Wright-Patterson employee restores rare Amphicar

  • Published
  • By Mike Wallace
  • Wright-Patterson AFB Skywrighter staff

Mike Bayman, an alarm technician in base civil engineering, loves to tinker with cars. He has inherited that avocation from his dad, and he now "has too many cars to count," he said. Some of them included at least four Chevrolet Corvairs and a 1935 Dodge pickup truck.

One of his very rare vehicles came from West Germany, and it can be driven not only on roads like conventional cars, but also in water. Known as the Amphicar, it is one of only about 3,900 produced in the 1960s, 3,000 of which were imported into the United States. About 600 Amphicars are thought to still exist, Mr. Bayman said. When new, the Amphicars sold for $2,800 to $3,200, depending on the year.

Mr. Bayman's 1967 Amphicar looks reasonably conventional. A small, sedan convertible complete with 60s-era tail fins, it has a four-cylinder, 40-horsepower Triumph Herald engine located in the rear, a four-speed, stick-shift transmission and a sporty, red paint job.

But if you look more closely at the vehicle, you'll see not only license plates, but also numbers on the sides indicating that it's a registered watercraft. The bottom of the car resembles a boat hull, and there are two propellers at the rear which turn clockwise while in the water to go forward. They also can be reversed. There's a nautical running light just to the rear of the passenger compartment, and while in the boating mode, the water line is just a couple inches below the side trim line.

Drawing stares wherever he drives the Amphicar, Mr. Bayman said that he gets approximately 30 miles-a-gallon on the road under normal driving conditions and can speed as high as 70 miles-an-hour. In the water, he can cruise at about 7 knots or nearly 8 miles-an-hour. While afloat, the Amphicar's steering is accomplished by turning the front wheels which act like rudders.

Mr. Bayman inherited the Amphicar from his dad's collection. Maj. Warren Bayman, who flew bombers in the Pacific Theater of World War II and cargo aircraft in Vietnam, acquired the car, a wreck, but hadn't restored it. Mr. Bayman did little with it at first. His wife told him to restore it or get rid of it, so he began to restore it with her help.

"It had no windshield, one of the fins was bent, and it had been rolled," Mr. Bayman said. About the lengthy restoration, he said, "I did it all: the bodywork, the mechanics, and the painting."

Since parts are so rare, he installed some new replacements, including stainless steel bumperettes and hubcaps. The originals were chromed steel and subject to rust.
The Amphicar's body is steel, and to inhibit rust accumulation, Mr. Bayman said that he "sails" only in freshwater lakes.

"Saltwater would cause rapid rust," he said.

The license plates on Mr. Bayman's Amphicar are 1967 plates that have the initials, "W" and "B," in memory of Maj. Bayman. Mr. Bayman said he learned automobile bodywork and other skills from his dad.

"It kind of rubbed off," he said.

Part of a military family, he grew up mostly near Chanute Air Force Base, Ill., his dad's last base, and he went to work there in civil engineering. He came to Wright-Patterson in the early 1990s after Chanute closed.

Mr. Bayman's teenage son, Colin, has apparently inherited some of his father's and grandfather's fascination with auto mechanics. He's busy restoring a Corvair of his own.

Not surprisingly, a group of Amphicar enthusiasts and several others will have their amphibious vehicles at Grand Lake St. Mary in Celina, Ohio, July 26-28. Many will offer rides in their Amphicars to nursing home residents in the area and some members of the public, Mr. Bayman said, and there will be fireworks and other attractions that weekend.