There's a long history of more or less successful amphibious vehicles, both in the military and civilian sectors. The reason why amphibians never really caught on – beyond being novelty items with a flash-in-the-pan lifespan – is that they're slow on water and even slower on land, heavy, and not exactly appealing to the eye.
The Boatswagen is not meant to be either a looker or some kind of speed demon. In fact, it was built more or less on a dare by a trio of self-professed pranksters from Nuneaton, England, going under the moniker The Red State. Taking inspiration from a particular build they'd seen on Top Gear many years before, Jeremy Clarkson's Toyota-based Toyboata, in 2019, Charlie Burns, Corey Charnel, and Gazz Jenkins set out to build what they imagined would be the dream surfer car.
If you haven't heard of the Boastwagen outside of the UK, it's ok. The amphibian is a local legend and not an international celebrity, making appearances at local events, on England's canals, and even sailing on the Thames. Earlier this month, for instance, it caused quite a commotion when it went for a ride on the historic Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen, North Wales, the world's highest aqueduct.
More than a commotion, the Boatswagen caused the water equivalent of a traffic jam, given the narrowness of the canal and its slow speed of travel. On the bright side, this provided plenty of opportunity for passers-by to take in this amazing vehicle that totally lives up to its name: a boat that's also a Volkswagen.
The Boatswagen started out as a beat-up Volkswagen Polo – or a pair of them, if you wish to get technical. Charlie Burns takes the full credit for the idea, just like he picked up the full bill for the main junk Polo, for which he paid £1,200 in 2019. He then brought Charnel and Jenkins in on the idea: what if they'd build the perfect surfer car, a car you could drive to the beach and then into the water without much hassle?
For propulsion, the Boatswagen drives like an old Polo on land and steers like a traditional power boat on the water, thanks to an outboard motor in the rear. As showcased on its most recent public appearance, when in boat mode, the entire party moves in the open rear, where the controls are, which adds a bit more strangeness to an already strange sight.
The deadline for the initial build was of three weeks, but the trio made it. Boatswagen was unveiled at the Cornwall Board Masters Festival, where Jenkins explained that it was meant to be a follow-up to Clarkson's Toyboata. The Boatswagen is the worthy heir to Toyboata's crown. "We always thought with the shape and theme of the vehicle they should have made it drive out to sea to really create the ultimate surfer's dream and so that's what we did," he said.
In 2021, the Boatswagen was rediscovered and, being again in a rather deplorable condition, went through a much-needed glow-up before it was sent out in the world. Now that the world has seen that the Boatswagen can float, it's time for the next challenge, which has actually been in the works for some time: drive it to the beach "just to see how slow it is."
To reiterate: amphibious vehicles are slow, heavy, and not particularly good-looking because they have to integrate dual powertrains while also remaining watertight. But the saving quality of such a vehicle can be the ability to not take itself too seriously. And that's exactly what has turned the Boatswagen into the local legend it is today.