(first posted 4/16/2016) My task here can be a bit thankless. Other automotive journalists get invited to jet off to exotic sunny locales and luxuriate in fine hotels while driving the latest luxury and supercars, all on the manufacturer’s nickel. Me? I get invited to drive a Subaru 360. Is it a (literally) cruel hoax, because I’m 6’4″? (update: 6’3″ now; I’m shrinking). I’ve never even tried to fold myself into one of these, the smallest car ever sold in the United States, even when I was young and more limber. But I can’t exactly turn down the offer, can I? It’s all in the line of duty, for you, dear readers. Anyway, it must be karmic punishment for all the cruel things I’ve said about big American cars over the years, so here’s my chance to atone for all the Broughams I’ve dissed.
It all started out quite innocently, as I was tootling down Seventh Avenue past the Sports Car Shop. There, among Jaguars, Porsches, and owner Bob Macherione’s Alfa Spider Duetto, that was getting prepped for its first race of the season, sat this little white wart. I was in a bit of a hurry, and kept driving, but then something said: when are you going to see another Subaru 360 curbside? I shot one in a junkyard some years ago, and wrote up my CC on it here, but that car’s long gone. So I whipped around the block, parked, and started taking some quick shots for future reference, or to update my CC with them.
And the setting, with all of these exotic high performance cars surrounding it, made it even more compelling.
A quick summary: the Subaru 360 was one of the very first kei cars in postwar japan, and for some time, it was the most successful one. It really was Japan’s VW Beetle, in terms of making cars accessible to those that would never have dreamed of it. And for the conditions of highly urbanized Japan at the time, it worked well enough.
In the US? Not. That great serial huckster-shyster Malcom Bricklin needed something new to import after Fuji heavy Industries stopped building the Rabbit scooters he had been selling in the US. When he went to Japan to visit Fuji and saw the 360, he knew this was it; or more like the only option he had. He agreed to import 50,000 of them, and that turned out to be a disaster. And a foreshadowing of his future failures with his Bricklin car, the Yugo, and Chinese cars too.
A key factor in making this idea even more palatable (and less trouble) to Bricklin was that the 360 was exempt from US emission and safety standards of the time, due to weighing less than 1000 lbs.
But eventually all the 360s were all sold or disposed of one way or another, thanks to the seductive ads like the ones above. This one was apparently sold in Portland originally, so it’s spent its life in Oregon. Has it ever ventured out of state? Who would do that? These are city cars, pure an simple. According to various sources, the amble from 0-60 took anywhere from 37 to 56 seconds. I would soon have a chance to find out myself what a Subaru 360 is (in)capable of.
To put the 360’s size into numbers, here are its stats: wheelbase – 70.9″; length – 117.7″; width – 51.2′; height – 54.3″. And yet it has a bench seat in the front. Well, back in the day, folks would do all sorts of heroic things with their micro-cars, in Japan and Europe, like squeezing in a kid to sit in the middle.
Those dimensions are all just a bit smaller than the Fiat/Steyr-Puch 500, which was Europe’s take on the kei car. The fact that the Fiat arrived in 1957, one year before the Subaru 360, makes one wonder if there was some influence.
The 360’s size might work with the typically svelte and compact Japanese of the 1950s, unless you were a sumo wrestler, in which case it still worked; just night quite as well. The three other guys are just there to give a bit of a push to get the 360 going. Given that the 360 weighs 900 lbs empty, adding weight in the form of more passengers quickly compromises its already somewhat limited performance envelope.
Having put myself behind the wheel of quite a few small cars, I imagined that the front seat was probably doable, sort of. But looking into the back seat put that out of the question. It may not look that bad, but the scale is a lot smaller than what it may appear to be. Kids only need apply. I still have PTSD from having to ride in the back seat of my aunt’s Puch 500 when I was 15.
Since it was unlocked, I figured I’d at least try sitting in it. The suicide door, with its large cutout to the front, makes it somewhat easier than it would be otherwise. Still, it took a bit of re-arranging to fit, including ducking my head, which then did fit under the dome-shaped roof. The biggest problem were my legs.
Here’s an attempt with a selfie to show how my knees were right up against the dash, what there is of it, and practically brushing the steering wheel. And feet were also a problem: my size 13 shoes struggled to fit down into the very narrow tunnel where the tiniest three pedals ever used in a car reside very close to each other.
