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Originally published Friday, February 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Car can go underwater, but not very fast

OK, so the Swiss have invented a car that runs on land and underwater. But did they REALLY have to make it a convertible? It's called the "sQuba,"...

The Associated Press

GENEVA — OK, so the Swiss have invented a car that runs on land and underwater. But did they REALLY have to make it a convertible?

It's called the "sQuba," and conjures up memories of James Bond's amphibious Lotus Esprit from "The Spy Who Loved Me." The concept car was developed by Swiss designer Rinspeed and is set to make a splash at the Geneva Auto Show next month.

Company CEO Frank Rinderknecht said he has been waiting 30 years to re-create the car he saw Roger Moore use to drive off a dock.

The sQuba can plow through the water at a depth of 30 feet and has electrical motors to turn the underwater screw.

You'll have to break out the wetsuit, however. The car has an open top, meaning that the two passengers are exposed to the elements.

"For safety reasons, we have built the vehicle as an open car so that the occupants can get out quickly in an emergency," said Rinderknecht, 52.

Passengers will be able to keep breathing underwater through an integrated tank of compressed air similar to what is used in scuba diving.

The sQuba's top speed on land is about 77 mph, but it slows down to 3 mph on the surface of the water, and 1.8 mph underwater.

Working with engineering specialists, Rinspeed removed the combustion engine from a sports car and replaced it with several electrical motors. Three are located in the rear, with one providing propulsion on land and the other two for underwater driving.

The interior is resistant to saltwater, allowing the skipper to drive into a lake or the sea.

Rinderknecht said it cost more than $1.5 million to make the sole sQuba in existence, and that it was difficult to make a car watertight and pressure-resistant enough to be maneuverable underwater.

Rinspeed is in discussion with commercial manufacturers about making a limited number of the cars. The price? "It would be cheaper than a Rolls-Royce," he said. A 2008 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe has a sticker price of more than $400,000.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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