RIDGELAND, S.C. – John Giljam and his wife Julie were tired of the troubles they had with the military LARC amphibious transport vehicle that they used for tours on Hilton Head Island.
“I can design and build something so much better than this,” Giljam said to himself. So he did.
Now Giljam’s company, Cool Amphibious Manufacturing International or C.A.M.I. for short, sells the 49-seat Hydra-Terra, mostly to tour groups all over the world.
Some examples of uses for the Hydra-Terra include a tour operator in Ketchikan, Ala., where a tour operator has five Hydra-Terras. The tour operator uses the amphibious buses for tours that include rides through town drive into the waters of the Tongass Narrows — all on one vehicle. Another tour operator uses them for land and sea tours of Miami.
“People want to see the town … but they also want to see some of the sites from the water,” Giljam said.
They are also useful in cruise ship terminal areas.
Giljam’s company is so busy building Hydra-Terras, the backbone of the company’s business, that he had to delay our talk a couple of times because the company was working hard on getting vehicles out for a customer in Taiwan.
But he didn’t stop there. Next came the Terra Wind, which looks like any other RV heading down the road — until it drives right into the water. Julie Giljam designed the interior, sparing no expense for this rolling exhibit of C.A.M.I.’s capabilities. Cost: $1.2 million, but Giljam said he could build them for about $850,000 without all the bells and whistles.
“That has been in more articles and magazines around the world,” Giljam said.
So far, the Terra Wind show vehicle is the only one of it’s type. Giljam said that one point he had deposits for more, but when the economy went south, those orders were canceled.
Entering the water in a Terra Wind at a boat ramp, Giljam enjoys watching the reaction of onlookers. He said a lot of guys quickly run to their trucks to get rescue equipment, thinking the driver must have made a wrong turn.
Both the Hydra-Terra and Terra Wind are low-speed amphibians capable of about 8 mph in the water.
While the Hydra-Terra and Terra Wind are designed for leisurely cruising, Giljam has also started building a amphibian that can go fast.
The Hydra-Spyder is an amphibious sports car capable of 55 mph in the water. It’s powered by a Corvette engine modified to produce about 500 horsepower. He hasn’t tested the top speed on land, but estimates that it would be about 150 to 160 mph. He’ll also put in a 600-horsepower engine if the buyer wants it.
The Hydra-Spyder has a base price of $185,000 and C.A.M.I. has built five of them. Because of U.S. government regulations, they are not for sale here.
Considering the company’s history, it’s not surprising that Giljam is willing to make just about anything a customer asks for.
He recently created the H20EX, an extreme all-wheel-drive amphibian that looks like it’s built to take on anything that might challenge it.
The H20EX engines and is capable of breaking of trees as if they were toothpicks. The H20EX started life as a Ford Excursion. The H20EX is so massive, it makes a Hummer H2 look puny by comparison.
“I love to create stuff,” Giljam said.
Go ahead, call him with some wild idea for a new vehicle. Write a big enough check and Giljam will probably be able to fulfill your greatest amphibious vehicle fantasy.