LBJ's Amphibious Car Caught Friends and Dignitaries By Surprise

The German car could drive on streets and work as a boat in the President's lake

When President Lyndon B. Johnson visited his Texas ranch, he would often invite friends, and even foreign dignitaries, down and take them for a joyride in his car. But not just any car.

Johnson, unbeknownst to guests who were first-timers to the ranch, had an Amphicar. Built in Germany from 1961 to 1968, the Amphicar is the only civilian amphibious passenger automobile ever to be mass produced. A total of 3,878 vehicles were produced in four colors: Beach White, Regatta Red, Fjord Green (Aqua), and Lagoon Blue--the color of President Johnson's Amphicar.

Johnson would get his guest and drive down a steep incline toward the lake on his ranch, pretend to lose control, and then yell, "The brakes don't work! We're going in! We're going under!" The car would splash into the lake, and as everyone else was screaming, Johnson would be doubled over laughing.

Among his victims were new staff and cabinet members who came on during his five-year presidency. One who was victimized--Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare John W. Gardner--was the only Republican Johnson named to a cabinet post in his tenure. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, a former Ford Motor Co. executive, was a registered Republican from Michigan, but Johnson inherited McNamara from John F. Kennedy's cabinet. McNamara would have known the car was amphibious anyway.

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