My other car is a boat

It's a car that's a boat. Or maybe a boat that's a car. Well, whatever it is, Catherine Bassindale took it for a spin along the Thames

If Nathalie and I had walked around Putney completely naked, we might have got away with it. Instead, in a stubby-looking vehicle, we caused cars to stop, kids to fall off their bikes and traffic wardens to scream excitedly in the street.

The focus of attention was a car. No, a boat. No, a car. Well, whatever. According to designer Tim Dutton, it's both.

As we motor down a slipway into the Thames, I just have to hope that he's right. There's a sickening splash as we enter the water... and then, relief! We're floating!

The pounds 19,000 "amphibious vehicle" is the only one of its kind. "No one else in England has seen it yet," claims Dutton, as we zigzag along the Thames at a leisurely speed. I'm at the wheel - or should I call it the helm? - and despite not having driven a car for over a year, after having had three accidents in a week, we don't do too badly. Dutton however seems slightly nervous, and takes over at one point. I suspect that my earlier reference to "that pipe thing", which is apparently called the exhaust, may not have filled him with confidence.

Speedboats slow down to inspect the fibreglass body and an elderly woman mouths: "Fascinating." A group of lads raise their pint glasses and tourists get their cameras out. Cars grind to a halt, and a traffic warden yells out: "You're nicked!", looking as happy as if she'd found a row of illegally parked Mercs. "Everybody stares at it," says Dutton. "I mean, in my youth, when I was quite well off, I had a Rolls Royce and a Lamborghini, and people used to stare at those, but nothing like as much. As you drive past, you can hear people say, what's that? It's a car, no a boat, no a car, then you're off before they've made their mind up. There aren't many people on the planet who have actually seen an amphibious car."

Rather alarmingly, attempts in the 1960s failed when the cars simply fell apart, corroding in the water. However Dutton - who is now the world's only manufacturer of amphibious vehicles for non-military purposes - is confident this won't happen today. "My incentive is to make these things float, because I can't swim," he says. "It does concentrate the mind."

As we potter along, a dinghy overtakes us. Dutton explains that if he made the bonnet more pointed, we'd be faster in the water. Just one drawback: "You'd end up skewering pedestrians." It is powered by a jet propeller, which is covered by a grille, to protect it from "plastic bags or sheep or whatever" (rivers in Sussex are apparently littered with sheep).

Dutton calls the new car "The Commander" and it is based on a Mark 4 Fiesta. Just in case you're interested, it has port and starboard lights, bilge pumps, safety equipment, and reaches up to 90 mph on the road and six knots on the water. In the back, there's room for your kids/shopping/glamorous assistant, and you can buy a range of extras, including a soft top, and a sticker which states: "my other car's a boat."

This is all well and good. But can you pull in it? "Well, it's a good line: `Hi, would you like to come out in my amphibious car?'" says Dutton, who is single. Has it worked? "Er, a couple of times."

He has already sold 40 amphibious vehicles based on an older Ford Fiesta. Customers include a lap-dancing magnate, the owner of Fortnum & Mason, and Arab royalty. "The Arabs can go yomping over the desert in the morning, and put it in the water in the afternoon," he says. The car I'm driving is a "puke green" colour, but that's not compulsory. One of his cars is currently terrorising the Thames with sharks' teeth painted on the front.

Dutton says the vehicle suits "anyone who's got a bit of surplus cash and likes pootling along on the river". Maybe you live near a riverside pub and there's never any space in the car-park. Perhaps you live on your own island. Maybe you need one to ferry fashionable friends out to your yacht. Dutton suggests that it's the only way to nip across for Cowes Week, as it takes just an hour to get to the Isle of Wight from the mainland. Do people on the ferry see you? "Oh yes, people come quite close to us and photograph us. Some people even throw us beers, which is quite nice."

He has also crossed the Channel. Well, almost. First problem: "We got stuck in a Force 4 in the middle, which was a bit choppy." Second problem: "After seven hours, we got within three miles of Boulogne, and a wire came off one of the engine fans, so we couldn't make it. We had to be towed back to Portsmouth".

That was four years ago. "It won't happen again," says Dutton firmly. "We found out afterwards we would have been arrested, anyway, because the French say it's illegal to cross the Channel in an `unorthodox vehicle'. I think they really had in mind people going across in baths or oil barrels."

Could you pop over to the States for a shopping trip? "Er, I don't know. It gets pretty rough in the middle of the Atlantic. If you had enough fuel, maybe you could, but the Channel's probably enough." On the ill- fated trip to France, Dutton was followed by a chase-boat. Today, we have a paddle in the glove compartment. Perhaps it's time to return to land. A crowd has gathered along the banks of the Thames. I glide majestically up the slipway... and then to everyone's acute embarrassment, stall the thing. Three times. "You want to learn how to go up and down a hill first before you attack the slipway," advises Dutton, slipping down lower into his seat.

As we clamber out of the car, we find ourselves surrounded by kids. Ronnie Liles, 13, from Barnes, gasps: "It's a boat and it's a car."

"It's bad!" exclaims Louis Robinson, 12, from Putney. His mate, Craig Wheaton, 14, from Barnes, is delighted: "If you were in a police chase, you could get away, and let the police eat fish."

Ian Watson, 30, captain of the London Rowing Club, is also impressed: "It's fantastic! I'd buy one just for fun and for the Henley Royal Regatta." Chris Ray, 27, from the Docklands, is more dubious: "It's very slow, and it's a horrible colour." And Stuart Rea, 31, a banker from Putney, shakes his head sadly: "It wouldn't pull chicks."

With that, the green machine zooms away. It might not be as fast as a Ferrari. It may not be as speedy as a speedboat. But it's the only car in London with seaweed on its bonnet.

Additional reporting: Nathalie Curry

`The Commander' will be officially unveiled at the London on Water show at the Docklands, which runs from 26-30 August. Tel: 0870 241 0363. Contact Dutton Marine on 01903 721036

Transports of Delight

Pedicabs

Pedicabs (also known as rickshaws) are currently the hippest way to hop from one bar to

another in Soho. The London Pedicab Project offers environmentally friendly transport, from pounds 2 per person. Pedal power is the way forward for

customers including Ewan

McGregor, Alexis Sayle, Jo Guest, Jimmy Tarbuck, Glenda Jackson and Jeffrey Archer. You'll also find rickshaws in Dublin and Glasgow.

Warning: Don't expect a smooth ride, as they are pretty difficult to steer. Cars in India often have metal bars to protect them against collisions with rickshaws.

You can pick up a pedicab

outside the Old Compton Street Cafe, 34 Old Compton St, W1

The Smart Car

Quick! Snap up a Smart Car! Leave it any longer, and the tiny car could be scrapped. Microcompact Car Company have to sell 80,000

vehicles by the end of the year - or the car will be axed. Launched in October 1998, the Smart car was designed as a fuel efficient two seater that could

handle heavy traffic. Parking is easy: it's just 2.5 m long.

However, in the first quarter of 1999, only 10,000 left the showroom, and one shareholder described it as "the biggest nonsense in modern car-making history".

Ah, then there's the safety issue. Swiss car magazine, Automobil Revue, reported: "On snow and ice, the Smart is dangerous". Still, it's extremely cute, and importer Mark Jalaei, general manager of KSB Motor Group, insists: "It's the safest small car you'll find on the market". His customers include "celebrities and aristocracy". Cars cost from pounds 5,995 and can reach up to 85 mph. Hipsters go for the yellow or orange models.

Contact KSB Motor Group on 0181-995 3837. www.ksb.co.uk

Motorised skateboards

City boys love them, and the engine powered skateboard has become the way to arrive at the office. A recent import, they can reach speeds of up to 20mph. They cost around pounds 499 and you can fill up the tank with pounds 2 worth of petrol and then fold them away to fit under your desk. Watch out, though, you could become a target for bored

policemen. "Technically, it's not legal to use them on the roads, and we certainly wouldn't

advise it," says

Jeremy Crook, from

distributors, Line One.

"But we are selling a lot in London, and people must be using them

somewhere.

"We advise people using them to contact their local police

station to verify whether they're happy for you to use them on the road."

Contact Line One on 01285 713888. www.goped.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee