Two 1960s Amphicars making good speed across Lake Neuchatel.
Two 1960s Amphicars making good speed across Lake Neuchatel.
There is something very special about a car that keeps going where the beach ends.
There is something very special about a car that keeps going where the beach ends.
A Swiss-registered Amphicar passes a Second World War-era Dukw amphibious truck on Lake Neuchatel during the 26th European amphibious vehicle gathering in August 2011.
A Swiss-registered Amphicar passes a Second World War-era Dukw amphibious truck on Lake Neuchatel during the 26th European amphibious vehicle gathering in August 2011.

Now these are what you call real off-roaders - they can not only be driven across country but also on water!

This week, owners of more than 50 amphibious vehicles brought their Second World War-era military transports, jeeps and vintage-style cars to St Blaise in Switzerland for their annual European gathering.

Fitted with colourful sun umbrellas and decorated with flags, a motley fleet of vehicles carrying families - including babies and dogs - drove off the slip and into the water, before moving across Lake Neuchatel.

For many of these enthusiasts, the attraction is the dual function of their vehicles.

Briton Paul Foley explained: “It's a classic car as well as a boat, so it has more than one use, which makes it more appealing.

“I'm predominantly car orientated. I like cars - I'm not into boats - but it just gives it a whole new level that you can use the water as well.”

Foley was driving an Amphicar, a 1960s German-built cabriolet which was also the only civilian amphibious vehicle to be mass produced, although only 3878 were made.

Besides the Amphicar, the Germans also built the 4x4 Amphi-Ranger in the 1980s, while a French company built the Hobbycar in the 1990s.

But Patrick Amerijckx's favourite vehicle is still the military Dukw truck - 21 147 of which were produced for the US army during the Second World War - and of which an astonishing number are stil in use.

Amerijckx, with his wife and two teenage children, drove his Dukw 14 hours non-stop from Belgium to join the Swiss gathering.

He said: “In the beginning we just drove it like a truck, we took it to car shows. But one day we had the opportunity to get into the water, and we found out how much fun it was.

“We have a particular view, we can do things that others can't and it's great. We feel free.

These days, Amerijckx, who now owns four amphibious vehicles, puts his Dukws in the water five or six times a year, and meets annually with this international group of enthusiasts in a different European country.

Since 1987, the group has met in various locations in Sweden, Italy, Germany and Switzerland and, in 2012, they will head to Norway.

This year it is Switzerland's Lifeguards Club of the Low-Lake which is hosting the group as part of St Blaise village's 1000th anniversary celebrations.

After three days of touring lakes Neuchatel, Bienne and Morat, the group will take members of the public out for a drive on the water on Saturday.

For Frenchman Christophe Prier, it's just that social aspect that he enjoys about his amphibious vehicles.

He uses them all year round, “be it to drive friends or family around, or taking part in public events such as this together with those who are passionate about such vehicles”.

“We share a common passion and, unlike other passions, an amphibious vehicle isn't selfish. We can share the fun - and that's what I love.” - AFP