Automotive

Is it a Jeep? Is it a speedboat? No, it's WaterCar's Panther amphibious vehicle

Is it a Jeep? Is it a speedboa...
WaterCar's Panther is as at home on the water as it is on the land (Photo: WaterCar, Inc.)
WaterCar's Panther is as at home on the water as it is on the land (Photo: WaterCar, Inc.)
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Yacht tender, or just visiting the neighbors (Photo: WaterCar)
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Yacht tender, or just visiting the neighbors (Photo: WaterCar)
Making time to that trolling location (Photo: WaterCar)
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Making time to that trolling location (Photo: WaterCar)
Multi-color Panthers ready to go (Photo: WaterCar)
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Multi-color Panthers ready to go (Photo: WaterCar)
Panthers come in a wide range of color, trim, and accessories (Photo: WaterCar)
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Panthers come in a wide range of color, trim, and accessories (Photo: WaterCar)
Panthers share the Jeep CJ-8's muscular appearance on the road (Photo: WaterCar)
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Panthers share the Jeep CJ-8's muscular appearance on the road (Photo: WaterCar)
Between the roll bar and the buoyancy foam in the hull, the Panther is well-equipped for safety (Photo: WaterCar)
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Between the roll bar and the buoyancy foam in the hull, the Panther is well-equipped for safety (Photo: WaterCar)
In most locations, a Panther requires registration as both a boat and a car (Photo: WaterCar)
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In most locations, a Panther requires registration as both a boat and a car (Photo: WaterCar)
Panther awaiting baptism in Lake Havasu (Photo: WaterCar)
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Panther awaiting baptism in Lake Havasu (Photo: WaterCar)
With the engine, transmission, transfer box, and jet drive in the stern, digging out of the hole takes a bit of effort for a Panther (Photo: WaterCar)
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With the engine, transmission, transfer box, and jet drive in the stern, digging out of the hole takes a bit of effort for a Panther (Photo: WaterCar)
No place to park? Anchor! (Photo: WaterCar)
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No place to park? Anchor! (Photo: WaterCar)
Panthers in formation (Photo: WaterCar)
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Panthers in formation (Photo: WaterCar)
Panthers flying in formation past the high-rent district of Lake Havasu City (Photo: WaterCar)
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Panthers flying in formation past the high-rent district of Lake Havasu City (Photo: WaterCar)
Two Panthers atop an Arizona sand dune (Photo: WaterCar)
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Two Panthers atop an Arizona sand dune (Photo: WaterCar)
The Panther also makes a good vehicle for off-roading in the Arizona sand dunes (Photo: WaterCar)
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The Panther also makes a good vehicle for off-roading in the Arizona sand dunes (Photo: WaterCar)
The Panther throwing sand while four-wheeling on an Arizona sand dune (Photo: WaterCar)
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The Panther throwing sand while four-wheeling on an Arizona sand dune (Photo: WaterCar)
One Panther planing, the other still digging out of the hole (Photo: WaterCar)
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One Panther planing, the other still digging out of the hole (Photo: WaterCar)
Two Panthers trolling along slowly on Lake Havasu (Photo: WaterCar)
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Two Panthers trolling along slowly on Lake Havasu (Photo: WaterCar)
Panthers have plenty of power for water skiing or wakeboarding (Photo: WaterCar)
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Panthers have plenty of power for water skiing or wakeboarding (Photo: WaterCar)
Time for a swim? Just stop and jump over the side while the Panther keeps an even keel (Photo: WaterCar)
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Time for a swim? Just stop and jump over the side while the Panther keeps an even keel (Photo: WaterCar)
The Panther has plenty of power for water skiing - even barefooting (Photo: WaterCar)
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The Panther has plenty of power for water skiing - even barefooting (Photo: WaterCar)
A Panther touring London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona (Photo: WaterCar)
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A Panther touring London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona (Photo: WaterCar)
This Panther is one serious amphibian - look at that expression (Photo: WaterCar)
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This Panther is one serious amphibian - look at that expression (Photo: WaterCar)
Right front view of the Panther (Photo: WaterCar)
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Right front view of the Panther (Photo: WaterCar)
Left rear view of the Panther (Photo: WaterCar)
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Left rear view of the Panther (Photo: WaterCar)
Left front view of the Panther (Photo: WaterCar)
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Left front view of the Panther (Photo: WaterCar)
The Panther has a smooth transition to planing (Photo: WaterCar)
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The Panther has a smooth transition to planing (Photo: WaterCar)
Fishing from a Panther, with one on the line (Photo: WaterCar)
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Fishing from a Panther, with one on the line (Photo: WaterCar)
Panther planing at high speed (Photo: WaterCar)
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Panther planing at high speed (Photo: WaterCar)
No slipway? No problem (Photo: WaterCar)
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No slipway? No problem (Photo: WaterCar)
Four Panthers in their den (Photo: WaterCar)
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Four Panthers in their den (Photo: WaterCar)
A pair of Panthers on the prowl (Photo: WaterCar)
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A pair of Panthers on the prowl (Photo: WaterCar)
On the water, tight turns may cause you to skid, but the Panther won't capsize (Photo: WaterCar)
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On the water, tight turns may cause you to skid, but the Panther won't capsize (Photo: WaterCar)
Overhead view of the Panther's custom lightweight chassis (Photo: WaterCar)
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Overhead view of the Panther's custom lightweight chassis (Photo: WaterCar)
Side view of the Panther's custom lightweight chassis (Photo: WaterCar)
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Side view of the Panther's custom lightweight chassis (Photo: WaterCar)
Long-travel Panther suspension allows medium-level off-roading (Photo: WaterCar)
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Long-travel Panther suspension allows medium-level off-roading (Photo: WaterCar)
The Honda Acura 3.7-liter VTEC engine supplies 305 horsepower and 273 ft-lbs to the Panther (Photo: WaterCar)
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The Honda Acura 3.7-liter VTEC engine supplies 305 horsepower and 273 ft-lbs to the Panther (Photo: WaterCar)
The Panther's transfer case can direct power to the Panther Jet or to the front-wheel transmission (Photo: WaterCar)
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The Panther's transfer case can direct power to the Panther Jet or to the front-wheel transmission (Photo: WaterCar)
A custom car/boat/amphibian should have a custom interior (Photo: WaterCar)
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A custom car/boat/amphibian should have a custom interior (Photo: WaterCar)
WaterCar's Panther is as at home on the water as it is on the land (Photo: WaterCar, Inc.)
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WaterCar's Panther is as at home on the water as it is on the land (Photo: WaterCar, Inc.)

Recreational amphibious vehicles are nothing new, but most are one-offs, and most tend to be boats that can creep on land, or cars that slosh slowly through water. There are exceptions, notably entries from Gibbs, but arguably, amphibious vehicles have not made the grade as true all-round vehicles that can be driven to work during the week, and on the lake on weekends. WaterCar's new Panther straddles the divide.

Take a Jeep CJ-8, put a Honda Acura 3.7-liter V6 in the back to provide 305 hp, add a fiberglass hull, retracting wheels, and a jet boat drive and you've got the new Panther from WaterCar, which it claims is the world's fastest amphibious car. Capable of doing over 80 mph (127 km/h) on the road and 44 mph (70 km/h) on the water, the Panther is equipped with a long-travel off-road suspension that allows access to less user-friendly lakes. The appearance of the Panther takes after the Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler, with a stretched wheelbase that provides extra interior room.

Panthers share the Jeep CJ-8's muscular appearance on the road (Photo: WaterCar)
Panthers share the Jeep CJ-8's muscular appearance on the road (Photo: WaterCar)

Because the Jeep chassis proved too heavy, so WaterCar designed a lightweight chassis made of chromoly steel. Having properties (weldability, formability, strength, ductility and toughness) that greatly exceed those of regular carbon steel, the choice of chromoly steel, while pricey, solved the Panther's weight problem.

The Panther's chassis was designed to slip neatly into a fiberglass hull, and is secured therein by modern epoxies, thereby reducing noise and shimmy during hard handling. The hull and chassis incorporate advanced composites where extra strength and toughness is required, and the hull is filled with closed-cell styrofoam, rendering the Panther nearly unsinkable.

A custom car/boat/amphibian should have a custom interior (Photo: WaterCar)
A custom car/boat/amphibian should have a custom interior (Photo: WaterCar)

What goes inside the hull and chassis includes a powerful powertrain that provides motive force both on land and water. The engine for the Panther is the latest-generation Acura 3.7-liter VTEC V-6 engine. An all-aluminum powerplant, the V-6 is equipped with single overhead camshaft cylinder heads and 24 valves. Both intake and exhaust valves are controlled by Acura's Variable valve Timing and lift Electronic Control (VTEC) system.

This 3.7-liter engine is a bored and stroked version of the Acura 3.5-liter engine. As this left little clearance between the cylinders, the cast-in iron cylinder liners of the 3.5 liter were replaced by high-silicon aluminum liners. This results in better cooling and tighter piston ring seals. The compact and efficient 3.7-liter engine produces 305 horsepower at 6,300 rpm with special emphasis on mid-range torque giving this VTEC a peak torque of 274 lb-ft (371 Nm) at 4,500 rpm.

The Panther uses WaterCar's own transfer case with Winter's Quick Change gears and components to transfer power between a model 091 VW Vanagon bus four-speed manual transaxle driving the rear wheels, and the H450 Panther Jet drive. WaterCar's transfer case is rated at 1,000 hp, so should have a long service life in the Panther. The H450 Panther Jet drive is rated to 500 hp input.

Enough tech specs – how does the Panther perform? On the road the Panther is capable of a maximum speed somewhere north of 80 mph (128 km/h). Acceleration times are not yet available, but with 305 hp (232 kW) driving a car weighing just under 3,000 lb (1,340 kg), it is reasonable to expect snappy, if not extreme, acceleration. The VTEC engine has a compression ratio of 11.1:1, and requires 91-octane premium gasoline to avoid detonation.

