The ‘Dutton Commander’. A 4 wheel drive amphibious car, fully road legal and made in 2002.
Produced at the Dutton factory, Littlehampton in the UK, Tim Dutton continues to be either the only civil manufacturer of road legal amphibious cars or one of the very few. This highly driven and amazingly creative engineer simply keeps going as other try and fail.
Tim commenced producing custom cars in 1969, rapidly cornering a large part of the kit car market, where his huge creative drive and dreams led him to design and produce over 22 different models as well as designing many special vehicles for others. His production output being well over 8,000 vehicles – not much for Ford perhaps but amazing for a custom car producer.
He first considered making an amphibian in 1987 but work was shelved. It was however to this dream he returned after his main car making business was sold; production commencing in 1995. He currently produces up to 20 complete cars per year plus kits, under the new ‘Amphijeep’ name for kits and ‘Dutton Commander’ for complete vehicles.
Our vehicle has a 1.9 litre diesel engine, a 2 wheel drive high or 4 wheel drive high or low gear ratios, plus freewheeling but lockable front hubs. It uses a customised power take off clutch for the single impeller, which is basically a multi bladed propeller running inside a tunnel. The final compressed water jet, leading to greater efficiency.
The ‘Dutton Commander’ is a highly versatile fun vehicle with basic trim. It has a top speed of around 85 miles per hour on land and 6 mph on the water. It performs utterly convincingly as a jeep and as a boat but for sheer fantastic novelty, the run into and out of the water in any amphibian cannot be beaten.
Tim claims not to have studied other amphibians during the design phase, relying instead on his own intuition, creativity and extensive experience of cars and motor boats. The result is several design features, which in an understated way avoid many traditional amphibian design problems and permit a road legal vehicle. The use of a purpose made fibreglass hull combined with careful design means that no holes other than the two completely watertight holes for the drive shafts pass through the body in any under water area. The fibreglass means no structural or body corrosion and avoidance of the usual rubber waterproofing boots around the moving axles and steering arms means no constant weeping of highly corrosive salt water into the vehicle, therefore lowering the possibility of corrosion problems for internal body seams and components.
Cooling of engines is always a problem for amphibians as they have no natural ventilation. Many try to resolve this with a large vent over the top of the engine compartment such as on the Amphicar and indeed on our mystery Citroen. For obvious reasons, this is not a good idea in heavy rain or a splashy sea. In the Dutton Commander and our ‘Red Aquaterra’ air inlets duct the air through body panels and over the engine. The Dutton having additional intercooler pipes below the hull for when on the water.
Other design features include the bends in the exhaust to keep water out, the tiny but amazingly efficient ‘full time’ rudder, and venting of the axles to prevent ‘axle suck’; a condition where hot axles are driven into cold water causing the air inside the axle to contract and suck in water – not good!
Our vehicle has been used for construction survey work and water testing on a large bird reserve lake.
When examining custom car making, one soon realises the vast amount of hard won practical and technical knowledge a designer requires – especially if they keep producing different types of vehicles. They need to be a creative designer, draftsman, engineer, have advanced knowledge of accurate car body mould making, a comprehensive understanding of how different mechanical systems work and which will be most suitable for the project in hand. This is on top of a thorough knowledge of the road legal design requirements of several countries.
Sudden changes can also be forced on a custom car maker due to changing legal requirements or the manufacturer of the donor vehicle changing specifications just after the car body has been moulded,. A classic example being the recent demise of the Suzuki Samurai model, meaning a complete ground up redesign of all the moulds for the Dutton Amphijeep and Commander models.