Follow TV Tropes


Amphibious Automobile

Go To
Volkswagen's unique construction keeps dampness out.

In real life, cars tend to sink in water. This however, can be averted in fiction (and in Real Life). This trope applies whether a normal car can inexplicably float or work as a submarine, or a modified car can do this (more realistic). These can overlap with Cool Car, the Alleged Car, and What a Piece of Junk.

Contrast to Sister Trope, Flying Car, though making a car float on water is much easier than making it fly. Sub-Trope of We Don't Need Roads.



    open/close all folders 

  • The trope picture is from a 1967 Volkswagen advertising campaign. The beetle could stay afloat for several minutes more than a normal car due to its quality engineering and unique platform frame chassis design. The TV ad shows it even better. Beetles have been known to float for more than ten minutes. The simple expedient of coating the door seals with heavy grease will allow a Beetle to float even longer.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Speed Racer: The Mach 5 can not only float but can be a submarine for short periods of time.
  • In Kokoro Library Lina drives a VW Schwimmwagen (see Real Life section). Comes in handy once or twice when she forgets to look where she is driving and ends up in the river.
  • Seta's van from Love Hina can function as a submarine for no apparent reason, but considering he's such a horrible driver, it's probably in his best interest.
  • Daisuke's Cool Bike from Heat Guy J can easily convert from motorcycle to jetski, making it capable of chasing vehicles on land or water.
  • The first Patlabor showed that with the addition of some relatively straightforward flotation systems Section 2's command cars (and even more impressively) Labor trailers can operate amphibiously. Quite well too given the rough seas that they successfully navigated.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman (1942): The Sea Lion's lackys take the cops on a merry chase through Gotham and then drive off a pier at full speed revealing their car doubles as a boat.

    Films — Animation 
  • In A Goofy Movie, Goofy's AMC Pacer floats down a huge western river with two people on top. It's only the waterfall that beats it.
  • In Cars 2, the James Bond pastiche Finn McMissile transforms into a hydrofoil and a submarine.
  • Lucy's car in Despicable Me 2 drives off a pier and turns into a submarine.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Herbie Rides Again, the bug is shown to float and propel itself in the Pacific for around 30 minutes. But, this is Herbie. Obviously inspired by the VW ads. The later film Herbie Goes Bananas goes Up to Eleven with this by having Herbie being tossed off a cruise ship by its pissed-off captain and "swim" several hundred miles to a South American country, including through the Panama Canal, only apparently (and temporarily) "dying" from exhaustion once he arrives to shore.
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang can float, as well as everything else.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a Russian GAZ 46 amphibious vehiclenote  (see Real Life section) is used as a getaway car down a river and over three waterfalls.
  • In The Spy Who Loved Me, James Bond's Lotus Esprit becomes a sub. Eventually de-fictionalized; see both Real Life and Live-Action TV.
  • Condorman: The racecar escapes pursuit by inflating floats underneath and "driving" over water.
  • In Blues Brothers 2000, the updated Bluesmobile can function underwater.
  • In The President's Analyst, an Amphicar (see Real Life below) is on board a motor yacht owned by the Canadian Secret Service and commandeered by a Russian spy, and used for a trip onto land.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Cortez's SUV from Spy Kids.
  • Cannonball Run II has one team's car (a Mitsubishi Starion) become submersible after it's driven into a lake. Interesting to note that the driver is played by Richard Kiel, who played "Jaws" in The Spy Who Loved Me.
  • The screwball comedy What's Up Doc climaxes in a car chase where the protagonists lead everyone after the MacGuffin off a pier and into San Francisco Bay. Fortunately for our heroes they are driving a Volkswagen, which floats.
  • An Amphicar owned by the protagonists becomes an important item on the film Cadillac Moon (it allows the agoraphobic mother to give chase to her husband and son as they go on a road trip to reach to a certain spot at the same time the Apollo 11 reaches the moon and later it's used to escape the police by driving into a lake).

