July 27, 2006 The English channel is without doubt the world’s busiest waterway, even before the raft of record attempts we have seen for amphibious vehicles in recent times. Yet another amphibious vehicle took to the waters this week, and although the outright amphibious vehicle record remained intact, and the amphibious car record also remained unscathed, there’s a new record for hydrofoil amphibians which has been set by Rinspeed and its outrageous Splash concept car.
The cross-channel trip took place on July 26th, from the British port of Dover to the French town of Sangatte and required 193 min 47 sec, a long way outside Sealeg’s world record for an amphibious vehicle set last year at 43 minutes and 12 seconds. To be fair, the Sealegs weighs in heavily on the water-going side of the amphibious vehicle equation, and the best by an amphibious car is still owned by Sir Richard Branson in the Gibbs Aquada at one hour, 40 minutes and six seconds.
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The Splash was piloted by the boss of the Swiss design company Rinspeed, Frank M. Rinderknecht, and was apparently quite an adventure. “It was like a giant slalom on an alpine mogul piste. The only difference was that it was not flexible poles we had to get round but enormous tankers and container vessels,” said Rinderknecht. The outright record attempt was effectively scuttled in the first third of the journey when a massive wave caused a problem which considerably slowed the top speed for the rest of the passage.
The Rinspeed “Splash” caused a sensation at the Geneva Motor Show in 2004. Whereas "normal" amphibious cars displace the water like a boat, the Splash skims over the water on extendable wings like a hydrofoil.
It took a great deal of effort to convert the original “Splash” into the present offshore version, so Rinspeed took on board the Swiss engineering specialists, Esoro, and one of the world's biggest plastics producers, Bayer MaterialScience. With their extensive materials know-how, the experts helped Rinspeed get the “Splash” fit for the high seas. The main design modification involved the wings, which had to be reinforced. To guarantee dimensional stability, the molds were cut from molded polyurethane foam.
The successful record ride over the waves was a tough ordeal not only for the pilot but also for the material. The 140 bhp, 750 ccm Weber Motor engine can take the Splash up to 80 kph, and at that speed even small waves feel as hard as rock. To supply enough power for the maiden voyage, WeberMotor supplied a brand-new version of its lightweight, low-consumption, environmentally friendly two-cylinder engine. This extremely compact power package produces 140 bhp/103 kW at 7’000 rpm, and generates maximum torque of 150 Nm at just 3’500 rpm.
In theory, the 36 km or so between Dover and Sangatte would have taken just under half an hour but, says Rinderknecht, “I may be able to drive at that speed at home in Switzerland on Lake Zurich with no wind and the surface as smooth as glass, but not on one of the most difficult stretches of water in the world. But safety was always the prime concern.”
With his arrival at the French town of Sangatte, he captured his entry in the Guinness Book of Records for a hydrofoil amphibian. Rinderknecht was overjoyed: “We Swiss are not just good at making the tastiest chocolate; we can also build the fastest hydrofoil vehicle in the world – even though we’re not exactly a seafaring nation …”