CAMI (Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International) LLC has been building amphibious vehicles since 1998 when it created its first amphibian based on a WWII Army LARC in order to facilitate the family's jet ski hire business. It turned out that more people wanted to ride in the refitted amphibious LARC than on jet skis and a new business was born.

This week, the company added a fifth vehicle to its range: the hybrid-diesel-electric Hydra Gator. Unlike the four vehicles already established in the range (all CAMI's own designs), the cheapest of which starts at US$275,000, the Gator will sell for just $60,000 and though it cannot be registered for use on-road in the United States, the tiny 4X4 can go just about anywhere else you wish.

CAMI principal John Giljam grew up in a family welding and fabrication shop building and modifying heavy trucks, fire apparatus and mobile equipment, so it didn't take him long to apply his lifelong fabrication education to the idea of building his own amphibians after he'd retrofitted the U.S. Army LARC, a vehicle he describes as "slow, cantankerous and with spare parts that were just too hard to get."

His first ground-up amphibian resulted in 1999, which was dubbed the Hydra Terra, (pictured below) and as the reputation of the business has grown, so has the interest in the Hydra Terra.

As the diesel-engined, 30-50 passenger (depending on configuration), Hydra Terra amphibious bus has evolved, so too has the global reputation of the company and there are now 69 Hydra Terras in commercial service in 16 countries, with roles that range from commercial cross-water bus services to tourism and luxury resort transport.

The $379,000 Hydra Terra was the first vehicle which used CAMI's patented positive-buoyancy foam-filled compartments and CAMI is so confident of the design of the vehicle that it is claiming the bus is unsinkable, even with the drain plugs removed and the engine room flooded.

Not surprisingly, the order book for the versatile people-carrier is growing and more than a dozen new Hydra Terras will be delivered to customers in 2014.

As the volume of production of Giljam's Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International has increased, so has the R&D effort and the number of people asking him to produce bespoke amphibians for a range of activities.

The Terra Wind amphibious motorhome

Once John had the Hydra Terra in production, he commenced work on a luxury amphibious motorhome for he and wife Julie, finishing the Terra Wind in 2003.

The US$1.2 million Terra Wind is a now a commercially available product and can be ordered to virtually any specification so that families can live in luxury wherever they wish. A slight variation on the traditional motorhome theme in that the Terra Wind is also capable of reaching myriad destinations that tarmac-bound motorhomes cannot.

The Terra Wind is fully road capable too, happy to cruise at 80 mph on the freeway at the same time as cruising waterways at 7 knots (8 mph).

The Hydra Spyder sportscar amphibian

The Hydra Spyder has only just shed its prototype status, with six units sold and seemingly plenty more to come. A convertible with seating for four, the 400 hp V8 Spyder has been timed at 46 knots on water, but John maintains it will go considerably faster as the timing was done on a small waterway without enough run up to fully extend the amphibian. How fast? "More than 50 knots and maybe even more than 60 knots," says Giljam.

On the tarmac, the $275,000 Hydra Spyder has seen speeds of 125 mph, though it easily has the horsepower to surpass 150 mph. A specially-prepared customer car with 750 hp is being built currently. "The top speed limiting factor will not be the horsepower, but the aerodynamics," according to Giljam, as with a boat hull underneath, air pressure builds up under the car at speed and begins generating lift.

The CAMI Amphibious Responder

CAMI's Amphibious Responder is designed for emergency response in disaster events and has already been extensively covered by Gizmag. Not surprisingly, the AR is generating interest from governments all over the world already.

The CAMI H2OEX Amphibious 4X4 Rugged Vehicle

CAMI's rapid prototyping capabilities are continuing to yield new vehicles to fill the myriad niches in the growing amphibious marketplace, with a prime example being the H2OEX Amphibious 4X4 Rugged Vehicle which was bespoke manufactured for a customer in 2004.

The customer already had a fleet of Ford Excursions with luxury interiors and wanted an amphibious Excursion to be used as a yacht tender and for transport between the customer's first and second yacht (the "shadow" second yacht carried all the toys).

The resultant amphibious vehicle had two diesel engines; a 6 liter Turbo Ford rated at 325 hp, and a Yanmar turbo diesel marine engine rated at 240 hp.

The extreme nature of the beast is evident when you consider that among the specs are two 9000 pound Warn winches (one on each end) and an eight–point roll cage with eyelets so the whole vehicle could be easily lifted from above.

With all those fittings, the H2OEX was truly capable of going just about anywhere.

The Hydra Gator

The latest to join the fleet is the electric-diesel hybrid Hydra Gator.

The Gator has a hybrid drive train with a three cylinder 953 cc diesel engine powering the all-wheel-drive system, and two 75 pound thrust electric marine motors taking care of the water propulsion system.

In the water, it's possible to run the Gator completely silently with the electric motors, or run the diesel engine so that the heavy duty alternator can supply energy to the electric motors, significantly extending the range.

Giljam says that due to the effectiveness of the high traction tires as miniature paddle-wheels, the AWD system can be used to power the Gator on water too, with approximately 2 mph possible by just spinning the wheels without the electric motors being engaged, and when both the AWD system and electric motors are employed, a top speed of around 7 mph is possible.

As the configuration of the Gator is flexible, both the amount of battery storage and the size of the diesel fuel tank can be can be specified to order. The battery packs on the first vehicle enable it to run in electric mode for between 30 and 45 minutes but there's enough space to include battery packs sufficient for three hours of electric running.

Alternatively, if you're planning on doing more on land than water, the initial vehicle's six gallon diesel tank can be enlarged to hold more than 30 gallons of fuel, offering range extension on both land and as a parallel hybrid on the water.

With seating for five, a payload of 1200 pounds and go-anywhere capability at such an affordable price, Giljam expects the Gator to become the company's top selling amphibian.

"We built the Gator to meet the needs of the many people who have requested such a unit, and many of them are utility companies, field researchers, fire departments, forest management, surveying, wetlands management, law enforcement and first responders, search and rescue, organizations that have needs that are not unique.

"For every inquiry we've had, we think there are thousands of organizations with specific needs for such a vehicle to help them deal with the inaccessibility of woods, tundra and swampland.

"We expect to be producing hundreds of Gators before too long because it's such a versatile solution – and that's beyond the obvious marketplace of off-road explorers."

Giljam also sees a military application. "It will go anywhere, it is completely silent in water at 5 mph, and because it's made of aluminum and is so light and small, it could be dropped into theater via parachute and give troops mobility in extreme environments."

"We're expecting to field quite a bit of interest."

And next ... an amphibious tractor

During discussions about the Gator, CAMI's John Giljam disclosed the ongoing development of yet another amphibian for the CAMI range which will be announced before the end of the year (2014) – there's an amphibious tractor on the way, which will be known as the "Daddy Gator."

"We are constantly talking to people about their amphibious needs and over the last few years we've had a lot of inquiries about the need for an amphibious workhorse capable of seriously heavy lifting, pulling and pushing.

We're currently developing such a vehicle. It's a vehicle that is capable of pulling trees out of the way, and similar feats that are very hard to do in water, mud, sludge or any other unstable surface with currently available tools.

It will be available with either a high performance gasoline or a diesel engine. We're very excited about the prospects for the amphibious tractor as there appears to be a global need for such a tool.

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