As I sat there taking it in, wondering if I could extricate myself again, and imagining actually driving it, Sports Car Shop owner Bob Marchionne walks up and says “hey Paul, you should take it for a spin”. Whoa! All the exotic cars I’ve sat in at his shop and shot over the years, but never has he offered to let me drive one. I wonder why now, with the 360? Hmmm. “Of course!”
The first step was to get it started. The 360 has a twin cylinder 356 cc two-stroke, rated at 25 hp, less than many riding mowers today. But given that the VW Beetle had only 40 hp until 1966, and weighed some 75% more, on paper, the 360 wasn’t quite as badly underpowered as it might initially seem.
This 360 was very reluctant to start. It cranked very quickly, but Bob had been told not to use the choke, and just kept pumping the pedal. On the third very long try (it must have a 12V battery), one of the cylinders started to fire, barely, and some white-blue smoke came out as the engine spun a bit faster. But when Bob cut the starter, it wouldn’t keep running.
But on the fourth attempt, it finally came to life, with a very dramatic plume of smoke. I wish I’d caught the startup on video, but was too engrossed (engulfed, actually). But here it is, warming up for my drive. I sure hope I don’t stall it in the 5:15 PM rush hour traffic I’m about to throw it and me into.
I got in, released the handbrake, and put it into first gear, which is down on the left, like a three-speed. And what the hell is “OT”. Presumably it’s fourth gear, but how did it come to be labeled “OT”? “Over the Top”? “Over Time”? “Oh shit Time”, for what it feels like to get this thing into top gear on an American freeway?
Bob suggested a brief little loop skirting in front of Skinner Butte. The Sports Car Shop is on the busiest thoroughfare in downtown Eugene, a four lane one-way street. I needed to cut across all four lanes instantly, and then turn right at the corner; a good challenge with which to start this drive. As the light changed down the block, I saw and took my chance. the question was whether I would need second gear to get across the four lanes.
I made the right turn, down Lincoln, and suddenly realized I needed to document this on video. But here I was alone, driving a very strange car, and no videographer aboard. Oh well…I’m a DIY kind of guy. So by the time I was in second gear half way down the block, I whipped out my iPhone and started shooting. Not so well, in this first short burst. I think I stayed in second the whole block; it’s either shoot or shift, with my right hand.
The challenge of manipulating the three minute pedals with my size 13s was probably the biggest one of this undertaking. Otherwise; well, I’ve driven a lot of odd vehicles in my time, and the Subaru was just…a lot smaller. It feels like one’s feet are right at the front of the car, but in this case it’s closer to the truth than an illusion. The steering is very quick, light and direct, as one might expect. The shift linkage is terrible though; very vague and with lots of friction. Maybe it’s not working quite like it should? Or maybe it’s just how it is. The tiny finned drum brakes were quite adequate for my limited purposes. Bob did suggest that I not take it up Skinner Butte, although I’m regretting that now.
As I turned right on Shelton McMurphy Boulevard, I decided I could try and do both somehow, as this was too fast of a street to stay in first, or second. So I pulled over right after the turn, turned on the camera, and took off. I’m not sure what’s going on in the first few seconds, but then I pull away and execute two shifts, while presumably passing the camera back and forth between my hands. Or something like that. Sadly, I was too distracted to get into “OT”, but I was running out of street.
I took this route because this stretch of road is pretty quiet, even at rush hour. That can’t be said of the rest of my little loop, and of course rush hour in Eugene is all relative, but the rest of my trip back was in bumper to bumper traffic. And I mean that quite literally, as in seeing bumpers of big pickups and SUVs at near face-level, and thinking about how the 360 is more like driving a riding mower through traffic than an actual car. But one with a cab, so to speak. My god; these cars are all so huge! And so menacing.
I definitely got a few stares as I wended my way down seventh Avenue. Was it the car, or the little plume of smoke it was trailing behind? Eugene is very eco-conscious…I didn’t want to raise anyone’s ire for my brief little shot at polluting the planet.
A few more impressions, and perhaps the most important one: the 360 is not as deadly slow as one might think, in town anyway. The little two-stroke mill pulls quite well through the gears, and keeping up with…the rush hour traffic was no problem. Seriously, it gets one there, up to about 35 or so, anyway. Did anyone ever go faster in Tokyo back in the day?
