Having recently shelled out £148,000 on an Aquada, Richard Branson has announced his intention to use it to set a cross-Channel speed record for amphibious vehicles.
But if Branson succeeds, his record may not stand for long thanks to the eagerly anticipated appearance at next month’s Geneva motor show of an amphibious car that can reach speeds of up to 50mph on water.
The Splash, developed by Swiss design house Rinspeed, is a one-off concept car that can be driven on the road, through water and – courtesy of hydraulically-powered folding hydrofoils – across the surface of the water.
Driven by a lightweight, natural gas-powered 750cc engine, the vehicle is claimed to have a top speed of approximately 125mph (200kph) on the road. To convert the car into a motorboat capable of 32mph a hatch at the back opens and a propeller unfolds from the bottom of the car at 90 degrees.
As the vehicle accelerates, a sophisticated foldable wing system is deployed. Two of these wings are at the front of the car, while the rear spoiler flips through 180 degrees and forms the third wing. Between them, the three wings – or hydrofoils – generate lift until the vehicle, still powered by the propeller, is effectively able to ski over the water at speeds of up to 50mph.
Frank Rinderknecht, Rinspeed chief executive, said that the purpose of the vehicle is to showcase the design expertise of the engineers involved. He said that there are no plans to put the car into production.
A technology demonstrator costing Swiss Fr 1m (£430,000) to develop is clearly not going to be a profitable venture in the short term but as a profile raiser, Rinderknecht is confident that its long-term benefits will be considerable. ‘You have to do something extraordinary to get people’s attention,’ he said. ‘If we can do this, just imagine what else we could do.’
Although no date has been set, Rinderknecht said that a cross-Channel record attempt may take place this summer.
Rinspeed has something of a reputation for creating show-stealing curiosities at Geneva. In previous years, the company has presented a car that shrinks by 75cm for easy parking and a four-seater that converts into a pick-up truck at the flick of a switch.