[lit-ideas] One step closer to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

  • From: JimKandJulieB@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2006 07:19:28 EDT

           (http://ads.web.aol.com/link/93102604/aol) Okay,  how cool is 
this?   And I thought I wanted a Hummer....!     (http://www.cnn.com/)   
    _Aquatic  car drives with 'oooomph' - CNN.com_ 
Aquatic car drives with 'oooomph'

RIDGELAND, South Carolina (AP) -- It's not terribly easy to  parallel park an 
automobile on a lake. 
Now, John Giljam knows this to be as true as the highway is long, and  for 
good reason: He's tried to park his car on a lake -- and on rivers,  ponds, 
the Intracoastal Waterway. 
Giljam, in fact, has practiced not only parking on water; he's become  quite 
adept at turning sharply on it. (He no longer gets drenched in a  curtain of 
spume when cornering, he'll have you know.) And he's mastered  the art of 
steering clear of critters -- geese, mostly, though gators have  a habit of 
surfacing at inopportune moments. 
It helps, of course, to learn these aquatic feats behind the wheel of  his 
latest creation, the "Hydra Spyder," an amphibious car that cruises on  H2O as 
easily as it does on blacktop. 
With its snazzy snout, convertible top, Corvette V8 engine and jet  
"impeller" -- the stainless-steel cone protruding from the rear that  propels 
through water -- the Hydra Spyder is poised to become the  first, mass-produced 
amphibious automobile in America. 
"It's incredibly nimble in the water. The Spyder turns smoothly, docks  
easily," the 46-year-old inventor boasts. 
It has one shortcoming, he concedes. On the water, "the parallel  parking 
really sucks." 
Giljam tingles at the idea of anglers taking their cars out on lakes  for a 
day of fishing; of rush-hour commuters bypassing congestion by  taking a river 
as an alternate route; of water-skiers bouncing along in  the wake of a 
speedboat with four wheels. 
"I honestly feel I've been born with a gift, and it was for creating  
mechanical things," he says. "It's what keeps me up at night." 
Ten years ago, Giljam operated a Jet Ski rental company on Hilton Head  
Island. Business was brisk, he recalls, but one day two customers crashed  into 
each other. Though they weren't hurt seriously, he shut the business  down, he 
says. "I would not be able to function if something I owned and  operated hurt 
Which then got him to thinking: Could an aquatic vehicle be designed to  be 
fast and safe? 
By 39, he had invented -- and patented -- the world's first unsinkable  bus 
and the world's first aquatic, luxury RV. Producing amphibious cars on  a grand 
scale would be, as he sees it, a "logical" new endeavor. 
His Hydra Spyder is not the first of its kind to crawl ashore.  Civilian, 
amphibious vehicles have been around for more than a century,  and European 
manufacturers have long dominated the trade. 
Yet, while some models have been able to raise dust on a highway,  nearly all 
have been agonizingly slow in the wet, where wheels create  drag. One 
well-known washout was the "Amphicar," which was mass-produced  in Germany from 
to 1968. On roadways, the Amphicar got up to 70 miles  per hour but 
disappointed in the water, mustering a dash speed of just 7  miles per hour. 
In the mid-1990s, Alan Gibbs, a New Zealand inventor-entrepreneur,  founded 
Gibbs Technologies, of Nuneaton, England, with the aim of  developing the first 
high-speed amphibious car. (Gibbs had a 194-foot  yacht, which he enjoyed 
outfitting with aquatic "toys" -- meaning anything  from a Jet Ski to a 
In 2003, after seven years of work with 70 British engineers and  designers, 
Gibbs launched "Aquada," an amphibious sports car, a la 007,  with retractable 
wheels and a jet drive that propelled it along water at a  maximum speed of 
32.8 miles per hour. 
To the acclaim of the British media, it made its test-run at London's  
Docklands, scene of a high-speed boat chase in the James Bond film "The  World 
Not Enough." Not long thereafter, the Aquada made the Guinness  Book of Records 
for the fastest crossing of the English Channel by an  amphibious vehicle. 
(Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic,  planed across in 1 hour, 40 
minutes and 6 seconds.) 
At the time, Giljam's company, Cool Amphibious Manufacturers  International 
LLC, which he founded with his wife, Julie, in 1999, was  turning out 
amphibious buses, a dozen or so a year, at a factory in  Rochester, N.Y. (Tour 
operators are the Giljams' main clients; eight  "Hydra Terras" are currently in 
operation in New York City.) 
The Aquada's big splash threw Giljam into creative overdrive. "I  suppose," 
he told a reporter once, "we just wanted to answer the Brits."  The amphibian 
he envisioned would have to be faster, tougher, and more  economical than the 
Aquada, which retailed for $300,000. 
And unsinkable. "Safety," says Giljam, a 12-year veteran of a rescue  squad 
in his native Lakeville, New York, "means everything to me." 
And so, he took to the drawing board. 
History in the making
Today, the factory doesn't look like much from Interstate 95: a  
sand-colored, corrugated-roof structure on an 11-acre wedge of property  
covered in 
knee-high weeds and hemmed in by overgrown live oaks. 
On the floor of this 20,000-square-foot building, though, amphibian  history 
is in the making. 
Near the far corner, the lemon-yellow, fiberglass body agleam, sits a  Hydra 
Spyder -- the prototype, actually. It sold last November -- for  $175,000. 
"This gentleman was insistent," says Julie, "and we needed the  cash for the 
A non-disclosure agreement protects the identity of the buyer, one of  the 
wealthiest men in America -- a "Forbes Top-50 kinda guy," Giljam says  -- and 
from the West Coast, who took delivery before the Giljams could  test it at a 
motor speedway. 
They did test the prototype in the water. 
One afternoon, moments after rolling the Hydra Spyder smoothly off a  dock in 
Bluffton, South Carolina, John Giljam remembers how "a lady came  running 
pell-mell down the dock, screaming: 'Don't worry! We've called  911! The fire 
department is on its way!"' 
John and Julie tried to explain what an amphibious vehicle was, even  took 
the woman for a spin around the lake. Still, her expression seemed  clouded as 
she walked away from the dock, muttering. 
The Hydra Spyder "has that effect sometimes," Giljam shrugs. 
On this day, the mystery tycoon's Hydra Spyder is back in the shop for  
adjustments: a new, 502 CID Chevy Race Engine that will boost horsepower  from 
to 500 -- one step below dragstrip capability -- and new,  heavy-duty mufflers 
to subdue the motor's roar. 
"Apparently," Giljam explains, "it was hard to hold a conversation with  the 
engine running." 
In an adjacent pod, welders and mechanics are handcrafting the  marine-grade, 
aluminum hull of Hydra Spyder No. 2, which will have a  racing transmission, 
"super chargers," and other high-performance  features. 
These help provide what Giljam calls "oooomph" -- which is something  aquatic 
racers most desire after plowing their cars into a body of  water. 
To switch the Hydra Spyder into "marine mode," the driver simply  presses a 
button, which drops the clutch, disengages the road drive,  shifts the 
transmission into aquatic duty, and retracts the wheels. The  jet-drive kicks 
in then, 
allowing the Hydra Spyder to plane across water  like a speedboat at greater 
than 50 mph. 
Oooomph does come at a cost: Base price is $155,000 -- to which can be  added 
all kinds of extras, including heated seats ($1,000), a custom  entertainment 
system for in-Spyder cinema ($5,000), Lamborghini door  systems ($2,000), and 
teak interior trim ($1,500). 
And though not intended for use on open seas, this amphibian can be  fitted 
with a fishfinder. 
So, even as Detroit automakers struggle to survive, the future looks  bright 
for Cool Amphibious Manufacturers. The Giljams have 6 orders for  Hydra 
Spyders. Within five years, they hope to expand their new factory  and produce 
Hydra Spyders a year. 
Their top competitor, Gibbs Technologies, for the time being at least,  has 
withdrawn from the amphibian automobile market. Steve Bailey, a Gibbs  
spokesman, says the company made 50 Aquadas, then stopped in 2005 because  the 
used were discontinued when their maker went bankrupt. 
"We are looking for an alternative engine to bring the Aquada back to  market 
again," Bailey says. Still, he says, Gibbs Technologies doesn't  plan to get 
in a dogfight with the Giljams. 
"We'll be looking to license the technology out this time to other  companies 
that might be interested in producing their own vehicles," he  says. "We are 
a technology development company." 
Which means the Giljams can focus on improvements to performance and  safety. 
As it is now, all cavities in the Hydra Spyder's "hull" are packed with  
flotation foam, approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. "You could flood the  motor, 
knock a 12-inch hole in the Spyder's bottom, and still it would  float." 
And, for the record, how good is it on gas? 
On land, somewhere around 16 to 18 miles per gallon of premium gas.  (This 
amphibian can also run on an ethanol mix without modifications.) Not  too 
shabby, Giljam says, for a 3,400-pound vehicle that is 18.6 feet long  and a 
wider than the average landlocked car. 
He adds: "When you put it in the water, you burn a lot more fuel and  the 
odometer doesn't move. Tires don't rotate in the water, you know." 
Which, perhaps, is why Julie Giljam always reminds customers: "Before  you go 
into the water, fill her up." 
Copyright 2006 The _Associated Press_ 
(http://www.cnn.com/interactive_legal.html#AP) . All rights reserved.This  
material may not be published, broadcast, 
rewritten, or  redistributed.


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