  • The Polish adventure novel series, Pan Samochodzik (Mr. Automobile), was about an amateur detective whose car happened to have such a capability.
  • In the Nancy Drew book Captive Witness, Nancy and Bed steal the villian's car, which turns out to be one of these.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Discovery Channel show Monster Garage:
    • It featured the cast attempting to turn a Mazda Miata into one of these. It worked until the air intake (placed too close to the nose) took in water, killing the engine.
    • However, they previously succeeded with a Volkswagen New Beetle which they converted into an air boat although the "water bug" had a tendency to bury its nose in the water due to how hard Jesse was running the fan.
    • They had another success when they converted a small school bus into a pontoon boat.
  • Top Gear (UK)
    • One of the infamous Challenges had the three presenters tasked with converting the vehicle of their choice into something capable of driving to and across a reservoir. Apparently the fact two of the resulting contraptions were qualified successes as opposed to the usual hilarious failures went to their heads, as a few seasons later they decided to refine their designs and make an attempt at the English Channel. Clarkson's pickup truck actually made it across.
    • In the 50 Years of James Bond special, Hammond pilots a working version of the submersible Lotus Espirit from The Spy Who Loved Me.
    • Then in 2013, the Americans got in on the act building their own amphibious cars and attempting to cross Lake Ontario with them. Only Rutledge succeeded.
  • Larry the Cable Guy met someone who built a working part-boat part-car vehicle on Only in America. Also counts as a Real Life example.
  • In the series Viper, after being destroyed and rebuilt the car that the series is named after is able to covert into a hovercraft.
  • In Knight Rider 2008, the new KITT can turn into a submarine.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Dennis claims his Range Rover is an "Amphibious Exploring Vehicle", and drives it into a lake. It isn't.
  • They can change networks and shows, but the second season of The Grand Tour proves that some things about Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May will stay the same. Trying to one up their stunt from Top Gear this time they attempt to convert a Bond Bug into amphibious vehicle capable of beating the UK water speed record for an amphibious vehicle. It was uncomfortable, nearly unsteerable, the engine kept cutting out because of the choppy ride and the conversion from land to water was long and complicated (it was designed by James May after all). But it not only worked, it succeeded in breaking the record.

    Print Media 
  • National Lampoon ran a Parody version of the VW ad, basically saying that if Ted Kennedy had been driving a VW he wouldn't have had that trouble in Chappaquiddik.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The eponymous Supercar.
  • FAB 1 from Thunderbirds is equipped with retracting hydrofoils that turn it into one of these.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Car Wars: One of the available modifications for cars in the game makes them amphibian by means of making the engine and passenger space waterproof and adding a deployable propeller. Another modification allows the car to fly and it can be added on top of the amphibian modification (cars with both are designated "tri-phibian" by the rules).
  • Warhammer 40,000 : the Imperial Chimera, much beloved of the Guard and Inquisition, has the Amphibious special rule that allows it to treat water as ordinary terrain on the tabletop. In the fluff, the Space Marine Rhino chassis (which is used for their APCs and Predator tanks) is capable of driving on the floor of a lake or sea without difficulties; one segment featured a tank duel between loyalist and Chaos Predators at the bottom of the ocean!
  • Classic Traveller, Paranoia Press supplement SORAG. The Amphibious Ground Car (a.k.a. the "Mudpuppy") can travel at 88 k.p.h. on the road and 21 k.p.h. (11 knots) in the water using its twin propellers.
  • d20 Modern: One of the sample vehicles on the expansion book D20 Future was a futuristic 1/2 ton truck wth fully enclosed driver's section, which mentioned on the fluff text that its ads included the truck being dumped with passengers on a lake and then rolled out of it under its own power, passengers totally cool inside.
  • BattleTech has rules for building amphibious tanks. They come in two varieties: fully amphibious (can move in water at 1/2 the speed they move on dry land) and partially amphibious (limited to movement 2 on water). Of course, this is not something you want to try using for fighting in water- get an actual hovercraft or boat for that. Amphibious tanks should only be used for crossing small bodies of water on the way to a fight.

  • BIONICLE: the Vahki Transport used by the Toa Metru to travel to and from Metru Nui to Mata Nui was conveniently seaworthy. It was, however, mostly held up by the Matoran capsules attached to it, and later by pieces of dried-up plant matter. Its lack of wheels meant there were no holes on its hull for the liquid protodermis to pour in.

