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

  • From: Erin Holder <erin.holder@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2006 08:27:12 -0400

Hm, how far can you go with it? E.g. if we were to install gas stations on the ocean (a very bad idea, I might add), could one drive across an ocean with it? That'd be pretty hype.


Quoting JimKandJulieB@xxxxxxx:

(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_
(http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/10/17/amphibious.car.ap/index.html) (javascript:void(printArticle());)

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, even
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 it
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 1961
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 Is
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 new
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 400
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 75
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 engines
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 foot
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.

-- Erin

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