WaterCar Panther Ready for Production
For 13 years, Dave March and the folks at his Southern California body shop have dreamed about building and selling amphibious cars.
The company built a couple of prototypes, obtained 27 patents and had numerous requests to sell its WaterCar Python, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s fastest amphibian. But the company always refused, saying it just didn’t have the expertise to assure reliability.
Now, WaterCar is finally ready to start offering a fast amphibian for sale. Only this time, instead of the big, bold and fast Python, it’s launching the Panther, which looks a lot like a Jeep CJ-8. Instead of the Python’s Corvette power, the Panther uses a 3.7-liter Honda V-6.
The advantage of switching from the Python to the Panther is a big reduction in price. Where the Python was estimated to cost $200,000 – if it had ever been put into production – WaterCar is offering the Panther starting at $135,000 for a complete vehicle. While the Python could touch 60 mph on water, the Panther’s top water speed is 44 mph. It’s capable of highway speeds, or more, on land.
Fred Selby, who handles marketing for WaterCar, said the company is hoping to get 25 orders before it begins production. Selby said the company, an off-shoot of Fountain Valley Bodyworks, in Fountain Valley, Calif., could easily produce 100 Panthers a year. If there is demand for more, the company will need to expand. Is there a market for more?
“We don’t know how big the market is,” Selby said.
The Panther is rear-engine with rear-wheel-drive. Coupled to the Honda engine is a four-speed manual transmission from a VW Microbus and a transfer case designed by WaterCar. Selby said the company has purchased PantherJet, the shuttered maker of the water pump used in the Panther amphibian. The purchase included a stock of jet pumps, but the company could restart production if needed.
The Panther uses a hydraulic system to raise the wheels, which allows the vehicle to plane at about 21 mph. WaterCar says the vehicle can go from land to on plane in about 15 seconds. The vehicle has a knob on the dashboard to activate the jet pump so that it is not turning on land.
The interior seats four. Right now, there is no plan for air conditioning but it would be relatively easy to add. There is no heat, either. Selby said the company will offer some sort of top, but it might just be a simple bikini-style boat top. Since it’s based on Jeep architecture, it wouldn’t be hard to add an aftermarket road top.
Selby said there is plenty of storage space under the front hood for a pair of golf club bags.
While the Panther is based on the Jeep, WaterCar was careful to alter the brand’s signature grille, including giving is six openings, rather than Jeep’s familiar seven. With so many aftermarket Jeep parts on the market, Selby isn’t expecting any calls from Chrysler’s lawyers.
As is typical of any amphibian, Selby said the Panther is a compromise.
“It will never be the best car or the best boat,” he said. But as with any amphibian, the dual-purpose nature of the vehicle is the sell.
“It’s fun to drive,” Selby said.
The 3.7-liter Honda engine produces 300-310 horsepower in a variety of Acura and Honda vehicles. Selby said the company has not done dynamometer tests on the engine in the Panther, so he doesn’t know exactly how much horsepower it’s actually putting out in this application.
Currently, Honda doesn’t sell crate engines, but WaterCar has a source for lightly used engines. Selby said the company is talking to Honda about supplying new engines. Selby said the transmission is from a VW Microbus.
The Panther has a fiberglass hull combined with an epoxy-coated tubular chrome-moly steel frame.
WaterCar will sell the Panther as a completed vehicle, but it might be difficult to title it if built by WaterCar. Or you can take advantage of two other options: a rolling chassis for $73,500 and a “turn-key minus” – essentially a complete vehicle minus the drivetrain for $106,000. The buyer would then complete the vehicle or have a shop do it. While Selby didn’t have any numbers on how much that would cost, he said it would be cheaper than the complete $135,000 vehicle from WaterCar. The rolling chassis or turn-key minus allows the Panther to be licensed as a kit car.
“You’re going to save money if you’re going to do it yourself,” Selby said.
Weight: 2,950 pounds
Height: 69″ windshield up; 51″ windshield down; 44″ windshield down, wheels retracted
Ground clearance: 10”
Vehicle layout: Rear engine, rear-wheel drive
Chassis: Fiberglass hull with epoxy-coated tubular chromoly steel frame
Flotation: 32 cubic feet of U.S. Coast Guard-approved closed cell foam
Interior: Marine-grade vinyl off-road seats
Water Speed: 44 mph
Land Speed: 80+ mph
Payload: 700 pounds
Engine: Honda 3.7 liter V-6
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Marine Propulsion: Panther Jet
Tire Size: 30X9.50R15
Brakes: Four-wheel disc
Wheel Retraction: Hydraulic
Fuel: 91 Octane
Cooling System: Closed with marine heat exchanger