We don’t normally think of American Presidents’ as having much in the way of a sense of humor. But many of them were actually quite charming and funny in person. And some, were fabulous practical jokers.
It really should come as no surprise though, when you consider that it probably helps to have a sense of humor in politics. Throughout our history, politicians have often used their wit and many times a self-deprecating sense of humor to win over voters. Who could ever forget Ronald Reagan, after being shot, his survival still very much in question, quipping to the surgeons and nurses as they wheeled him into the operating room, “I hope you’re all Republicans.”
But, there’s one American president who absolutely loved practical jokes. And, he was an exceptional prankster.
His most famous prank involved taking unsuspecting guests for joyrides in his blue convertible, entertaining and charming them as he drove around on his estate —- and then suddenly driving the car down a steep embankment toward the lake, while screaming that the brakes had failed —- as the car crashed into the lake.
Imagine the shock —— until they realized the car was actually floating. And then, the president – laughing – would engage the propellers and drive the “floating car” or “boat” around the lake.
The boat-car had a name, the Amphicar. And, it was the only such car ever mass produced for the general public. Produced in West Germany in the 1960’s, only 3,878 were ever produced and of those, 3,046 ended up in the United States.
The unusual car used a 4-cynlinder Triumph Herald motor producing 43 hp. The company jokingly described the vehicle as “the fastest boat on land, and the fastest car on water.” It could attain the amazing speed of 7 knots on water and 70 mph on land.
The Amphicar only came in four colors; Beach White, Regatta Red, Lagoon Blue, and Fjord Green.
Ahhhh… but we digress. Back to our prankster president.
Joseph A. Califano was on the receiving end of this famous presidential prank one time. He described being pranked this way, ——– “The President shouted, ‘The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!’ The car splashed into the water. I started to get out. Just then the car leveled, and I realized we were in an Amphicar. The President laughed. As we putted along the lake then (and throughout the evening), he teased me. ‘Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.’ Then he’d roar.”
Only two American presidents have ever owned an Amphicar, President Jimmy Carter and President Lyndon B. Johnson. So…… who was the presidential prankster?
Lyndon B. Johnson.
President Lyndon B. Johnson routinely pranked guests with this little ruse at his Texas ranch, known as the Texas White House. And, when you think about him driving straight into the lake with unsuspecting passengers, you just have to chuckle.
Currently, the LBJ boat-car is on display at the ranch, now known as the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park.
You can’t drive Johnson’s boat-car. But I’ve discovered what is quite possibly the largest collection of Amphicars in the world. And, you can take ride in one if you dare.
The collection is owned and operated by the “The Boathouse,” a restaurant operating on the banks of Lake Buena Vista in Disney Springs, Florida , and for a small fee you can take the Amphicar plunge, all the while screaming, “the brakes have failed.”
If you decide to take the plunge, please be sure to wave at the people on-shore — because my four-year-old son, Gabriel, when he’s watching, gets very upset when people don’t wave back at him.
Y’all have fun now!