It was Hanns Trippel! Who? Hanns Trippel, the Amphicar guy. Here, look.

This is the Trippel SK-10, a little microcar prototype built by Hanns Trippel in 1950. In the years before WWII, Hanns was a pretty terrible race car driver. So bad, in fact, that he tried to see if he could attach a propellor to his DKW and make it float. Strangely, it worked, kind of, and in 1934 he started demonstrating Germany's first amphibious car. Even though, or maybe because, he was always on the verge of sinking, the public went wild. So, in '35, he took an Adler chassis and came up with something a little more sea-worthy.

Advertisement

It was called the Land-Wasser-Zepp Versuchswagen 3. (3 because he built a shitty racecar again between the two floating contraptions.) This was presented to Hitler in Dec. 1935 (oh, good, Hitler's involved) and Trippel was signed up by the Wehrmacht to build amphibious vehicles. He bought an old slaughterhouse and converted it to a car factory. After a few more prototypes, the funny looking SG6 went into production in 1938. It still used a 2 liter Adler 4 cylinder and was pretty sluggish for something meant to carry troops. Still, it floated like a boat, kind of. On a promotional tour, one actually made it from Naples to the Island of Capri scaring the somewhat short pants off many Capricians(?).

In 1940, as things were really heating up, Trippel moved into the recently vacated Bugatti factory (Hitler and Bugatti! This story has everyone.) in Molsheim where the improved SG6/41 was built using Ettore's old machinery.

Advertisement

It was 4 wheel drive, with a 55 horsepower 6 cylinder that got it up to 95 kph on land, and a blistering 14.5 kph in the water. It had no propellor, instead using a screw-drive thing. It was much sturdier and more capable than its predecessor. Only 800 were built, however, because the VW Schwimmwagen was easier and cheaper to manufacture as well as being all around better. So, the old Bugatti factory was converted to make munitions and Trippel was out of a job. To add insult to injury, Hanns was arrested as a war profiteer and spent 3 years in a French prison after Germany's surrender. But, hey, that's what you get when you build shit for Hitler. And, Hanns's misery wasn't complete.

When he got out, he tried selling a new floating car design to the Allies, but they weren't interested. He tried making prosthetics to no avail and was living in a barn in 1949 when he happened to run into an old prison buddy and his beautiful daughter. As luck would have it, the guy had inherited a couple dormant factories that had produced cigarette papers and medical equipment. So, Hanns seduced and married the daughter and convinced his new father-in-law to help him get back in the amphibious car business. Hey, third time's the charm.

Advertisement

The idea was to build a cheap microcar for the masses that could also go in the water for some reason that no one understood, but didn't question. He started with a tiny cabrio that was terrestrial only, go figure, but pops didn't think an open car was marketable enough. So, he moved on to this weird little coupe.

It had what was basically a monocoque steel body on a tube frame and was powered by a 600cc, 18 horsepower Horex motorcycle engine. Hanns designed this one to float even if it didn't have any means of aqua propulsion. He would figure that part out later. So, to make it water tight, he came up with a novel way of getting in and out. Instead of a standard door, it had this hinged hatch which didn't open as low so as to be above the water line. It all makes sense now.

Advertisement

For whatever reason, he only put it on the passenger side.

Now, some people will say the Bugatti Type 64's butterfly doors were really the first gullwings in 1939.

Advertisement

And, Hanns did have a connection to Bugatti. But, the original 64 had a different system than Trippel's and to prove it I can point to the fact that they call them "butterfly" doors and not "gullwings," plus Mercedes bought Trippel's patent. Hanns exhibited his car in Hanover in 1950 and that door made quite an impression. "Even his very peculiar, differing from each standard exterior makes it appear understandable," Google translate tells me Das Auto wrote. "The honorable audience huddled around the little hit and can hardly digest so much unusual at a time." Indeed they did. The single gullwing Trippel never went into production, but a few years later Mercedes used the basic design and mechanics on the 300SL. How about that?

Advertisement

The Trippel car was apparently a terrible performer. Hanns kept on trying to make improvements, however. Finally abandoning the buoyancy requirement, he made 3 more sporty prototypes between 1951 and 1956. They were called uncomfortable, small, impractical, underpowered. Pretty much everywhere he showed one, it was poorly received. He pressed on, however, even though it ruined his marriage and friendship to his now former father-in-law. He found new investors, even selling dealerships, but could never get production going.

Advertisement

By the mid-50's he was deeply in debt and in trouble with investors who he had been holding off for dear life. He found a savior in France of all places with Marathon, a company that wanted to make a small car using fiberglass. The French never shy away from a bad idea and the Trippel design seemed perfect. Hanns was off to Paris. There he tweaked his design into the Marathon Corsaire.

Advertisement

Marathon's engineers gave it an improved suspension and installed a 49 HP Panhard engine. Performance was said to be pretty lively with a top speed of 95 mph. Hanns and France was just never meant to be, though. As it turns out, the Marathon folks had made some shady deals and were quickly broke and on the run from the police. Hanns had to return to Germany once again a failure. To keep things consistently nutty, in 1956, he managed to sell a license to produce his Corsaire design in Norway as the "Troll" (!). Through some kind of miscommunication that could only happen to Trippel, while Hanns was in Germany waiting for the Norwegians to send him orders for plans and materials, they were in Oslo waiting for the plans and materials. Fed up with what they saw as a scam, they hired their own engineers and started building cars all by themselves, fuck that Nazi guy. Considering the license void, Hanns saw no royalties even though the Trolls looked just like Trippels. Typically, though, problems with production meant only a handful of cars were built.

Hanns kept tinkering with and improving his design and finally, in 1957, brothers Fritz and Reinhold Weidner, manufacturers of farm equipment, bought the rights to produce the Weidner Condor.

Advertisement

Powered by a 667cc, 32 horsepower Heinkel two-stroke, it was a handsome little fiberglass poor-man's Porsche.

Top speed was 80 and it was a decent handling car that was praised in the press this time. But, 7,000DM wasn't poor enough being more expensive than an NSU Sport Prinz, or Karmann Ghia, and a little less than 200 were ever made. Just 2 of the only true Trippel production car are known to survive. But, its legacy lives on in every Mercedes, Autozam, Bricklin, Delorean and all the others I'm too lazy to remember.

Advertisement

Naturally, Hanns went back to what he was born to do, designing amphibious cars because why the hell not? Flying cars ain't going to happen, so floating's the way to go. And he made himself the most successful designer of floating cars the world will ever see.

In 1957, he penned and built the Trippel Alligator which was later morphed into the legendary Amphicar.

Advertisement

The production cars wouldn't have any Trippel engineering, but the Alligator is considered the first prototype and proved the idea was sound. It was bought by German industrialist heirs, the Quandts, and that's a whole other story, but over 4,000 Amphicars floated out of the factory in the 1960's.

In the 70's, Hanns came up with the T-74 prototype.

Advertisement

In the 80's, he worked on the RMA Amphi-Ranger, a specialty vehicle for pipeline operators that stayed in production for 10 years.

And at the age of 81 in 1990 he built something he called the Aqua-Terra of which I can only find this thumbnail, but it looks pretty cool.

Advertisement

Hanns died in 2001 and has long been recognized as the father of the Amphicar, the most famous amphibious automobile. But, let's not forget he's also the father of the most famous feature of the most famous Mercedes, time machine, Canadian-built lemon, krazy kei car, and a whole host of others I don't feel like looking up. With a little help from Hitler and Bugatti, of course.