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Unter Wasser: Volkswagens that Swim

New Driver
An unusual, yet unknown emergence of nautical Volkswagens washed up in the mid-1980s. Believe it or not, the idea of converting a Beetle into a boat isn’t as unusual as you might think! Unmodified, factory Volkswagens were so well-put-together and had a sheet of steel sealing the bottom so they were capable of floating in water for 30 minutes to an hour. Volkswagen proudly showed this off in this ad:

By the way, let’s just take a moment and appreciate this ad a bit. Can you imagine a car company today making an ad like this for their cheap economy car? The car’s front end gets dropped five to the ground, the inner door panel is torn away, and then gets driven into a freaking lake. Honestly, I might buy a Pinto if Ford made an ad like this!

Let’s take a look into two stories of innovators who took advantage of this aquatic feature. In one corner is the 1983 Volkswagen “See-Golf” GTI Cabriolet and in the other corner is the 1985 Volkswagen “Sea Bug”!

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Beginning with the 1983 “See-Golf”, imagine a German science professor looking out of his plane's window and seeing dense forests, meadows, and lakes. Being the engineering mastermind that he is, Dr. Ernst Fiala dreamt of a Volkswagen Golf that could not only romp among trees and bask in fields but one that could go swimming, too!

Carrying his idea to Wolfsburg, Dr. Fiala and his four-member crew got to work. Three years later, Fiala's dream became reality, the “See-Golf”. After undergoing increasingly difficult tests in the local reservoirs, the car was completed in time for its public debut at the 1983 Wörthersee GTI Treffen in Hamburg, at Kieler Yacht Harbor.

Specifications:

  • Two fiberglass floats connected to a hydraulic apparatus that raises and lowers them.

  • Water-proofing for both body and drivetrain.

  • "Snorkel" tailpipe.

  • Special leather interior.

  • Prop shaft connecting the rear propeller to the drivetrain.

  • Secondary "gear shift" that couples/uncouples the prop shaft.

  • 1,781cc Inline-Four, 175 PS engine.

  • Capable of reaching an on-water speed of 22 knots.

The “See-Golf” is now a permanent exhibit in the Golf section of Volkswagen's Wolfsburg Museum, but you can actually see it on display, here.

Now, let’s dive into the specifics of the 1985 “Sea-Bug”! An Australian, Paul Greene, decided to take advantage of the floating “feature” of Volkswagen Beetles. Believe it or not, this car can still handle driving on land, even with its outboard motor hanging off the rear. Since the stock Beetle could only handle 30 minutes to an hour in the water, Greene took the liberty of using fiberglass and 6mm hardened glass to reinforce the body.

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Specifications:

  • Fiberglass body and 6mm hardened glass.

  • Fiberglass floats.

  • Amphibious: handles road and water.

  • Stan Pobjoy 2.1 Litre

  • Super Mod with Holly Carb

  • Adjustable Z-Drive Outboard

This bug was the talk of Australia and quickly reached international attention after battling the waves of the Bass Strait crossing! Unfortunately, not much else is known about this particular craft apart from the fact that it was passed on to his son for safekeeping. Videos, like this one, can be found of this beastly bug tearing apart waves and providing further that bugs can float.

After thinking about it for a while, it dawned on me: I’m pretty sure that Volkswagen has the only production cars to be piloted on land, sea, and air. These mind-boggling capabilities have aghast me over the way I see Volkswagen. Though I’m impressed, it’s safe to say I won’t be paddling a Passat anytime soon!

 

Thanks for reading my article, I’d appreciate hearing any feedback and thoughts on this article.

 

                                             Best,

                                                 Nick from Story Cars