Well, the top speed is supposedly closer to 60 or so, depending on tune and such. This particularly well-tuned example almost hits 70 in this video. Yowza! Sorry to disappoint you all, but unfortunately that just wasn’t quite in the works for me, this time anyway. But I’d have been happy to try.
More Subaru 360 at CC:
CC Subaru 360 – It All Started With This Little Wart PN
COAL: Subaru 360 – Really! by Michael Ionno
Cool little car Paul, better than the Nuova 500? Ive driven a 1100 oval window beetle they were 25hp but a bigger car and that was incredibly slow, the Subaru in the white knuckle vid would leave it for dead.
I wouldn’t want one, but it looks like it would be fun to drive once.
From the sound out back, it seems to be surprisingly quiet inside.
Rear engine cars have an advantage; the engine noise is projected out behind you (Corvair owner here)
Paul: Being that I have the same height and shoe size as yourself, I’ve often found myself in the unenviable position of unintentionally having a foot on BOTH brake and gas at the same time! My left foot sometimes catches between the deal pedal and the clutch in my Fit! Big feet, small pedals in close proximity are not a good combo! LOL! 🙂
Great article. They’re still looked on fondly here in Japan. A friend who owns a restaurant restored one since it was his first car. At 6’6 – I’m a little taller than you and I couldn’t get my legs in a position where I could work the pedals.
How fun! It reminds me of a Model T in that it was a car perfect for its environment, but that environment has ceased to exist in most of the developed world.
The 2 cycle car continues to fascinate me because of its simplicity. But it’s easy to see why these failed to catch hold in 1960s America.
The 1st time I saw one of these was in the early 70s. Actually, I saw about 5 or 6 of them parked (?) on the edge of a small track….being used as substitute go-carts.
Maybe it’s my fuzzy memory, but I’ve never seen a 360 as nice as this one….or in white. All the 360s I remember seeing were an almost sickly pale yellow.
My shoes are size 15 so even though I’m also 6 foot 4 I’m guessing there would be no way to get 1 foot on only 1 pedal.
O T? Overwhelming terror?
Overdrive Top? Out of Town?
According to Road and Track‘s road test, Over Top. In some contexts I can imagine Overwhelming Terror.
The CC effect strikes again, delayed reaction version. I had to wait at a stop sign for a 360 to make a left turn Friday after work. Thought it was a FIAT at first glance then realized what I was seeing. Caught the youngish driver’s eye as he went by and gave him a thumbs up and a big grin. Ptetty nifty seeing – and hearing – one of these little contraptions in the wild.
Loved the review. Thank you. I’ve always wanted to own one of those, ever since I first saw them at the Erie, PA dealership . . . . . . which was obviously a former restaurant. The kitchen was still in place, and these cars were small enough that five of them fit in the dining room.
I could definitely see having fun using that to run around Ashland on holiday weekends, especially since on of the other residents of downtown owns a 2CV. Driving it into Richmond, on the other hand, may be a bit more than I’d want to do.
Then again, it probably wouldn’t bother me, as I already use a Yamaha Zuma 125 as my daily transportation.
This was great!
Many thanks to Bob for letting you take the Subaru for a spin.
Congratulations and welcome to a very exclusive club. As I’m only 5′ 10″ I didn’t have issues fitting in 40 years ago when I had mine.
As I recall I even fit in the back as the 360 has more legroom than a couple of coupes I’ve had.
I wonder if the exclusion from safety and environmental standards still applies. If so, those modern car share services could put something like a cvt 360 together for urban areas. Like the service that used Smart, the CAFE benefit would be quite high for the manufacturer. A modern version could easily match 66mpg with only 25 horsepower and could be speed governed to 55-60 to help safety, engine life and to keep it off highways.
It could be leased to the rental outfit and then sold overseas at lease end, to lessen liability.
Today we have true city cars that are not legal for highways posted above 35mph speeds, at least in California. With no doors nor any visible safety equipment, minimal motorized four wheel transportation. Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV) are the official designation. I do see a few in regular use around here.
Stick an electric motor in this thing and the battery would make it significantly heavier, but it would fly.
Cars like this exist in the first place because they need to. Economy is one thing, you can get respectable gas mileage in a larger car. In a country like Japan with tight spaces, though, size matters and the Kei class of cars continues on.
