Almost a Disaster – The Amphicar Channel Crossing

September 17, 1965

A day after becoming the first individuals to travel across the English Channel in automobiles, four Englishmen arrived in the city of Frankfurt in what was then West Germany for a major automobile show. The men arrived at the event in the two Amphicars which they had used for the waterborne trip.

The two-seat Amphicar, which originated in West Germany and made its formal debut in 1961, was the first amphibious automobile mass-produced for sale to the public. The Amphicar was outfitted with apparatus for both turf and surf; the vehicle met all the road travel requirements for an automobile, for example, but also carried such maritime equipment as oars (folded up under the passenger seat), flares, life jackets, a bilge pump, and navigational lights.  

One of the Amphicars for the English Channel crossing was crewed by two British Army officers, Captain Michael Bailey of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and Captain Peter Tappenden of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, and the other was crewed by Sergeant Joe Minto of the Royal Army Service Corps and renowned Houdini-like escape artist Timothy Dill-Russell.  

The trip began at 8:50 on a Thursday morning, with both vehicles rolling down a ramp and into England’s Dover Harbor for the open sea. The crossing was anything but uneventful, with the automobiles encountering high winds and a powerful rainstorm en route. When one Amphicar stopped working after its bilge pump became clogged with debris, the other Amphicar had to tow that vehicle the rest of the way. The automobiles landed north of the French port city of Calais at 4:30 p.m. The Amphicar which had malfunctioned was dried out, and both crews — after staying overnight in Calais — drove approximately 375 miles (603.5 kilometers) to Frankfurt the following day in their history-making automobiles. For more information on the Amphicar, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amphicar.

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