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Purdy Looks At Gibbs Sports Amphibians - Fast on Land and Water - Was This Under Your Tree? +VIDEO (Originally Posted 2012)

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SEE ALSO: First Test Drive and Launch - Gibbs Quadski By Martha Hindes

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

It’s not easy being the innovator.

A company called Gibbs Sports Amphibians has been working for 15 years to bring to market several high-speed amphibious vehicles, including a car called Aquada, based on their patented technology that allows these vehicles to perform at amazing speeds on land and in the water, unlike just about all previous amphibians. Having spent well over $200 million in development they’ve created a variety of vehicles that allow the wheels to tuck up into the body virtually eliminating excessive drag in the water while being sturdy enough to perform like a conventional suspension on land.

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You may recall, if you’re old enough, a little car called Amphicar built in the early 1960s. It was dismally slow in both environments, and could not tuck in its wheels, but was cute and quirky enough that a few thousand were sold. Judging from collector car show appearances, it seems most of these survived.

Now, along comes Gibbs with “high-speed” amphibians – a car/boat, a quad/jet ski, some emergency/military vehicles – proving that being an amphibian does not have to mean being slow.

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We first encountered the Gibbs folks when they hosted a press event during the development of the Aquada amphibious car. That was in 2007,(Archived Story) as they were moving their R&D facility in suburban Detroit to take advantage of engineering and supply resources here. Even though the Aquada has been readied for practical use, regulatory hurdles have proven so cumbersome that it cannot come to market, at least for now. The government can’t decide whether it is a boat or a car and can’t conceive that it is something entirely new that deserves some regulatory creativity.

But, Gibbs is not thwarted and they continue development Aquada and other vehicles. The design they’ve patented is applicable to vehicles large and small. Development of large cargo and personnel amphibians for military and first-responder use continue simultaneously with the smaller quad runner/jet ski that we’re announcing here.

Enter the new Gibbs Quadski, capable of 45 mph on both land and in the water. That means you can be jamming through the woods as fast and fun as with many quads then drive it right into the lake where it takes less than 5 seconds for the wheels to retract and another 3 to 5 seconds to accelerate and plane out at full speed, as fast as many jet skis. What a hoot.

Watch the Gibbs Quadski in action

Quadski’s design projects an air of sport and fun. On land it looks like a tall, sort of gangly quad. Once in the water with its wheels retracted it looks like a rather wide and large jet ski. Body colors are bright and brash.

Power comes from a 1.3-liter, BMW, water-cooled motorcycle engine making between 160 and 175 horsepower mated to a six-speed automated transmission. All that power is used in the water to accelerate and plane quickly but the power is electronically limited on land since it’s way more than needed there. The Gibbs engineers needed to make only a few alterations to match this high-tech engine to its new use.

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We had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to tour the under-development factory in suburban Detroit that will soon be producing the Quadski and we got to examine and observe the vehicle’s performance with Gibbs’ chairman, Niel Jenkins, at Gibbs’ test facility - a large, water-filled gravel pit surrounded by hundreds of acres of forested trails just beyond the Detroit suburbs. Our colleague, journalist and amphibious vehicle expert, Bryan Laviolette (, put it through its paces as I filmed and Jenkins filled us in on all the details.

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After the first lap of the dry trails through the woods Bryan had a big, dusty grin on his face that lasted the whole time. One of the development engineers led him though the trails with a conventional quad then turned him loose on the lake, where he just couldn’t get enough. Bryan praised the performance and handling commenting on the stability and the ability to slide a bit under control.

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Then, he just drove it straight into the water, paused floating for just a few seconds while he actuated the wheel-retracting system, then was off like a shot making an impressive rooster tail. Back and forth across the lake he jetted carving out well-controlled turns leaning confidently into each one. The shallow hull design makes a difference, he later said. It managed its aquatic activities very well, though “it doesn’t turn as well as the best-handling personal watercraft.”

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For those who have the means and love these dynamic toys there will no longer be the need to have a personal watercraft and a quad runner. For somewhere around 40 grand (approximate price of the first year’s production, perhaps in the high twenties once production ramps up) you can have both in one vehicle, and be the first on your block – or should I say lake – to have one. One disappointment for some will be that, in spite of all that power and panache, it will be a one-person vehicle. No provisions, at least initially, are made for a passenger and it will not be appropriate for pulling a water skier, since the latter requires a spotter on board. More iterations of the Quadski will come in due time, we expect.

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Chairman Jenkins calls this “an entirely new form of transportation,” and he’s not exaggerating. Quadski will be the first fully sorted out, mass-produced, high-speed amphibious vehicle to reach production. We could see them on sale at a small number of

U.S. dealers east of the Mississippi within a couple of months. As production increases, so will the number of dealers. Export may be in the future as well in a few years.

You can place an order now or get more details at and we’re told they expect to begin deliveries in November.

We’re hoping this will begin to pave the way for approval and production of the Aquada in the not-to-distant future as the first practical, mass-produced, high-speed amphibious car.

Can’t wait for that one.

©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved