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Motoring: Flash, dash and splash.

Byline: Chris Russon

I t's the car that is making the biggest splash at the Motor Show, it's British and if you'd bought one a week ago it would have set you back a cool pounds 150,000.

Forget the Ferraris, the Bentleys and the millions of pounds of other automotive exotica assembled at the NEC, the Gibbs Aquada is a world-beater.

The Aquada is the first high-speed amphibious car and it is capable of more than 100mph on land and 30mph on water.

And the amazing technology has proved so popular that demand is outstripping expectations, enabling the company to slash prices by half.

The result of seven years of hard work and more than pounds 50 million worth of investment, the Aquada is the brainchild of entrepreneur Alan Gibbs and his team at Gibbs Technologies based in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

This remarkable creation can do what no other amphibious vehicle has achieved before and that is all down to cutting edge innovation.

The secret is an underside that can skim across water just like a speedboat -and to achieve that the wheels have to retract into the body. From sports car to powerboat takes around 12 seconds and it comes at the press of a single button.

The system is one of some 60 features of the Aquada that have been developed and patented by the Gibbs' engineers.

The Aquada is the ultimate in fun machines but its target audience is not just the rich and famous -there are plenty of practical applications evolving from the technology.

Such James Bond-style features will not go unnoticed by the military or the emergency services and the jet engine specially created for the Aquada is already causing interest in the marine world.

On land the Aquada is a big roadster looking not unlike a large Mazda MX5. It measures some 15ft 6ins long and is 6ft 6ins wide and seats three abreast with the driver in the centre -the only other car that did that was the pounds 500,000 McLaren F1.

Powered by a 2.5-litre V6 engine -the same as is in MG and Rover saloons and the Land Rover Freelander -the Aquada is absolutely conventional to drive thanks to a four speed automatic gearbox.

With electronic self-levelling air suspension it is surprisingly similar to the Freelander when it comes to handling -quick and responsive in a straight line but slightly wallowy in corners with a touch of understeer.

But you could not say it handled like a boat -even if it is one.

The clever stuff comes as you hit the water. As soon as the onboard sensors detect the Aquada is afloat -as a result of the suspension dropping -the wheels lift and it is speedboat time. The jet drive is constantly engaged and once it has a supply of water to suck it pumps out a ton of thrust from a centrally positioned exhaust. The jet is controlled by the accelerator pedal and direction from the steering wheel -and it is highly responsive and manoeuvrable on water.

Hit high revs, the nose lifts and the Aquada blasts along until it reaches the point where it is skimming the water and from there onwards it is an amazing experience.

Such is the performance it is capable of towing a water skier -or just whisking you across the bay from your yacht to dry land. What an entrance you can make as you emerge from the water to drive off.

The Aquada is built from two moulded composite sections packed with buoyancy aids front and back. It is said to be unsinkable even when swamped and comes with three bilge pumps in case water enters the cockpit.

Water resistant upholstery and carpets finish off the trim and it comes with a water-resistant radio/CD player, and a heater. There are no doors -you climb in by stepping off the running boards -other than that and a few controls such as buttons to control trim tabs for water-borne stability and a cradle for a GPS system, it is akin to any car interior.

Luggage space is under the bonnet, the engine is mid-mounted and it is rear wheel drive.

However the laws governing marine and road use are not exactly complementary and that has required some more ingenuity.

For example, to go on water the Aquada requires green and red lights on its front. That's illegal on the highway so an electronic control system was devised that allows them to come on only when the wheels are retracted and the drive decoupled.

The digital milometer logs miles on land and also records engine hours when afloat to gauge service intervals accurately. On land the Aquada should average around 23 miles to the gallon while on water that comes down to about four -but it can be refuelled at any petrol station and does not require more expensive marine fuel.

The Aquada is an utterly incredible machine crammed with celebrity status. Sir Richard Branson has already put his name down for one and Gibbs is on course to produce more than 100 Aquadas this year.

With more than 90 per cent of its components sourced from almost 300 suppliers in the Midlands and with the company employing more than 100 this is a great British success story in the making.

The Aquada is on show in Hall 4 at the NEC during the Motor Show and can also be seen in action on Pendigo Lake outside the exhibition halls.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 28, 2004
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