There are plenty of trucks with snorkels designed to drive through rivers and streams, but back in 1982, an oil pipeline manufacturer decided to go one step further and build an amphibious off-roader called the Amphi-Ranger, which could be both a truck and a boat with the press of a button.
The Amphi-Ranger was a four-wheel drive amphibious SUV produced by a German company called Rheinhauer Maschinen und Armaturenbau, which we’ll just refer to as RMA if you don’t mind, and though it sort of looks like a customized G-Class, as I ruminated over in an earlier blog, it was an original platform.
It may seem curious today as to how such a weird vehicle would ever be produced for sale, but RMA was motivated to improve upon the Amphicar and, thanks to its pipeline manufacturing and metalworking know-how, decided to give an amphibious SUV a shot. From Car Magazine’s 1990 review of the Amphi-Ranger:
[British importer David Saunders], a transcendental meditation lecturer-cum-businessman, hopes to sell 30 Amphi-Rangers a year in Britain, “half for ‘serious’ use, such as by the police or the army or by oil companies, with the other half going to wealthy individuals who want the ultimate freedom and fun machine.
As my new favorite website AmphibiousVehicles.net pointed out jovially, it had been said that all Amphi-Rangers were prototypes, hinting that the engineering of the vehicle was constantly in flux through its production lifetime.
Since this thing was going to be getting very wet, the engine and main radiator were completely entombed, and most of the cooling came from a large fan that pulled air in through vents in the top half of the B-pillars. Its 3mm and 4mm aluminum panels were welded to an aluminum ladder frame, which enclosed everything except the suspension, brakes and exhaust, according to Car Magazine.
The water line of the Amphi-Ranger is easily spotted by the boat-like bumpers that stretch around the body about midway up, which is also where the doors cut off, which made it a little tough to climb into.
There’s a single retractable propeller for propulsion, and steering is done with the front wheels being turned by the steering wheel, just as if you were driving on land, which translated into fairly poor handling as a boat. The Car review claims top speed on water was around 11.5 mph.
The big benefit of the Amphi-Ranger’s design was the ability to cross shallow, rocky or unstable and variably-wet terrain that neither a boat nor a standard off-roader would be capable of handling. A 1993 brochure sent in by Jalopnik reader Herb lists the various advertised uses of the Amphi-Ranger:
The Amphi-Ranger was built with three engines over a decade of production, according to AmphibiousVehicles.net. The 2000SR first produced in 1985 used a 100 horsepower four-cylinder, and the 2800SR featured a 2.8-liter Ford V6 with 135 hp. Later models got a 2.9-liter Ford V6 with 145 hp, according to Car Magazine.
Two door models were available originally, with a four-door body coming later. It also used a Ford-sourced five-speed manual transmission and instrument panel, Fiat-sourced front and rear locking diffs and the transfer box is engineered by RMA, or at least up until Car Magazine’s drive test, which was in a 2.8-liter V6 model.
The magazine’s test drive of the Amphi-Ranger was in the River Thames in London, and here’s how the land-to-water transition is described:
Down to Putney Embankment, for the real test. A few people gathered, as the boxy nose pointed Thames-bound, obviously mindful that they were about to see something out of the ordinary. And David Saunders, with self sitting in the front passenger seat, gunned the Amphi-Ranger down the sliproad (without any pre-aquatic preparation at all—although I made sure that the doors were firmly shut).
The nose splashed into the water, Saunders backed off the throttle, and we were floating, drifting away from the bank. Declutch, push the central lever into the ‘wheels free’ position, then switch down the propeller (waiting for a yellow light to indicate that it has engaged), select second gear, let out the clutch and, presto, you’re in a boat.
The review goes on to describe navigating the Amphi-Ranger as slow and noisy. The vehicle almost came to a stop during gear changes, which were mostly just between second and third gear, due to the drag. There was also a lot of intrusive engine noise in the cabin between 3,000 and 4,000 rpm as the thing chugged along. Otherwise, the interior of the Amphi-Ranger was described as being on-par with a Ranger Rover of the time, though I’m not quite sure that comparison holds up.
For Car Magazine’s test, there was no cruise control, so they stuffed a boot on the accelerator and were directed to steer down the Thames with their feet on the wheel while they relaxed up on the roof. Depending on the model and year, the Amphi-Ranger included rooftop openings to accentuate the boating experience, letting the sailing motorists escape the “rally-style” seats up front and bench seat in the back.
When returning to land, the process was essentially the same as entering the water, but in reverse (engaging drive and lifting the propeller), but you had to move quick so as not get stuck or go floating back out, according to the Car Magazine review.
The review ends with the propeller propshaft being broken by a piece of driftwood on the shore while reentering the Thames, but all was not lost:
An early evening cruise suddenly turned into a likely all-night drift. But Saunders, who still seemed to be having fun (although photographer Debois and I suddenly were not), engaged four-wheel drive. The big chunky tyres did their best to impersonate paddle-boat wheels, and we started to move forward, rather than drift aimlessly, eventually clambering back up the Battersea bank again (still to the incredulity of the houseboat dwellers). We drove back to Putney, taking about a third as long as the more direct Thames route.
The review also praised the Amphi-Ranger for its traction out of the water, and the boat-like design and lack of exposed differentials resulted in a ground clearance of 10-inches. You can find plenty of videos online that show people having an absolute blast off-road and on-water in these things.
The various videos and images online also indicate that RMA managed to sell a few of these off to various governments and organizations for water-policing and overlanding, but many of them were also sold for leisure and hobby. AmphibiousVehicles.net claims no more than 90 were ultimately produced.
The price of the Amphi-Ranger as tested by Car Magazine in 1990 was £96,286, which would be roughly £200,000, or about $271,000, today. The company quoted Herb a cost of $200,000 in a 1993 letter shared with Jalopnik.
The Amphi-Ranger was seemingly designed to be the natural progression of European off-roaders like the Range Rover and Mercedes G-Class. Where those SUVs were fairly capable at tackling various terrains, RMA wanted to go over and beyond the rough terrain to tackle an even greater obstacle, water.
With nearly a decade of production, it’s clear that there was sustained interest in the concept of the Amphi-Ranger—an uber-versatile off-roader designed to never let a river get in the way of a good adventure.
For all of the work that people put into modifying their Jeeps and trucks for water tolerance only to still be less-capable than the Amphi-Ranger, it’s a wonder the market for a nice amphibious off-roader isn’t bigger, even if it’d have to be reserved for the super-bored super rich and bloated-budget governments of the world. Ditch the off-roader and bring back the off-lander.
Here’s a copy of the 1993 brochure and product information: