Home » This Incredible Old Amphibious Isuzu Concept Reminds Me Of The Wrongest Assumption In The Automotive Industry

This Incredible Old Amphibious Isuzu Concept Reminds Me Of The Wrongest Assumption In The Automotive Industry

Nagisa Top

I’ve certainly been accused of liking weird cars or having non-mainstream automotive tastes as some kind of performance, as though I’m just doing it for attention or something like that. This, of course, is not remotely true, and it’s an accusation usually leveled by people who can’t fathom a human even can give a shit about anything that doesn’t have a massive V8 jammed under the hood. Most people, though, are more than willing to embrace my peculiar vehicular fetishes without judgement, with one notable exception: my sincere belief that an amphibious car can be a success. Pretty much nobody takes this seriously. But once, back in the early 1990s, Isuzu seemed to think it was a solid enough idea to make a really bonkers amphibious concept car. That car was the very boat-like Isuzu Nagisa.


Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Before I get into the details of the car, let me just politely seize you by the upper arm with a demented grip, as tight and desperate as a jumper cable clamp, and demand that you hear me out when it comes to why I think – no, believe – that amphibious cars make sense. You see, I live in a place where there are lakes around, and I see plenty of boats of various sizes in people’s yards and driveways. And you know what most of those boats do? They sit there. They consume money and space. But people are willing to accept that because, generally, they feel the ass-pain of storage, trailering, unloading, re-loading, maintenance, etc. is mostly worth the enjoyment they get from being able to putter around on the water.

Until it isn’t, of course, then the boats become big, mossy monuments to procrastination and money you can no longer justify spending.

But, if you can combine at least the basics of boathood with a reasonably normal car, then you’ve got the whole problem licked. You don’t have to deal with an entirely different vessel. You don’t have to have a special place to store it, you don’t need the right scale of vehicle to tow it, you don’t have to deal with the hassle of towing, the unloading it into the water, the place you’re most likely to sink your own car in normal life, you don’t need to deal with so much if you can just drive your normal commuter right into the water and have fun.


People always say that cars like the Amphicar failed because they were inherently compromised, not a great car or a great boat. I get that. But here’s the secret: it doesn’t need to be great at either! It just needs to be adequate as a boat, and pretty good as a car. Err on the side of car, because people will use it as a car far more than a boat, and really, for most people, all they demand of a boat is something they can easily putter around a body of water in, without sinking, in reasonable comfort.

An ideal amphibious car will be affordable and should operate at least as well on public roads as other vehicles designed primarily for recreation; if it doesn’t make any more driving compromises than, say, a lifted Jeep, I think you’re good to go.

You know what would be a great platform to start with to make an amphibious car? A Ford Maverick. The base car is cheap to get into, so after the necessary modifications, you’re looking at something that perhaps could be sold for, what, $55 to $65,000. I mean, I’m pulling those numbers ex recto, but I believe it’s possible. What the hell, here’s a very, very quick sketch of what I’m imagining:


See? A truck is an ideal platform for an amphibious car, because it already has a nice open deck at the back. Trust me, this could sell.


Okay, that was kind of a digression but I think it’s relevant here, because now perhaps you can imagine the thought process going on in the head of whatever Isuzu executive greenlit the Nagisa. Well, to be fair, while I’d bet at least some of the same ideas were considered in the context of the car as a leisure vehicle/pleasure craft, what’s even stranger is that one of the motivations for Isuzu to make an amphibious vehicle was as a way to help alleviate traffic congestion in Tokyo.

Yes, the story is – and I regret I have yet to be able to confirm it definitively with some documentation right from Isuzu, so it’s possible this is apocryphal – that the thinking was if more people could be moved off the roads and into the water, then that can only help traffic, right?

As Carstyling puts it,

” And the fact that this prototype was not invented for wealthy clients at all – it was assumed that such a machine would help unload the roads of Japan, in particular large port cities.
It was even planned to create a whole family of boats (small amphibious trucks and compact amphibians the size of kei cars were patented), but Nagisa sea trials showed that the idea was difficult to implement – this car turned out to be too slow and clumsy on the roads, and on the water it lacked stability. “

Honestly, based on the design and specs I’m surprised that it didn’t perform better in the wet or dry. Unlike what’s likely the best-known amphibious car, the Amphicar, with its little 1150cc 43 horsepower engine, the Nagisa had a 3.2-liter V6 which made a respectable 175 hp, good enough for the car to comfortably hold highway speeds.

The Nagisa had all-wheel drive as well, leveraging Isuzu’s extensive experience there, and used an impeller-driven water jet engine, like a Jet-Ski, in the water.


Amphi Nag

Design-wise, it’s pretty clear that the main focus was boat instead of car. This is a fundamentally different concept from, say, the Amphicar, which looked like a car that could go in the water; the Nagisa looks like a boat that can drive on land. I think a modern successful amphibious car needs the opposite approach: it should look more car-like.

The Nagisa unashamedly went full boat. It has a real, dramatic prow, a hood that looks more like a deck, it’s nautical white, it just feels like a cool little speedboat. It doesn’t even appear to have conventional doors.

Nagisa Rear

Around the stern, it’s even more boaty, if possible: there’s an actual deck, the cabin is open to the elements, and other than the wheels and taillights, you could easily mistake this for a water-only boat. It seems Isuzu mentioned a cap to enclose the rear, useful for the winter, when you would likely only be using this to get to and from work or whatever. I’d still think you’d have to enter from the rear, though.


Sure, the Nagisa likely leaned to hard to the boat side of things, but I’m not dissuaded from my belief that the world needs a viable, practical amphibious car. Automakers that want to make bank, you know how to contact me.



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1 year ago

There are several commenters here who make great points about challenges facing the amphibious car maker, as well as the customer requirements for both a boat and a car. Some of the solutions proposed are excellent, but I don’t think they go far enough. I have a design proposal that may address these issues.

Customer requirements:
– Useable deck space/room to move
– Open Air
– Stable
– Moderate speed

– Easy to use as a daily driver
– Functional cargo space
– Moderate performance

Mechanical Requirements
– Minimal hydrodynamic drag
– Minimum protrusions through watertight hull

My vision is to take the general form of a pontoon boat or catamaran , and couple it with a rear RWD powertrain. It will rely heavily on drive by wire in order to work. Rather than two watertight compartments running the length of the vehicle, each pontoon would be broken into watertight sections, interrupted by spaces for the wheels. This configuration would allow the wheels to be fully enclosed, minimizing the drag over the suspension equipment. All suspension mounting points would be on the interior of this wheel well, eliminating as many pass-throughs through the hull as possible. The steering mechanism would require the steering gear to be mounted well above the waterline, and the forces transmitted to the tie rods via a bell-crank system. This will undoubtedly introduce a bit of play and slop in steering, but people still drive jeeps, so…. The rear wheel wells would have traditional stuffing boxes for the fixed inboard axle shafts, which would be connected to wheel ends via CV shafts. If we want to get super fancy, adding a moderate power lift function to the suspension at each corner and retractable doors to cover the wheel wells would aid in efficiency. Otherwise, partial fairing of the front half of the wheel, and tapering of the following pontoon section would be required to minimize drag.

The engine would be mid-rear mounted a transfer case and transaxle. The transfer case would allow the driver to select the wheels, the water propulsion (jet or prop, either works), or both (for launching and recovery). This setup allows weight to be appropriately distributed over the hull, and efficient handling of the power transmission.

The passenger compartment would be something of a departure from standard. In order to maintain the integrity of the hull, side doors would be vestigial at best. However, there would be a rear door with fold down (swim) ladder that allows entry to the vehicle. The swim ladder would not be more than a half-height door. There may be an opportunity to make the upper half glass that retracts into the ladder, and the ladder could be dual action – open to the side or down. Passenger seats would be pushed to the outside of the vehicle envelope, allowing a walkway down the length of the vehicle. The roof would be removeable in panels, like a Jeep or a Bronco, to allow for the open air experience. The rear cargo area would be a flat deck with the engine below it. The deck would need to have hatches to allow for engine maintenance.

Overall, it would look a bit like a skirted Canoo truck, or a skirted Transit with removeable roof panels, but I think it deals with a lot of the issues raised by other combo vehicles. It’d be a 2 row “crossover” with the footprint of a 3 row.

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
1 year ago
Reply to  OpposedPiston

That’s a pretty good take, it could actually be a decent business proposition as a pontoon boat that doesn’t need mooring space or a tow vehicle. Only downside is it’d cost as much as a truck and have no more room than a speedboat, but would travel a bit slower than a pontoon on water. But with some Hot Wheels Deora styling, I think it could at least clear the stylish requirement.

1 year ago

One big issue for me: Cars that break can be towed home. All boats CAN sink. Engineered boaty-car things are inherently compromised from the get-go. Cars are already hard enough to build for safety, adding in death by drowning seems to double the effort.

Of course, I’m not really an aquatic mammal. So there’s that…

Mike P
Mike P
1 year ago

Jason, since you mention “if it doesn’t make any more driving compromises than, say, a lifted Jeep”,


Also, there’s this:


Brian Michael
Brian Michael
1 year ago

Part of the appeal of a boat is that you can move around on it. I never got the concept of the amphibious car as anything but a toy, just like a jet ski it’s too limited in what you can do in it. I can’t imagine spending several hours in the water in a Ford Maverick.

Dave Horchak
Dave Horchak
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Michael

I agree but a jet ski is or was Hellafun until Big Brother started legislation on them. Now rip cord, helmet, life vest, no wake,must have separate operation license, registration, insurance, separate safe boating operation, no under 14 years old operation, clean between uses to prevent invasive species (this is a good one) speed limits but no speedometer

1 year ago

I have always thought that retractable side pontoons would go a long way towards keeping an amphibian stable in the water. Saw a picture of some military amphibians that did just that, pulling the pontoons up over the roof when not used for floatation. Attractive? Not today, but if they help the craft get up on plane and move at 20-30 knots on the water instead of the 5-6 that a displacement hull is limited to in the water, tastes may change.

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