    Video Games 
  • Amy Rose in Sonic R drives a car which has the ability to float on water.
  • In Spy Hunter, you can drive into the water and your car automatically becomes a boat.
  • The cars in Diddy Kong Racing can stay afloat and even move in water, albeit extremely slowly.
  • The James Bond game NightFire includes an Aston-Martin that converted into a submarine.
  • An 8-bit Amstrad CPC licensed game of M.A.S.K. turned the "Gator" vehicle (a Jeep with an ejectable boat) into a Jeep that turned into one, so it could actually be usable to cross bodies of water.
  • All usable vehicles in Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart 8 can turn into submarines if any of them land in the water.note 
  • A few Choro Q games allow you to attach parts that make your car amphibious. Good thing since some of the courses have water sections.
  • In Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed, the race cars can transform into watercraft.
  • Any vehicle with the Amphibious property in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3. A few of them (such as the Allied Riptide ACV) are hovercraft, some are regular boats or ships that sprout treads or legs on land, but the vast majority are ordinary-looking trucks and tanks that merely extend a few pontoons and motor on (and some can be built at both naval facilities and factories). The Japanese MCV and Tsunami tank's treads will flip over when changing medium.
  • This is the main gimmick for the Agency Hovercraft in Just Cause 2
  • The Deliverer armored truck in PlanetSide 1 could safely traverse water, albeit only at 70% speed. Water travel had the benefit of a perfectly smooth ride, improving the accuracy of the guns. The ANT energy supply truck was also technically amphibious but didn't float; rather, it would sink like a rock but could travel for several minutes on the seabed before stalling, unlike other vehicles that would stall within seconds.
  • An upgrade in Roundabout allows you to float your limousine in water and drive as normal and even make short dives underwater. Touching water without it equipped is instant death, however.
  • Mega Man X: In X4, in Jet Stingray's stage, you have to chase him on your Ride Chaser while you're escaping the exploding highway you're on and jump onto the sea waters; once there your ride behaves just like a jetski.
  • In Vigilante8, in the stages with water components, there'll usually be a Power-Up nearby that turns the wheels of your car into a set of propellers and rudders so you can drive on water.
  • Grand Theft Auto V Grand Theft Auto Online:
    • The "Import/Export" update introduces the Blazer Aqua and Technical Aqua.note  Both are also armed.
    • The "Doomsday Heist" update introduces the Stromberg,note  a sports car that can transform into a submarine. It too is armed.
  • In LittleBigPlanet, you can build your own amphibious car with materials that can float on water note  in the Level Editor. There's no limit for how the car moves as long as it is light enough to float on water, be it with wheels, tank treads, or rocket propellers.
  • In Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, the human-side Trojan APC is amphibious and its mounted cannon provides it with more offensive power than the anti-personnel minigun on the "Platypus" motorboat (the only other water vehicle on the human side). The Strogg APC can also move on water, but this is because it's a Hover Tank, just like all other Strogg vehicles.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • A few real examples (excluding the Beetle) are amphibious cars like the World War II Schwimmwaggennote . and Ford GPA, the 1950's era Soviet GAZ 46, the The '60s Amphicar and a host of less famous cars. Ironically, by far the most successful wasn't a car at all: it was the DUKW amphibious 2-1/2 ton truck, which are popular among military vehicle collectors and used as emergency and excursion vehicles even today. See the Trivia page for more details.
    • President Lyndon Johnson owned an Amphicar, and loved Trolling people by driving it into lakes without warning them beforehand.
  • The Rinspeed sQuba is designed to behave like the aforementioned Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me. However, it's open-topped rather than watertight and as such, requires the passengers to wear SCUBA gear.
  • At least one man has modified a sports car to also act as a speedboat, capable of going from land to water and back under its own power.
  • A non-industrial example: Floating Cubans. Cubans take normal cars (often old American cars) and modify them so they can float across the Ocean to Miami, using propellers, buoyant oil drums and/or water sealer.
  • While tanks usually cannot float, at least four nations figured out how to make them amphibious in World War II. The Americans, Japanese and Germans used detachable pontoons, and the British used canvas-displacement screens. Both were using a Duplux Drive system involving two propellers added to the rear of the tank (ultimately, it was the British canvas screen design that was used in combat by the Western allies). The Germans, on the other hand, eventually discarded pontoonsnote  and developed deep-water fording kits using snorkels to allow their tanks to motor across the bottom. Postwar, with tanks grown too big to be floated, several other nations also developed deep water fording systems, an idea that has since been given up as impractical.
    • In Mailed Fist, John Foley ruefully describes the time and effort that went into waterproofing his Churchill tanks and adapting them so they could withstand being unloaded from landing craft some way off the beach, and deep-wade onto shore without drowning, if necessary surviving underwater for as long as it took to get onto dry land. On the day their Royal Navy landing craft commander prided himself on landing them dryshod on the beach. The expensive and manpower-heavy deep-wading gear was never needed.
  • The DD Tanks, as they were called, were unfortunately not a effective as the Allies had hoped; the 30 ton Shermans that they converted were so heavy that anything more than a small ripple in the water would capsize and sink them. However, their psychological effects were enormous. In Operation Overlord, there are reports of German machine gunners who, upon seeing what they thought was a harmless boat drive out of the water and turn into a fully operational tank, actually looked up from their positions with their mouths agape. Three out of 27 DD tanks on Omaha Beach made it ashore, but it wasn't near that bad on Juno, Utah, and Sword, where seas were calmer, and most of the tanks landed on shore, providing much needed direct fire support for infantry.
  • The Japanese and later the Soviets went the other way: in addition to trying to float regular tanks with pontoons, they also built "tanks" with lightweight boat-like hulls like the Type 92 and the PT-76. Unfortunately, that meant doing without much armor. And since any vehicle that looks like a tank tends to get used like a tank, the result was "reconnaissance vehicles" that had short lifespans in combat. The first Russian attempt at an amphibious armoured car, the BAD 32 of 1934. was a dismal failure - based on a heavy truck and about the same height and general length as a London bus, it could do ten miles an hour on land and two on water.
    • PT-76, though, didn't have much of the boat hull, and while skimped a bit on the armor side, still was well protected for its weight. While it didn't have much success as a tank, its chassis turned out to be very practical and was used for literally dozens of various vehicles, until finally developed into the seminal BMP series — which is still fully amphibious, even in its latest and heaviest generation.
  • Soviet and later Russian military always insisted (and does it still) on making all of its all-terrain vehicles amphibious, be they wheeled or tracked, since at least The '60s, and is known to reject any non-floating design from the outset. Geared largely for the European theater, with its abundant rivers and marshlands, and taught by the World War II and Korean War experience that the mobility is absolutely crucial during an advance, Soviet planners didn't want to lose time on building and maintaining the river crossings passable for the non-amphibious vehicles.note  They also were one of the few militaries that didn't give up on the tank fording equipment, despite knowing all too well how accident-prone it was, as it was determined that its tactical usefulness outweighed the danger.
    • This sometimes led to the rather suboptimal designs, like the BTR-60 APC, which was initially designed as non-amphibious, and was hastily updated to give it the floating ability. It still leaked like a sieve and had all the seaworthiness of a paper boat, mostly relying on its powerful bilge pump to keep it afloat. Once the pump fais, its numerous leak points will make it sink in about 5 minutes.
    • The BTR-60 got a dubious nickname Sukellusvene (literally "submarine") in the Finnish army as one of these contraptions sank whilst crossing a lake on a drill, drowning seven conscripts. The order is that whilst crossing a water feature, all crew must be on Outside Ride on the deck of the vehicle with their rifles, wearing life vests.
    • However, this approach has also lead to the greater unification between the branches of the military: since all Soviet/Russian armor is amphibious (or ford-capable), their Marines didn't need to develop a specialized landing vehicle, and just use the run-off-the-mill BTRs or BMPs for offshore landings. Their LSTs simply beach themselves on some shallow, dropping their tanks into the surf to drive on the bottom.
  • The colossal German Panzer VIII "Maus" was to weigh around 200 Tons. This being far too heavy to cross most bridges, it was instead intended to wade across rivers. Hatches and hull openings could be sealed, and the tank would be driven across the riverbed. Since the Maus used a diesel-electric transmission, the tanks could work in pairs, a second Maus on the riverbank supplying electric power to the submerged one by a cable. This eliminated the need for a snorkel, but it did nothing to address the "river bottoms are made of mud" problem that has defeated all similar efforts.
  • The Gibbs Aquada.
  • Cities built on rivers or canals often have amphibious tour buses that take tourists through the streets of downtown one minute, then drive into the river for the second half of the tour. War-surplus vehicles like the DUKW are often used for this.
  • Theme park attractions that incorporate both land and water features often seat attendees in amphibious train cars, that follow tracks in and out of the water.
  • The Amphicar, whose frame and body was welded to become a boat with the flick of a switch, originated in Germany and was marketed from 1961 to 1968. It was a recurring prize on the Bill Cullen edition of The Price Is Right (ARP was around $2900).


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: