EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 27, 2013

Pelham man's car drives on land and water

Pelham man's unusual vehicle attracts attention

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune

---- — PELHAM — Mike Wagstaff saw his first Amphicar as a 12-year-old boy on a lake in Massachusetts.

It really floated his boat.

“I decided I was going to get one when I got older,” Wagstaff said.

That was about 40 years ago.

Wagstaff is now the owner of Wagstaff’s Automotive Garage in Wilmington and has since driven a few Amphicars.

“This is the coolest car I have ever had,” he said.

As its name suggests, the Amphicar can travel on pavement or across the lake.

His newest Amphicar, a 1967 model, is making the rounds in Southern New Hampshire and turning heads.

Wagstaff, a Pelham resident, stopped at Clam Haven in Derry while out for a Sunday drive.

“Everybody was taking pictures,” he said.

That’s what happens everywhere, when driving an Amphicar, Wagstaff said.

“Pictures,” he said, “thousands of pictures.”

He’s had this Amphicar for three months.

“I’ve had seven of them,” he said. “This is the best by far.”

He paid a friend $55,000 for the Amphicar.

“This one was perfect,” Wagstaff said.

Had he saved his milk money back in the 1960s, Wagstaff could have bought an Amphicar new for $3,200.

But that was expensive for a vehicle back then.

“At the time, you could buy a car and a boat for that money,” he said.

So, with little demand, the German company that made the Amphicar eventually stopped building them.

Wagstaff said about 4,500 were produced from 1961 to 1968, with few changes year to year.

There are an estimated 400 remaining in the world today, and they have sold for as much as $130,000, he said.

It looks like something James Bond would drive.

“Everybody says that,” Wagstaff said.

Amphicar owners have included former Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, country singer Alan Jackson and auto racing great Dale Earnhardt.

It was featured in one of the Pink Panther movies, “Inspector Clouseau.” Amphicars have crossed the English Channel.

The motor-and-propeller powered Amphicar not only has to pass vehicle inspection, it has to meet with approval of the Marine Patrol.

That means marine lights, life preservers and an oar on board.

There are special maintenance considerations.

“When it goes in the water, the brakes go in the water,” Wagstaff said. “So you have to clean them off.”

Wagstaff said his interest in unusual forms of transportation stems from the business he and his father, Bernie, now retired at 83, founded in 1977.

He also has owned other unique vehicles like the 1961 Goggomobil — “That sounds like a Weedwacker going down the street,” he said — and a BMW with a door on the front.

“I like the odd ones,” he said.

Wagstaff has traveled the Merrimack River and Lake Winnipesaukee by Amphicar.

Whether he’s on the road to Clam Haven or just a day at the shore, he plans to continue enjoying his travels.

“It’s not a great car and it’s not a great boat,” he said. “But it does both pretty well.”