Car video reviews:
The Story of Busse, a Six-Wheel Amphibious ATV With a Volkswagen Heart
There's something about amphibious vehicles that pushes the boundaries of imagination, allowing people to go wherever they want, whenever they want – be it on land or on water. These "all-terrain vehicles" gained a lot of popularity in the U.S. when they started being mass-produced back in the '70s. One of them particularly stood out as a unique all-terrain wagon powered by a 55-hp Volkswagen heart.

The Story of Busse, a Six-Wheel Amphibious ATV With a Volkswagen Heart

Remembering the Busse, the all-terrain vehicle powered by a Volkswagen Beetle engineRemembering the Busse, the all-terrain vehicle powered by a Volkswagen Beetle engineThe Volkswagen SchwimmwagenThe Volkswagen SchwimmwagenThe Volkswagen Schwimmwagen
The first so-called ATV was imagined in 1959 by John Gower, a Canadian inventor. Gower wanted to cross all types of terrain with just one machine, a sort of all-in-one thing. So get created the Jiger, a vehicle that drove on six wheels wrapped in low-pressure balloon tires.

Those tires provided traction and helped the Jiger cross bodies of water, but they also offered more comfort for the driver and the passengers. To make it move, Gower used two chainsaw engines since, at the time, there was no small engine tech yet developed.

The amphibious ATV got a lot of attention, and a production version was created later on that featured some improvements, including replacing the dual engine system with a single four-cycle engine. Mass production for the Jiger began in late 1965, and a few thousand models were overall made before Gower's company faced bankruptcy a few years later.

Even though his business didn't survive much, the design he proposed turned out to be extremely popular in the '70s. It was the spark that ignited the interest of several companies across the globe, ultimately creating all sorts of 6x6 ATVs.

In the U.S., these vehicles grew so much in popularity that they led to the creation of Pine Lake Raceway in 1969, a place where racing and off-road events are still hosted today on miles of wood trails. People loved everything about the ATVs.

They were used for both leisure as a fun, versatile all-in-one "toy" and for work, facilitating cargo transportation. Plenty of businesses tried to create improved designs and in 1970, one publication listed over 60 variants that were available for sale or under development.

One of them stood out the most. Dubbed the Busse, it was a land-water vehicle that had a Volkswagen beating heart inside. While the engine came from the German automaker, it was not manufactured by it. Volkswagen has not commercialized any amphibious ATV. The only amphibious vehicle produced by them was a military vehicle used in WWII named the Schwimmwagen (which translates as the "swimming car").

More than 14,000 such machines were manufactured between 1942 and the end of 1944, making it the most mass-produced amphibious vehicle in history. The Schwimmwagen took its power from a Volkswagen flat-four, air-cooled engine from the then-current era.

However, the Beetle's core did not only have military applications. It also breathed new life into the unique ATV that we've mentioned earlier. The Busse was powered by a 1.6 liter, 55-hp air-cooled flat-four engine, unlike many other ATVs that employed smaller two-stroke engines. The power was also put to the ground using Volkswagen's three-speed semi-automatic gearbox and torque converter.

The Busse could reach a top speed of 28 mph (45 kph) on land and 10 mph (16 kph) on water. It also had enough power to climb 45-degree slopes.

The exterior was made of aluminum instead of the conventional fiberglass used back then on such machines, and it was designed by Busse SJI Corp, a subsidiary of Arrowhead Systems. Volkswagen describes the Busse as "a tank among toys." It measured 10.5 ft (3.2 meters) in length, and it was 5.4 ft (1.6 wide).

The vehicle weighed around 1,700 lbs (771 kg), and it was capable of carrying up to 1,500 lbs (680 kg). The amphibious ATV featured hydraulic disc brakes, 26x12-inch tires and could also be equipped for snow tracks, making the Busse an extremely versatile machine.

It was built in Randolph, Wisconsin, and was marketed worldwide as a future military vehicle. However, no contract was ever signed, and its high cost limited its production. One was priced at $4,875, which was about as much as a Corvette back then.

This is why these vehicles are nowadays extremely rare, with only a few Volkswagen-powered Busse ATVs still in existence. However, the Busse played its role in popularizing the amphibious ATV for decades on, paving the way for its modern siblings.

Editor's note: Gallery includes images of the Volkswagen Schwimmwagen as well.

press release

Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories