BOULDER CITY (KLAS) — Lake Mead is known for many things, including some recent grizzly discoveries. But not everything found at Lake Mead in the last couple of weeks makes you cringe. Some make you smile. A cherry red 1964 Amphicar would be just that.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, Air Force veteran James Spear pulled up to Hemenway Harbor after a leisurely drive from his home in the valley. What he did next had several jaws dropping. Spear drove his car straight into the lake.
But this car didn’t sink. It floated and powered away with its engine and dual propellers. Spear was gracious enough to invite a local reporter and his wife along for a ride or cruise. It was nothing short of a once-in-a-lifetime experience to drive into and across the lake in a car.
Spear has owned this Amphicar since 2014. He said he bought it relatively cheaply and now keeps it as an investment. While not giving exact numbers, Spear bought the Amphicar for much less than the current price, which could be close to $150,000 or more given that it is in fantastic condition and not restored.
Spear lovingly calls his Amphicar “Rose” or “Rose Regatta Red.” Its official color is regatta red. When initially made, there were four colors to choose from:
- Regatta Red
- Beach White
- Robin Egg Blue (sometimes called Lagoon Blue)
- Seafoam Green (also called Fjord Green)
The Amphicar Model 770 debuted in 1961. The car’s origin is German, West German to be exact. The vehicles were produced in Germany by Quandt Group and were available to buy from 1961 to 1968. Production stopped in 1965 with 3,878 produced, of which 3,046 were imported into the U.S.
Currently, there are 400 known Amphicars left in the world. Three of them are in the Las Vegas valley, and Spear’s Amphicar is the only one that still goes for regular cruises around the lake. Once on the water, the propellers take over, and he uses the steering wheel and front wheels to steer.
The car takes regular gas. Spears said whenever he stops to fill it up; he gets tied up talking with people and taking pictures for over an hour. Spears told 8 News Now he takes it out a couple of times a month, often driving it down the Strip, and has become “Instagram famous.”
The Amphicar isn’t taking home any trophies when it comes to speed. It can hold its own on surface streets on the ground, but it tops out at around 7 knots, about 8 mph in the water. It does pretty well on gas mileage, getting 35 mpg on land and 1.3 hours per gallon on water.
As we casually cruised around the boat docks, Spear would ask people on passing boats, “Where’s the freeway?” Or joke about that darn GPS pointing him in the wrong direction.
Spear has called the Las Vegas valley home for quite a while. He was assigned to Nellis AFB in the early 2000s and served several tours of duty overseas, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also severely injured in Iraq in an explosion. He’s no longer with the military and works locally on network systems and training drone pilots.
While this day, he said he was waiting for some local friends to show up so they could cruise the lake all day; he’s not exactly staying out of the spotlight. His Amphicar, and himself, will be featured in an upcoming independent film called Hell’s Coming for You. Spear has also acted in a couple of other small productions. But it’s the everyday driving around the Las Vegas valley, and Lake Mead that brings the most attention.
Spear is in some good company when it comes to owning an Amphicar. Probably its most famous owner was U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. Johnson was known to scare people by pretending to lose his brakes and head straight into the water only to float away smoothly.