No slipway? No problem (Photo: WaterCar)
No slipway? No problem (Photo: WaterCar)

Entering the water can be done at speeds up to 15 mph (24 km/h) if there is no step higher than about six inches (15 cm) and the beach is sufficiently firm. Some spectacular entries and exits from the water appear on the video below. Once in the water, the pilot places the four-speed in neutral, pulls a knob to switch the transfer case over to jet drive, pushes a knob to hydraulically lift the wheels and tires out of the water, and start boating. The entire procedure takes less than 15 seconds.

Once in the water, the Panther is remarkably stable for a boat that is only 15 ft (4.6 m) in length. It leans a bit in tight turns, but makes the most of the low center of gravity resulting from having both automotive and marine drive systems. This also renders the Panther a bit reluctant to get out of the hole to planing speed, but the amphib appears to handle well at its top speed of nearly 45 mph (72 km/h).

Time for a swim? Just stop and jump over the side while the Panther keeps an even keel (Photo: WaterCar)
Time for a swim? Just stop and jump over the side while the Panther keeps an even keel (Photo: WaterCar)

Remarkably, the Panther maintains an even keel on the water even when stopped. It appears to be slightly low at the stern, but at most by an inch or two. The video shows a person diving from the Panther, which again appears to take the sudden shift of weight in stride. The Panther has all the power and speed needed to pull water skiers or wakeboarders, with the vehicles getting up to enough speed to let even most barefoot skiers to get on top of the water.

The Panther's design also allows it to function well as an off-road vehicle. This is due in part to the Jeep heritage together with the wide 30X9.50R15 tires, but is mainly the result of WaterCars designing a long-travel suspension system for the Panther. The primary purpose for this suspension was to allow the Panther to drive directly in and out of the water without requiring a slipway, but in the end it also gives the Panther a chance to shine on, for example, Arizona sand dunes.

The Panther throwing sand while four-wheeling on an Arizona sand dune (Photo: WaterCar)
The Panther throwing sand while four-wheeling on an Arizona sand dune (Photo: WaterCar)

As a rear wheel drive, it is probably best to go off-road only in locations with which you are familiar, or together with a four-wheel drive vehicle that can tow you out of soft spots. Despite that, there are many situations in which off-roading just adds to the Panther's potential for fun.

All in all, early descriptions of WaterCar's Panther suggest that it will provide real enjoyment to anyone living on or near water. The Panther is pricey, starting at US$76,000 for a "Rolling chassis", $106,000 for a "Turn-key minus" version, and $135,000 for a complete Panther. The reason for the uncompleted models is that WaterCar's legal and regulatory requirements are far less if they sell kits instead of completed vehicles.

The rolling chassis requires a good bit of work and additional components, but the components can be bought off the shelf. The Turn-key minus version lacks the engine and automobile side of the powertrain. If buying a complete Panther, WaterCar's approach will be to find an outside firm that will complete your amphib for you.

A Panther touring London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona (Photo: WaterCar)
A Panther touring London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona (Photo: WaterCar)

Perhaps the fairest price comparison for the Panther is with separate vehicles. A decent off-road capable car that will tow a boat trailer that carries a 45 mph (72 km/h) boat. When you look at it that way, the price seems a bit more in line. Besides, being able to drive to a lake, drive into the lake, speed past gawking landlubbers, go back to ground for a nice meal, and then slipping into the water to enjoy a slow twilight cruise through the span of London Bridge (now in Lake Havasu, Arizona) before returning to the road home is surely worth a bit of sticker shock.

Source: WaterCar

WaterCar Panther - The Most Fun Vehicle on the Planet! - www.WaterCar.com

12 comments
The Skud
This sounds clever, but what about salt-water durability? Not all buyers would want to be confined to only fresh water boating. As for on-road use, how will they get around the ubiquitous air-bag legislation? There has been a sports car around for years, built by the same factory that builds those amphibious rescue boats and motor homes. At last inquiry they were still trying to get around the fact of wave impact on the hull or bumpers setting off the airbags and regulators not allowing the at-sea turning off of the sensors.
Clay Jones
Dang, wish I could afford one. Looks like a blast!
bdodson
Hi, Skud, The Panther can be used in salt water, if it is given a good rinsing afterward. Brian
POOL PUMPREAPAIR guy longwood
does it have a hitch, so I can pull a camper ? this thing looks like a blast.
frogola
I'd eat a bug for one of those.
Griffin
"World's fastest amphibious car"? Isn't it a Jeep? In 2009, they said that their old Python could go 120mph on land and over 60mph on water- Isn't this new one slower? What's up with that?
The Skud
Thanks for the salt water update, any news on the airbag front? I can't see it getting past the American Obama-safety mob and associated insurance companies nowadays.
Joseph Boe
Griffin Good call. Just re-read the Python article here on Gizmag and you are dead on with your comment.
Marty Woodward
This looks seriously good fun. Give the developers another couple of years to sort a few safety compliance issues and I reckon you'll see them driving off the show room floor by the dozens - and jet skis dead in the water! :)
BigGoofyGuy
If it did have a hitch for a trailer, one could pull one of these floating camper trailers. http://shantyboatliving.com/2011/floating-camper-trailer/ [Also see our article on that trailer, at http://www.gizmag.com/sealander-amphibious-camper/19798/ – Ed.]