s not entirely leak proof. I ask Ina where most of the water comes in.

“Everywhere,” she says.

Ina adds that Amphicar wasn’t in business long enough to “perfect the initial imperfections.”

Not surprisingly, Amphicars require more than the average amount of maintenance and TLC to keep them roadworthy and seaworthy.

But there is no shortage of enthusiasts, like Ina, willing to do their part, in keeping this special, amphibious species viable and alive, and fun to be around.

Amphicar points

• 43-hp rear-mounted Triumph engine.

• Built in West Germany between 1962 and 1967.

• Highest rear fins of any production car.

• About 4,000 built, about 2,000 left.

• Prone to rust (imagine that).

• Capable of 70 m.p.h. on land, 8 knots on water.

• Requires both vehicle and boat licenses.

• Owner gatherings called “Swim Ins.”

• $50K-plus for fully-restored examples.

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