‘Everyone loves an Amphicar’: Manitoban offers rides in rare amphibious vehicle for charity

If you live in Gimli and think that was a car you spotted on Lake Winnipeg recently — no, it’s not your eyes playing tricks on you.

One of what’s believed to be only two Amphicars in Manitoba has recently been spotted on the water in the Interlake community.

Owner Jeff Norton drives the unusual car — a German-made amphibious vehicle that was manufactured in the 1960s — and not just for fun. He also offers rides in his prized possession for charity — something he’s had to put on pause lately but is hoping he’ll be able to start doing again as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

If you’ve never been in an Amphicar, Norton highly recommends a ride.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re seven or 77 years old, everyone loves an Amphicar,” he said in an interview with CBC.

“There’s a moment of hesitation — is it going to stay afloat? There’s no flotation device. It floats by virtue of being a watertight vessel. It’s a very interesting and cool experience when it makes the transition from land to water.”

The car is quite functional, he says. Named after its abilities, it was designed to go up to seven knots per hour on the water, and up to 70 miles per hour (about 112 kilometres per hour) on land.

WATCH | ‘It’s priceless’: Jeff Norton on why he loves his 1966 Amphicar:

Owner Jeff Norton drives the unusual Amphicar — a German-made amphibious vehicle — to raise money for charity in Manitoba. 2:41

Norton purchased his 1966 Amphicar Model 770 in the summer of 2010. Its original owner purchased it in northern California for $2,300.

He estimates there are only 500 or 600 of the vehicles still in existence.

Norton’s father, who passed away from Parkinson’s disease in 2012, became the inspiration for a fundraiser, with Norton offering rides in his Amphicar to support Parkinson’s Canada. In that first year of fundraising, Norton says the rides raised over $42,000. 

With some COVID-19 restrictions starting to ease, Norton is hopeful he’ll be able to continue his efforts to give back to the community. He posts a schedule of upcoming appearances with the car on his website.

Norton in his Amphicar on Winnipeg’s Red River. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

The car is a novelty that doesn’t require any advertising, he says — he just puts up a couple of portable signs and within no time, he usually has a lineup of people anxious to go for a ride.

Not long after Norton acquired his special vehicle, he found out there was another Amphicar owner in Manitoba. He became fast friends with the Falcon Lake Amphicar owner, and they can often be seen cruising the water together in their red aquatic vehicles. 

“Quite often we’ll go out together — essentially that’s our Manitoba Amphicar club,” said Norton. 

“It’s fun to have another one around, and hopefully there’ll be more in the future.”

Norton hopes he’ll soon once again be able to offer rides in his Amphicar to raise money for Parkinson’s Canada. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

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