Leichter Personenkraftwagen Typ 166 Schwimmwagen

In Detail

The history of this VW Typ 166 Schwimmwagen can be traced back through four British and one French owner. The first British owner is believed to have obtained this vehicle not long after WWII from Normandy in northern France. Somewhere between the first and second owner the vehicle had a door cut into each side of the hull, and the side mudguards lowered in order to pass under the new doors. Both these changes were later reversed. The vehicle passed rapidly through the hands of the second and third owners and was by this stage in a very poor condition overall with many parts including its engine, missing. The Schwimmwagen was sold again in 1994, the bodywork, engine, mechanics and electrical system were all refurbished before the vehicle became part of the collection in the late 1990s.

Subsequent work done on the Schwimmwagen was done without thought to accuracy. Images of wartime Schwimmwagens were used to correct supposed flaws in the earlier build ultimately creating a more extensive headache for us in future years. The quest for accuracy developed over time but the Schwimmwagen was unfortunately the first vehicle into the fold and therefore the most inaccurate.

A more complete restoration is planned as the current build does not meet the exacting standards of the Foundation. The foundation of access to original untouched or largely original examples, extensive photographic documentation and the beginnings of an understanding as to where this survivor fits in to the chronological dateline of the assembly plant during WW2 are in their early stages. The intensive research and ultimately restoration work into this very interesting and unique machine draws a keen audience here at the Foundation. The hunt for parts goes on without undue time pressure. We have located original wide rims and their tyres, a good engine and many other smaller parts for the planned future restoration.

Design and Development

The Volkswagen Typ 166 Schwimmwagen is only one of two car sized amphibious military vehicles used by the German forces in WWII, the other was the Trippel SG6 Amphibian , which was the larger of the two vehicle types.

Virtually all of the other small German tactical military vehicles (generically known as Kübelwagen), owe their origins to one or other of the three major vehicle design programs that came about during the period of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. These were the 1928-29 Kraftfahrrustungsprogramm , the 1935-36 Einheitsprogramm and the 1939-40 Schellprogramm . The VW Typ 166 Schwimmwagen is often assumed to be part of the Schellprogramm , as it came into being just after this programme’s inception, and was also a Porsche KG of Stuttgart design, the designer of the VW Typ 82 Kübelwagen, the only light car in the Schellprogramm . Also understandably, with it originating from Porsche KG, and the need to keep spare parts variety to a minimum, it is heavily reliant on Volkswagen components in its design, although it has many unique design features of its own. However neither of the two amphibious designs were a part of these programmes. Two key factors lay behind the VW Typ 166 specification. Firstly, to act as a replacement, and simultaneously a complementary vehicle for the heavy motorcycle combinations then in use by fast moving infantry (Kradschutzen ) and reconnaissance (Aufklärungs ) units. These units were predominantly equipped with BMW R12 and R75, Zundapp KS 600 and KS 750 motorcycle combinations.

It was evident as early as late 1939, following the campaign in Poland, that motorcycles with sidecars were inadequate at their task, being poor at cross country work and giving no weather protection to their crews. In effect the VW Typ 166 can be seen as a four wheel motorcycle combination. Secondly, looking to the east, as the higher echelons of the Third Reich were, the dense road networks and bridges of Western Europe did not exist, but waterways and swamp abounded. Consequently a four wheel drive amphibian was seen as a very desirable new addition to cope in this environment. Thus until now what had been a novelty concept was reassessed more seriously, and design and specifications were drawn up by the German Army.

In July 1940 the Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Office) issued the specifications. Ferdinand Porsche, chief engineer of Porsche KG initially designed an amphibian known as the VW/Porsche Typ 128, a longer and generally larger vehicle than its successor the VW Typ 166 . The Typ 128 was a failure, but it did pave the way for the successful Typ 166 design accepted in August 1941, and the two vehicles shared many mechanical components. The date of August 1941 is important, as it was just two months after the German invasion of Russia. The previously anticipated problems of poor road networks, lack of bridges and huge areas of swamp became a daily reality for German forces, and the units equipped with motorcycle combinations could not cope.


