$100,000 amphibious vehicle makes debut

WaterCar to sell all-around amphibious vehicle.


Entering the water can be done at speeds up to 15 mph (24 km/h) if there is no step higher than about six inches (15 cm) and the beach is sufficiently firm. Some spectacular entries and exits from the water appear on the video below. Once in the water, the pilot places the four-speed in neutral, pulls a knob to switch the transfer case over to jet drive, pushes a knob to hydraulically lift the wheels and tires out of the water, and start boating. The entire procedure takes less than 15 seconds.

Once in the water, the Panther is remarkably stable for a boat that is only 15 ft (4.6 m) in length. It leans a bit in tight turns, but makes the most of the low center of gravity resulting from having both automotive and marine drive systems. This also renders the Panther a bit reluctant to get out of the hole to planing speed, but the amphib appears to handle well at its top speed of nearly 45 mph (72 km/h).

Remarkably, the Panther maintains an even keel on the water even when stopped. It appears to be slightly low at the stern, but at most by an inch or two. The video shows a person diving from the Panther, which again appears to take the sudden shift of weight in stride. The Panther has all the power and speed needed to pull water skiers or wakeboarders, with the vehicles getting up to enough speed to let even most barefoot skiers to get on top of the water.

The Panther's design also allows it to function well as an off-road vehicle. This is due in part to the Jeep heritage together with the wide 30X9.50R15 tires, but is mainly the result of WaterCars designing a long-travel suspension system for the Panther. The primary purpose for this suspension was to allow the Panther to drive directly in and out of the water without requiring a slipway, but in the end it also gives the Panther a chance to shine on, for example, Arizona sand dunes.

As a rear wheel drive, it is probably best to go off-road only in locations with which you are familiar, or together with a four-wheel drive vehicle that can tow you out of soft spots. Despite that, there are many situations in which off-roading just adds to the Panther's potential for fun.

All in all, early descriptions of WaterCar's Panther suggest that it will provide real enjoyment to anyone living on or near water. The Panther is pricey, starting at US$76,000 for a "Rolling chassis", $106,000 for a "Turn-key minus" version, and $135,000 for a complete Panther. The reason for the uncompleted models is that WaterCar's legal and regulatory requirements are far less if they sell kits instead of completed vehicles.

The rolling chassis requires a good bit of work and additional components, but the components can be bought off the shelf. The Turn-key minus version lacks the engine and automobile side of the powertrain. If buying a complete Panther, WaterCar's approach will be to find an outside firm that will complete your amphib for you.

Perhaps the fairest price comparison for the Panther is with separate vehicles. A decent off-road capable car that will tow a boat trailer that carries a 45 mph (72 km/h) boat. When you look at it that way, the price seems a bit more in line. Besides, being able to drive to a lake, drive into the lake, speed past gawking landlubbers, go back to ground for a nice meal, and then slipping into the water to enjoy a slow twilight cruise through the span of London Bridge (now in Lake Havasu, Arizona) before returning to the road home is surely worth a bit of sticker shock.

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