Lyndon Johnson takes his Amphicar out for a spin
Aside from being perhaps America’s best post-WW2 president in domestic policy and America’s worst post-WW2 president in foreign policy, Lyndon B. Johnson has also proved to be perhaps our most entertaining president, with memorable moments like showing off his gall bladder surgery scar, holding meetings while he was on the toilet, and, as we posted in July, hilariously talking about his “bunghole” with his tailor.
Maybe it’s not too surprising that Johnson also engaged in pranks that, had more people known about them, would surely have had media scolds worrying that his behavior was insufficiently “presidential.” For instance, few people know that, much like James Bond, Johnson actually owned an amphibious car. The Quandt Group produced the amphibious convertible (!) known as the “Amphicar” in the German city of Lübeck and at Berlin-Borsigwalde. The car functioned by engaging “the two propellers, located under the rear engine compartment.” The company made 3,878 of them between 1960 and 1968. It came in four colors, “Beach White, Regatta Red, Fjord Green (Aqua), and Lagoon Blue,” the latter one being the hue that Johnson favored. For Johnson owned an Amphicar. The black-and-white picture on this page is of Johnson driving one in April 1965.
Adventures with the Amphicar
Even better than owning one, Johnson liked to fool visitors to his ranch in Johnson City, Texas, that the brakes had failed and that they were powerless to prevent the car from plunging into a lake and drowning the passengers. One of Johnson’s LBJ’s top domestic aides, Joseph A. Califano Jr., tells the following story:
The President, with Vicky McCammon in the seat alongside him and me in the back,was now driving around in a small blue car with the top down. We reached a steep incline at the edge of the lake and the car started rolling rapidly toward the water. The President shouted, “The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!” The car splashed into the water. I started to get out. Just then the car leveled and I realized we were in a Amphicar. The President laughed. As we putted along the lake then (and throughout the evening), he teased me. “Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.” Then he’d roar.
That’s right, the President of the United States liked to drive his amphibious car into a lake and then shout, “The brakes don’t work! We’re going under!” just to see what would happen. In the anecdote above, note how LBJ twits Califano for worrying only about his own skin. I suspect as a politician, Johnson liked learning about the character of the people he was with, to see what they were “really” made of.