This is the Gibbs Quadski, an amphibian that operates as both an ATV and a personal watercraft. Although it looks like set dressing for HBO’sEastbound & Down, we can attest that the Quadski is real—Gibbs says it will be on sale by mid-November. It would be the first amphibious vehicle brought to market by the private company after more than 15 years “in business” and total expenditures, it says, have topped $200 million.
Most of those funds were spent developing the Aquada, the infamous amphibious roadster that was set to launch a decade ago before being torpedoed by supplier problems and regulatory issues. It’s that legacy that leaves us wary of this latest gambit, and company reps were cagey regarding specifics of the brand’s sales plans. All we could pry free was that initial marketing efforts are to be focused In Florida, Texas, New York, and the Midwest, where five dealers have reportedly signed contracts. (Presumably, Ashley Schaeffer Motors is not among them.)
That the Aquada now has evolved into the Quadski is akin to Honda divulging that the next Acura NSX actually is going to be the company’s first zero-turn-radius lawnmower. But just as we’d accept an invitation to drive that theoretical mower, we took Gibbs up on its offer to ride a preproduction Quadski around a quarry north of Detroit.
We enjoyed ripping along trails at speeds up to 50 mph and—after removing our helmet and donning a life jacket—zipping along a placid pond at a slower rate. Although we can’t vouch for the accuracy of its speedometer, the Quadski moves quickly enough in its terrestrial and marine configurations to generate thrills. As it should: Power is supplied by a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder engine from BMW’s K1300 motorcycle, rated at a stout 175 hp and 103 lb-ft of torque.
The big draw, of course, comes in that netherworld where the Quadski is neither-nor, when you push the button next to the ignition switch that deploys or retracts the wheels and sends the BMW engine’s output to driveshaft or water jet. The experience is underwhelming for the rider, as the rapid changeover happens underwater and out of view. Onlookers will be surprised, however, and that’s the best explanation for why you might drop “around $40,000” on a Quadski—or roughly as much as four Honda Rincon ATVs.
Indeed, although it can transition from personal watercraft to all-terrain vehicle as effortlessly as Cthulhu might ascend from R’lyeh, the Quadski does so with considerably less menace. There are lots of compromises. The Quadski offers only rear-wheel drive, and it can carry only its pilot. It is not street legal, thus limiting opportunities for showing off. And although there is room underneath its saddle for a helmet, there is no place aboard to store your life jacket. (Gibbs suggested we keep ours on as “body armor.”)
Whether by land or sea, performance—as expected—is inferior to that of dedicated ATVs and PWCs. Although real power-sports enthusiasts are likely to find the Quadski lacking, there are virtues to its inherent limitations. A longer wheelbase and heavier steering make it less twitchy on trails, and its size makes it slow and stable in the water. This means the Quadski might be easier for a neophyte to pilot—you know, the Stevie Janowski type.