We recently came across a great “throwback” shipment on the uShip marketplace. If you couldn’t guess from sounding out the name alone, this Volkswagen Schwimmwagen was developed as an amphibious vehicle for the German Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS during World War II. The Type 166 Schwimmwagen became the most popular vehicle amongst German officers during the war due to its versatility and durability.
Despite the vehicle’s sordid past in Germany, we thought this recently shipped vehicle on uShip was so interesting that we wanted to find out more.
This early model VW was designed to take the place of the motorcycle-sidecar vehicles German forces were using for transportation during WWII. VW Type 128 and the Type 166 were the original prototypes for the Schwimmwagen. The Type 128 was based on a Kübelwagen vehicle that Command Officers were already using. The 240 cm wheelbase caused problems when it was too weak for tough off-roading and sustained hull ruptures. As a result, the Type 166 were made smaller and more effective by trimming the wheelbase down to only 200 cm.
The Schwimmwagen pictured is the Type 166, the most numerous mass-produced amphibious car in history. There were 15,584 made from 1941 through 1944. The Schwimmwagen was made from a specialized “bodytub” and the engine parts of a VW “Kübel/Beetle” Command car. These parts would later become the basis for the Volkswagen Beetle.
Erwin Komenda, Ferdinand Porsche’s first designer, developed the “bodytubs” to support off-roading as well as water travel. The Schwimmwagens were four-wheel drive only in first gear and had a screw propeller that was lowered down from the rear deck engine cover for water travel. These screw propellers were steered with the steering wheel and could only go forwards due to the direct line from the engine’s crankshaft. The stow away paddle was used as a way to help the Schwimmwagen move backwards as well as a backup system in case of engine failure while in the water.
Placed at the Army depot at Kassel after production, the Schwimmwagen were given to German units throughout the region. Kassel, the capital of the provinces of Heese-Nassau and Kurhessen, was bombed in a series of Allied strategic bombing attacks in 1945, where many Schwimmwagen were lost to the destruction of the bombings. Of the 15,584 originally produced, around 500 remain in existence across the world.