History

History

The designer of SeaRoader, Mike Ryan has been designing and building Amphibious vehicles for well over a quarter of a century now.


Mike tells the story:

It all started in the 80s, when after a good time Rallying, I decided that it simply cost too much. I had always hankered after designing and building a car from scratch but upon consideration as to what to build decided that almost everything worthwhile had already been done. Boats were always a passion and suddenly there was the answer and immediately put pencil to paper. When designing an Amphibian there are just so many issues to consider and they are always going to be a compromise somewhere. For example: Four wheel drive is obviously best but even this can have some disadvantages. Front wheel drive is better than rear wheel drive (for exiting the water) but there is no way sensibly that you can use a transverse engine in the front of an amphibian due to the weight distribution. Obviously on a limited budget the idea came to use a Ford 1600 crossflow unit fitted in the rear driving an upside down front mounted differential. Brilliant! I now had front wheel drive with perfect rear weight distribution and a crankshaft pulley to power a small fold away ‘Z’ drive. The ‘Ryan Streamline’ was born and it worked superbly – well eventually! The first moonlight test session was a disaster. We chose to lower it into the River Avon down a steep slipway with a tow car. It entered the water inch by inch and just appeared to get lower and lower in the water with one or two leaks. We went home and I was up most of the night worrying that I had got my buoyancy sums totally wrong and the car was far too heavy and incapable of floating! Fine when you have time to redesign but we had the Worlds press booked 2 days later at the Fairford power boat lake to film my creation! Right – OK – then that’s all right then!!!

So the next 36 hours (in the frost I hasten to add!) were spent adjusting and we were on our way to Fairford. We took a caravan so that we could have an early morning test before the media arrived. On arrival at the lake we decided to spend the rest of the evening in the club house and at around midnight left rather well lubricated. We all decided there and then that we could not care less if it floated or sank and chucked it in the lake! But it did not sink! It floated perfectly and boy did we go to bed merry (in both ways!).

We were going to do a long channel crossing from the Isle of Dogs in London to Calais and then back to Dover such was our confidence in the car. We all booked a week off work went to London and waited – and waited…….Force 8-9 Gales. Rather than go home empty handed and as we were after Blue Peters non-stop record we gained this by going up the Thames driving without rest for around 30 hours. The record still stands.


Water entry – Fast as you like!

The ‘Ryan Streamline’ sold to a Dutch Pilot. Where is it now?


Flood filming with ‘Severn Sound’ & Central T.V.

Its in there somewhere lads!

Press day near Weston-Super-Mare.

Bristol Docks.

We then went on to do a Fiat Panda Amphibian followed by the Awesome Z1A.

This was based on Lamborghini’s fabulous Countach. It looked stunning and there was no clues to it’s capabilities when on the road.


Stunning!


Made him fall off!


A nightmare to build! But the end results were worth it.


Very discreet amphibious mode controls.


Also very expensive. £2000 just for the glass!

The ultimate jaw dropper!


Z1a went to Hollywood filming for 12 Months. A real experiance.

If it’s got wheels, I’ll make it float!

Racing Amphibious bikes for ‘Bike’ magazine.

Taking ‘Getting your knee down’ to a different level!

SeaRoader was next. I felt that there was a market for a true workhorse Amphibian. One that was affordable and one that was multi-role. The original car was built in 30 days flat and worked exceptionally well. I was not prepared to make a complex vehicle and opted for simplicity in all areas. There are no trick, unreliable power take offs – No seals to leak and above all the immensely strong chassis which I refer to as E.C.C. (external chassis concept). I also chose to use a completely separate engine for water propulsion. This is a Beta Marine unit which is so compact even with it’s F/N/R gearbox and uses a mere 1 litre of diesel per hour at it’s displacement speed…….

But, after a lot of successful testing and media filming we decided to go for a new World Record to coincide with the local regatta.
All went well for the first 8 hours of non stop motoring when it dawned on me that I had not wired in the cars lights to the Beta engine’s charging system and realised that a problem with the main engines battery would happen. The decision was made to run the main engine every now and then to keep that battery charged. We started the main engine but within a couple of minutes had the charging light come on. I removed the inner engine hatch and saw that the fan belt had come off (which had been an age old problem due to the pulley moving after the viscous fan had been removed). I told my co-driver Mark to keep going and I would go up front and sort the belt out. So – two no-no’s later (hatch off and bonnet wide open) the seeds for disaster had been sown! 1. With the bonnet wide open Mark could not see where he was going. 2. With my weight right on the very edge of the corner of the bow, water was a little near to the edge of the bonnet opening. 3. We were still doing 6 knots 4. Two muppets drinking wine on a cabin cruiser buzzing us after they had seen us on TV and wanted a closer look. 5. Mark worried that they were getting too close and steered nearer to the bank. Then it happened. With a lot of travel on the land Rovers axles, the front wheel touched the under water bank and kicked the car up on the opposite side to where I was at exactly the moment the other boats wake washed over the front and that was that. Had the front body section had just filled up with water we would have got away with it. But no, the bonnet was wide open which then led to the engine compartment flooding and because the inner hatch was off – well, you can guess the rest! It actually submarined as the Beta just drove it under. Had there been a few more seconds Mark may have been able to put it in astern effectively putting on the brakes and letting the bilge pumps do their job.

So (big) lesson learnt. We successfully recovered the car the next day but the most frustrating part was that if we had approximately another 3-4 cubic feet of captive buoyancy it would not have sunk.

However, the new SeaRoader has had design changes in all areas so that it is impossible for anything like this to ever happen again. For example; we are using new composite front and rear panels with enough captive buoyancy to keep the car afloat even if it ever became full of water. And to add an even bigger margin, we have two central tub areas also full of captive buoyancy.