LETS RESTORE AN AMPHICAR

By David Derer

This 1964 Amphicar #101656 was purchased new from Fox River Marine Inc. in Chicago, IL on May 14, 1966 for $1900 plus tax.

In 1969 the rear wheel wells were cut out for 15" Baja tires. In August of 79 the car was run without oil and spun a rod bearing. The car then set unprotected until November 1997.

The car was advertised in the classifieds on this web site. The original owners daughter felt that $5000 was a fair price for the car. I offered $500 and was declined. Some time later the same car came up advertised again, this time for parts, by a different owner.

Jim Lichter, a club member, had bought the car for spare parts for his 64. He tried to talk me out of buying it to restore. After he kept the windshield, radio and bilge pump $800 brought this one home. I filled a 55 gallon drum with decayed seat covers, top, pine cones and dirt.

Inspection of the engine showed that it needed a new crank shaft, rod and pistons. Locating a different engine might be a good idea. Head and block looked excellent and brakes had been redone and look great. Propeller drive shafts had to be rebuilt. Seals are available from Berry Bearing for under $4 each. Bearings are around $25 to $35 each. In 1969 props cost $21.50 each, today $98.63

The International Amphicar Club has been my greatest asset in my quest for an amphicar. The club list and the internet has allowed me to talk with people all over the world. Without exception everyone has been great. Extra thanks to David Chapman, his page is printed out and hanging on the fridge so my wife can see before and after. Also his engine info is invaluable.

On this Go-Around restoring the car to showroom/factory condition is not possible. The reasons are financial, and also you have to keep the ball moving or desire burns out. After it drives and swims upgrades can be made gradually.

The desire to learn about Amphicars has been as great as the desire to own one. I've enjoyed studying the maintenance and parts manuals. What has been great is the amount of information shared between club members. I've enjoyed the amphicar discussion group. I've received email and phone calls from all over the world. People see the rust heap I'm attempting and see that anything is possible.

The exterior trim was removed. The felt that was used absorbed water and rusted a straight line across entire car. My drivers door almost broke in half. After many hours of creative welding the door is a door again. The bilge blower and hardware was rusted along with the vent hole. I decided to make it the European model and welded the vent shut. There was not one piece of sheet metal without a rust hole in it, and that includes the dash, hull and supports. What was not rusted was dented. This car must have had an exciting life because of how the entire length of the hull is dented in. A sledge hammer and a 4x4 put most of it back in place.

It took 8 hours to free up the front suspension. Even though I'm not familiar with that style of front suspension I believe a warning might be in order. The center of travel for the oscillating stub arm was fine but would "lock up" on outer travel, as happens when the car bottoms out which may not be very noticeable but puts strain on the connecting rod. Mine looked ok til I removed it and noticed stress cracks at the base of threaded portion.

One goal of project was to make it comfortable. With the seat frames being rusted away recovery was impossible. I took the rear seat bottom to the junk yard with me and started comparing it to other makes. I found that the Nissan 200SX is almost a perfect fit. This saves me hundreds of dollars as compared to going to upholstery shop plus the front buckets have lumbar support.

Jim Fry, alias "Dr. Sewage" went overboard when he sent me rear quarter patterns. They were perfect, made of heavy card stock. He knew that I didn't have much to go on and included install measurements. Nearly the same time I picked up a bead roller. With this tool I was able to roll in strength lines in the flat steel as are seen in the Amphicar wheel houses, tubs. I was fighting gravity too as the entire rear body dropped. What happened is after tack welding for trial fit I realized that the entire rear had shifted. I had to break the tacks free, shift body, re-align rear shell with doors and add more temporary braces. At that part of the project I got tired and moved on.

An ad in local paper turned up a very good Herald engine. Someone elses project went bad and this engine spent the last decade on a stand in a heated garage. A quick check of bearings and in it went. The car needed a complete electrical system. a GM alternator fit and even retained original size belt. Rear turn signal assemblies came from an RV store, not original but affordable at $25 a pair. I wasn't going to get carried away with new engine parts til I knew if the trans was good. What a great feeling seeing the props spin and the wheels turn. May 8, 1998 the amphi cruised the property.

I wanted to test the car in the lake when my wife suggested filling the car with a garden hose. I am so glad that I listened to her. Some of my welding at two or three in the morning was less than acceptable. More welding and sealer and it passed the test. We drove the car seven miles to the lake. We slowly approached the ramp in absolute terror. Water gushed in through the door bottoms but it was floating. I pulled out without need of a tow truck. Success! I dried off the doors and did a temporary repair with duct tape. Next time out my son Ray went with me. We stayed out a little longer and went a little further. The third time my son Mike went. This time we went quite far in the lake. We pulled out and were preparing to leave when a nice gentlemen explained about a possible $500 fine. We promised not to do it agian and no fines were handed out.

I fixed some more minor leaks as my 81 year old dad was coming up from Florida and I had promised him a ride. Duct tape would not do for the large and rough Illinois River. We previously went out searching for a new place that would allow us to use there facilities. We found a boat club. When we arrived there was a new sign that stated the general public was no longer allowed. I went in and explained I wanted to use the ramp and the answer was no til I used the magic word "Amphicar". He got all excited and said there would be no charge and even offered a beer. I pulled the car down by the ramp and a hundred or so people came out. My heart was beating so hard. The river was huge compared to the tiny test lake. There were waves, boats and a long steep ramp, as I approached the car stalled. The choke needed adjustment, no more cheap choke cable for me. The car was running well as my dad and I hit the water. We hit waves and had a great swim. What a sound of cheers and clapping as the car came out. No one cared that the body wasn't perfect and in brown primer. I took many trips that Sunday afternoon.

After much sweat and tears my dream came true. There still is much to do but the pressure is off. All my goals were met. Even though I did most of the work alone I was continuously supported by many. I believe the lord guided this project along as though it was meant to be. Biggest thanks to the International Amphicar Club and there web site. Without this I would not have found the car, parts or tech support. I would like to thank Rick Fry for hisexcellent rear quarter panel patterns, Mike Echemann for making me buy new transmission mounts, Jim Lichter for selling me the Amphicar, Dave Chapman for loads of information, and a very special thanks to my wife Margie. She was not thrilled when I brought it home but she supported me anyway.


You can contact "Dave the Wave" through his new Midwest Amphicar website, where you can learn all about his current projects, repair and restoration services and restored Amphicars he may have for sale.

 

 

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LAST UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2000