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First look: Rinspeed submerges with sQuba

Sub-marine: sQuba can swim under water at up to 3km/h.

Visionary Swiss maker Rinspeed creates the world's first swimming car

25 Mar 2008

THIRTY years after James Bond took his Lotus Esprit into the sea in The Spy Who Loved Me, Swiss company Rinspeed has produced the extraordinary sQuba, which it claims is the first car that can actually ‘fly’ under water.

While Roger Moore impressively demonstrated the underwater capabilities of the Esprit in the 1977 Bond blockbuster when he dove below the waves in what seemed to be an ordinary car, the scene never really took place it was an animation.

With the Lotus Elise-based sQuba, the world’s first real submersible car, the movie fake became reality for visitors who saw the car at the recent the Geneva motor show.

Rinspeed boss Frank Rinderknecht is known for his extraordinary automotive creations and is an unashamed James Bond fan who kept revisiting this scene over and over in his mind.

“For three decades I have tried to imagine how it might be possible to build a car that can fly under water,” said the 52-year-old Swiss automotive visionary. “Now we have made this dream come true.”

A submarine-like ability to fly at a depth of 10 metres sets the sQuba apart from military vehicles that are limited to driving slowly over the submerged ground. It can stay underwater for about two hours, but at a maximum speed of just 3km/h. On top of the water it will do 6km/h and on land will top 120km/h.

“It is undoubtedly not an easy task to make a car watertight and pressure-resistant enough to be manoeuvrable under water,” said Mr Rinderknecht. “The real challenge, however, was to create a submersible car that moves like a fish in water.”

116 center imageProject management was put in the hands of Swiss engineering company Esoro, whose appropriate motto is “What you dream is what you get”. Remarkably, the company, which has 17 years of experience creating concept cars, took just six months to turn the concept into reality.

The sports car’s normal combustion engine was removed and replaced by three electric motors located in the rear of the vehicle. One provides propulsion on land while the other two drive the ‘screws’ for underwater motoring. Power is supplied by rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries.

The electric motors are supported by two powerful Seabob jet drives in the front, which ‘breathe’ through special rotating louvres (for opening and closing the water intake). The rotating outlet jets were designed to be extremely light yet twist-resistant by using high-tech nano materials, so-called Carbon Nano Tubes.

The result is a vehicle that will easily steal the show from any beauty on the beach.

You drive the car into the water and the car floats – until you crack the door to let the water in. Immediately the sQuba starts on its way to the underwater world and the occupants start through scuba gear attached to an integrated tank of compressed air.

“For safety reasons we have built the vehicle as an open car so that the occupants can get out quickly in an emergency,” said Mr Rinderknecht. “With an enclosed cabin, opening the door might be impossible.” But safety was not the only reason for choosing an open-top design. With an enclosed volume of just two cubic metres of air the vehicle weight would have to increase by some two tonnes to counteract the unwanted buoyancy, giving the sQuba the land mobility of a turtle.

Without occupants, the sQuba surfaces automatically and is even capable of autonomous driving on land, without any help from the driver or passenger, thanks to a laser sensor system.

On shore, the sQuba relies on a stainless coil-over suspension and Pirelli tyres mounted on custom-made forged lightweight 17 and 18-inch alloywheels.

But it is really at home in the water and, to make the occupants feel at home, it has an innovative salt water-resistant interior that features genuine mother-of-pearl trim and diamond-plated non-slip inlays. So we might find out if ‘Diamonds Are Forever’.

VDO developed the instrument cluster and controls to create a futuristic ambiance and allow controlling all vehicle functions while submerged.

The matt white exterior features 3-D foil elements with embossed fish and sharkskin patterns to “add visual pizzazz”.

Mr Rinderknecht accentuates the environmental attributes of the vehicle, but has no plans to put it into production.

“The sQuba is a zero-emission car, as documented by the rotating license plate in the rear. It produces no exhaust emissions. The Swiss are among the world’s pioneers in the area of hydropower. The ‘sQuba’s’ filling station is the water reservoir.

“This car lets me be one with the elements and lets me immerse myself in a new and fascinating world – with Q factor. It is our duty to protect this world in which we are guests to the best of our ability.”

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