Out for a spin: Amphicars on Lake Oconee

“Can you really just drive this car into the water?” It’s a common question posed to David Dodson when he takes his bright blue 1965 Amphicar to car shows.

“Well, you can drive any car into the water,” he likes to reply, “but, only a few can drive back out.”

These few were engineered in Germany during the 1960s, becoming the only non-military amphibious car to be mass-produced. The Amphicar made a big splash at the 1964/1965 New York World Fair to excited crowds. But over the years, the novelty just couldn’t outweigh the practicality for the price in the overall market. Except, that is, for collectors and aficionados like Dodson who relish the cars’ unique functionality – with an emphasis on “fun.”

Only a spate of around 4,000 Amphicars were manufactured between 1961 to 1968. Today, only a fraction remain worldwide, estimated to be around 500. Of those, Lake Oconee is home to three.

One can be found on display at Memory Lane Classic Cars Museum in Eatonton. The other two can be spotted out on Lake Oconee or around town – Dodson’s and now Kim Logan’s.

It’s an exciting moment to see a car driving around the lake, or rolling down a boat ramp into Lake Oconee. “People will go to their balconies and wave when I put it in at Reynolds Landing,” says Logan. “I can’t tell you how many people see me on the water and take pictures, or ride by real slow on their pontoon so they can video it.”

Logan delights in the attention. It is, after all, why she wanted her own Amphicar. As a Realtor at Lake Oconee, Logan saw it as a major marketing tool. Who wouldn’t want to shop for lake homes with her via Amphicar?

“I thought it would be a great way to start a conversation,” she says. “People just come up and ask about it and I’m able to give them a floatable key chain with our name on it and tell them what we do if they ever want to buy or sell their property.” She says her husband, Lin, thought the idea was crazy, but has now seen it in action.

Logan remembers seeing Dodson’s car for the first time. She and Lin were waiting for a table at da Corrado Ristorante when she saw it pull up. People naturally gravitated to it and it certainly caught her attention. “I told Lin right then, I need that car,” she says. “It is literally a driving billboard for us selling property at the lake.”

She started searching for her own, quickly realizing how rare it is to not only find one, but find one in working condition. Dodson explains that most Amphicars are in the upper Midwest where people enjoy them on the Great Lakes. The others that might remain are oftentimes rusted out, stored away in a barn and forgotten. Almost all are in some form of restoration, he says, and few are “seaworthy.”

Logan looked for nearly a year before she got a call from Roper’s Collision Center in Greensboro. “I had sold Bob Roper his house and he knew I was looking for one,” says Logan. “He sent me a picture and said, ‘Guess what’s in my shop and the guy wants to sell it.’” Ironically, that guy was David Dodson.

Not only had she found her Amphicar, she found someone to walk her through the transition from land to water. Dodson went with her on her initial voyage. “I was terrified,” she says. “There’s something inside you that naturally tells you NOT to drive a car into the water.”

Now, she’s ready for her first full summer on the lake with her Amphicar. For Dodson, with his years of practice, the bigger the splash at the end of the boat ramp, the better. In fact, his casualness at the wheel and zest for thrills reflects a hint of mischief when he tells the story of President Lyndon Johnson joking about faulty brakes as he took unsuspecting passengers down the ramp in his own Amphicar.

Dodson still babies Logan’s car as he does his own, and readily admits he’d buy it back anytime, but Amphicars are better enjoyed with friends. Birds of a feather boat together.

Dodson is a member of the International Amphicar Owners Club. The group has regular “swim-ins,” rather than classic car “cruise-ins,” at various locations throughout the year. He most recently attended a spring meet up in Mount Dora, Florida. “There are lots of lakes there and the mangrove areas were amazing with the cypress trees and trunks coming right down into the water,” he says. “It was fun to take the car through that. It’s just more fun in general when you have a group.”

Logan is quick to take people for a spin around Lake Oconee. She understands what a surreal an unexpected experience it is to speed into the water, change gears, and putter around the lake, even if it’s only at a top speed of 7 mph.

She wants to use her car as more than a billboard by giving people the chance to experience it while benefiting local charities, much like the sunset cruise for two that was auctioned at the Lake Oconee Food & Wine Festival this spring. “That was another main part of why I wanted it so badly,” she says. “I knew it would be something unique I could donate for charity.”

In the meantime this summer, she can likely be found taking it for a slow spin around the lake, or racing down a boat ramp with Dodson, all the while keeping the history of the Amphicar alive at Lake Oconee and keeping excited onlookers entertained.

 

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