Designed by Erwin Komenda, the same man who designed the Porsche 356 and 550 Spyder, the Volkswagen Type 166 or “Schwimmwagen” is one of the most unique vehicles to ever emerge from a Volkswagen factory. The Type 166 is fitted with a 25 hp 1131cc four-cylinder motor powering both the wheels and the propeller when motoring through the water. Despite more than 15,000 Schwimmwagens being produced, there are only an estimated 180 remaining today, fewer still actually running. That makes this a rare and exceptional find.
The current owner and VW mega-collector Dr Robert “Mac” Jones writes:
“I bought this Type 166 from a man named Dave Crompton in England in the 1990's. Coincidentally, a well known VW restorer named Dave Crompton did the body restoration in Clio, Michigan. Mechanically, everything was rebuilt except the motor, which has always run well. The motor is a 7- number which is Schwimmwagen correct. The front axle, transmission , and propeller were shipped back to Germany for overhaul by experts. The car was featured in My Classic Cars with Dennis Gage. He and I drove it in my pond with the cameras rolling. This can be referenced, not sure which episode it is? This car has some early body features discovered by Dave Crompton during the restoration. It is a very early one, #1881 of ~14,000 made. It has the more desirable wide rims and fat paddle tires. All Schwimmwagens have mechanical brakes. It is a most unusual vehicle that draws a crowd wherever it goes. Always! It has been loaned to several museums over the years and is a strong draw.”
Volkswagen Schwimmwagens used the engine and mechanicals of the VW Type 86 four-wheel drive prototype of the Kübelwagen and the Type 87 four-wheel drive 'Kübel/Beetle' Command Car, which in turn were based on the platform of the civilian Volkswagen Beetle. Erwin Komenda, Ferdinand Porsche's first car body designer, was forced to develop an all-new unitized body-tub structure since the flat floorpan chassis of the existing VW vehicles was unsuited to smooth movement through water. Komenda patented his ideas for the swimming car at the German Patent office. The earliest Type 128 prototype was based on the full-length Kübelwagen chassis with a 240 cm (7.9 ft) wheelbase. Pre-production units of the 128, fitted with custom welded body-tubs, demonstrated that this construction was too weak for tough off-roading, had insufficient torsional rigidity, and easily suffered hull-ruptures at the front cross-member, as well as in the wheel-wells. The Type 166 were therefore made smaller, and had a wheel-base of only 200 cm (6.6 ft).VW Schwimmwagens were produced by the Volkswagen factory at Fallersleben / Wolfsburg and Porsche's facilities in Stuttgart; with the bodies (or rather hulls) produced by Ambi Budd in Berlin. 15,584 Type 166 Schwimmwagen cars were produced from 1941 through 1944.
A beautifully restored 1944 Type 166 sold at Bonhams Monaco 2008 auction for $231,725. In 2012 an incomplete, non-running 1943 example sold for $139,944at RM's Aalholm auction. Volkswagens of all shapes and sizes are escalating in value. Rare and early Beetles can now reach $100,000, certain Micro-busses are regularly topping $200,000. With a marque like Volkswagen and the passion that drives it's enthusiastic collectors the sky’s the limit for the future value of a vehicle like this.
There are only so many of these left and they can't build any more. You'd be hard-pressed to find one in better condition or from a better home and the low estimate is the typoical retail price of just an average condition Schwimmwagen.