The history of the Schwimmwagen

The Schwimmwagen was developed for the German Army by professor Ferdinand Porsche in 1940-1941. During the nazi era many industries where working for the war effort, and Porsche was no exception. He also helped design some tanks for the army.

This vehicle, which was named type 128 during the developing phase, was subsequently labeled type 166 as a finished product. It became better know by its nickname "Schwimmwagen", swimming car.

The development actually started on July 1st, 1940, when the F. Porsche KG company was given an order to design an amphibious vehicle. Less than a week later work on the model 128 was under way. The first prototype was ready by September, and it had a design like a slighty modified Kübelwagen. Early designs had a housing for the propeller, which was later discarded, leaving it exposed at all times. The early propeller was steerable, which was also later discarded. The Army received their first three prototypes on November 1st 1940, and undertook testing which lasted until December 6th. All possible conditions were tested, including highway ("Autobahn"), country roads, off road, mountain roads, swimming, exiting the water in various terrain, etc. From May to June 1941 and then again until August 1941 further tests by other departments were conducted. All in all they were positive. In February 1942 the Porsche company proposed to build 3 different cars: a long type 128, a long type 138 and a short type 166. At the end of April 1942, after beeing selected as the only type to be mass-produced, the specifications for the type 166 were determined. The German Army ("Wehrmacht") approved this model at the end of May 1942 and by June 6th the first 100 cars were ready. The production in Wolfsburg began and the delivery started even befor the end of the year 1942.

In the end, the amphibious car Type 166 was still based on the design of the widely used type 82, the famous Kübelwagen, from which it shares many components and a common heritage. In fact both where developed from the KdF-Wagen (Kraft durch Freude), which later became known as the VW Beatle. That car had also been developed by Ferdinand Porsche, well before the war. After the type 128 prototypes, Porsche was personally involved in the production of the first VW166 pre-series cars. They can be identified by the serial number 0166/001 to 0166/125, and where developed at Stuttgart.

The earlier version of the Schwimmwagen, the type 128, from which very few are still in existence, was longer and wider than the type 166. It had some other minor differences, mainly on the body, but it had the same 25HP engine (see tech specs page). The Schwimmwagen had 2 and 4-wheels drive, a reduction drive and a 3-bladed propeller for navigation.

The approved version of the vehicle was mass-produced at the Stadt des KdF-Wagens (now Wolfsburg), where the Volkswagen factory was located (and still is today). More than 14'200 type 166 where built from 1942 to 1944. During the last months of the war, production could not resume due to damages to the factory, which was heavily bombarded. Also, the production of this car was fairly complicated and needed much manpower and material, which at that time of the war proved to be a big problem.

Apparently the life expectancy of the vehicles was just 3 to 6 weeks! No wonder so few are in existance after 60 years.

Schwimmwagen where initially painted panzergrau (gray), later Einheitsfarbe (tan). Many where unarmed, although often they had a machine gun (MG34 or MG42) mounted on the front right side. In fact, the passenger seat has a fold-up position for the specific purpose of shooting with it from a better viewpoint.