Production started at the Volkswagen G.m.b.H factory, which was located at the Stadt des KdF-Wagens, Fallersleben, north Germany in July 1942. The assembly line ran in parallel with that for the VW Typ 82 Kübelwagen. The unique VW 166 monocoque body was supplied by Ambi-Budd Presswerk G.m.b.H.of Johannistal, Berlin. The company also supplied the VW Kübelwagen body.

First Production Vehicle Technical Specifications

All VW Typ 166’ s were mechanically and structurally very similar throughout production. There are differences over the total production period, but between the first 125 pre-production vehicles, and the final production vehicles they are of minor significance. The initial technical specification was:

Volkswagen 24.5 HP 1131cc flat 4 cylinder (boxer) engine cooled by air. Fuel and air was supplied via a Solex carburettor and oil bath air filter

  • Volkswagen non-synchromesh gearbox with four forward and one reverse gears. The gearbox featured an in built rear axle differential, modified to include optional low ratio and drive to the front axle assembly
  • Modified Volkswagen front axle assembly with a central oiling system, differential and drive shafts
  • Suspension, torsion bars for all four wheels.
  • Tyres, 5,25 -16 extra wide with heavy military pattern tread
  • Two or four wheel drive via front and rear differentials
  • High level exhaust system and silencer box
  • Optional use rear mounted propeller assembly, driven from the engines’ rear power take off
  • Steering in water is achieved via the front wheels being steered as normal.

Manufacturing Period and Quantities Produced

Starting in July 1942 production was initially slow with only 150 vehicles completed by the end of the year. The first 125 of these vehicles were called Vorproduktion (pre-production) vehicles. It is the production of these vehicle, their issue and the wait for operational results, which caused the initial slowness in production seen in 1942. Across 1943 production picked up considerably and 8650 were manufactured. In 1944 another 5475 were manufactured. The assembly line is reported to have closed in November 1944. This data suggests a much quoted total production figure of 14276 vehicles.

The closure, however, of the assembly line in 1944 is problematic. There is sufficient evidence to indicate that the VW 166 was manufactured until early April 1945, as there are several chassis numbers higher than 14276 in existence today. The highest existing chassis number is approximately 1100 higher, and this figure easily fits into the manufacturing scale and capability of the Volkswagen factory for the remaining months of the war.

Construction Modifications

During the production period no major changes occurred, but many small changes were implemented. Material and cost savings were achieved by changing the oil bath air filter to an Wirbelluftfilter (air-swirl filter), getting rid of the starter motor in favour of hand starting and a reduction in the electrical specification that included removing brake lights and head light (dip lamp only).

VW 166 s are often seen with the narrower and cheaper VW Kübelwagen tyres and rims, the headlamp size was reduced and one of the two rear seats was disposed of. Finally the side rails were removed and the central section of the side mudguards widened.

The typical winterisation kit was available mid-war and fitted to all factory production from that time. This consisted of a heated and insulated battery box and an alcohol based, short-cut gravity fuel feed system to the engine via a small fuel tank located in the engine compartment.

Equipment Variations

The equipment and usage variations of this vehicle type were very limited, all VW Typ 166 ’s body tubs were built with sufficient brackets and fixtures for their immediate conversion to a light MG carrier if required. These permanent fittings included two brackets for MG pivot mounts, two spare barrel containers and an anti-aircraft tripod bracket and two drum magazine carriers. Many can be seen in period photographs, equipped with MG’s, such an equipment level is akin to their originally intended role in reconnaissance.

Einstort Nach Gruppe I ” electrical suppression equipped engines were also fitted as opposed to the more common Gruppe III. Gruppe I engines were for vehicles that carried radio equipment permanently, although WWII photographs showing this arrangement are very rare. Both of the above variations were under the Kfz. title of Kfz.1/20 and no other Kfz numbers are associated with the VW Typ 166 .

WWII Usage

These amphibious vehicles were issued in most German theatres of operation and to nearly all types of unit. WWII photographic and unit documentary evidence clearly shows that a large number were used, as intended, in reconnaissance units. This required whole companies to be equipped with the vehicles. A typical company consisted of four troops and a total of approximately 40 vehicles per company. With its simple mechanical and transmission systems this Volkswagen design was very successful and enabled the vehicle to work in nearly all circumstances.

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