A standard Model T is much larger than a Subaru 360, because the wide open spaces render such a small car unnecessary.
One interesting thing, though, is how the Japanese still hold the car in high regard. Original Beetles, along with the micro-sized Isettas and Messerschmitts, have less appeal in Germany, because they are reminders of hard times immediately after the war.
There was a small (of course!) dealer who sold these for a time in Dellwood, MO in 1969. A buddy was able to lift the front end of one of these off the ground. We wondered what it would have been like to try to drive one!
Interestingly, all the cars that guy had on his lot were white w/red interior – identical to this one. I had no idea they came in different colors.
If one come from a mindset of driving a scooter, these things arent so bad. In fact, it could be argued its pretty good.
In many countries of the world, governments have supplied tiny motorcycle engined cars to people with disabilities, instead of having them drive scooter/mopeds.
Some look kind of modern and acceptable, others not so much. Enter the russian “Invalidka”:
Want to make sure no one gets too envious of all that car goodness it oozing. Car thiefs beware.
Way to impress a lady taking her to the opera.
This just in from our fellow comrades at Propa Ganda TV; yet another ecstatic comrade have taken ownership of his new Smc Invalidka, after only a 10 year waiting period, down from last years 12 year list.
In the Russian case, weren’t they provided mainly to the many wounded vets of their Great Patriotic War, WWII. As such, they are probably viewed more as a military medal than something dorky.
You would not believe it, but this box has a loooot of legroom in it (first-hand experience). Primarily because it does not have pedals, all controls are manual (literally – by hands).
It certainly looks invalid.
Wow, what a weird opportunity!
I must say you are right about the perceived scale. Everything looks pretty normal & VW beetle-ish until that shot of you behind the wheel.
I envy you Paul ;
I’da been off like a shot .
Using the choke to cold start is okay , you just need to close it right quick to avoid plug fouling once it’s running .
That’s what I would have done. But it wasn’t my car.
“Paul fit in a Su-BAR-u. Wow!”
I think you were right on one of your guesses about what OT means. I have a 1969 road test of the 360, and it noted that the car’s owners manual says that OT stands for “Over Top.” Subaru provided no explanation for what this is supposed to mean, but apparently, that’s what it stands for.
My guess is that “Over Top” is a Japanese translation into English meant to mean Overdrive.
My guess too
Today, awkward transliterations can at least be blamed on automatic translation software, but for a long time, every time I’d see one of those on some commercial product or marketing material, I pictured some junior copywriter who’d claimed on their resume to be fluent in English flipping through a dictionary and swearing…
Even in Germany today I’ve seen captions in major museums with clear mistakes in the English versions besides just awkward if correct phrasing. They definitely didn’t run them by a native English speaker, although the translator was no doubt considered a pro.
In the olden days things like imported motorcycles from Japan ( a friend had some rare brand) had famously hilariously written English manuals. We are lucky that for a number of reasons English has become the default foreign language in most places in the world, including Japan.
66 mpg beats a Prius !! I think I remember Consumer Reports rated this car unacceptable, probably due to safety and performance reasons. Would make a good city car though.
Thanks Paul, that was great. Although living in Oregon all my life, I have never seen one in person, but I did see a pair of freshly bored cylinders and a new set of pistons for one at the machine shop I deal with a couple of years ago.
Thanks for sharing your experience with this car.
The Dodge dealer in our small town also held a Subaru franchise in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Imagine one or two of these cars sharing a lot with Darts, Challengers, Chargers, Coronets, Polaras and Monacos. As a result, there were one or two these little cars buzzing around our town for a few years.
I’m jealous. That looks like a fun ride, and I can’t imagine any vehicle that takes the “Driving a slow car fast” concept any further than this one might.
My first thought seeing the pic of Paul in the driver’s seat was of just how mutilated one could become if involved in even a minor accident in that thing. I’m hardly a safety freak, and being just an inch or so shorter than Paul and having used an MG Midget as a daily driver for several years back in my youth, I have a fondness for tiny vehicles. All I’d be able to think about while driving that thing would be just how many pieces my legs would be broken into if I were ever to hit something.
I think I recognize the guy’s voice in the “white knuckle” video. He posts on youtube as 2stroketurbo and has several videos of his 360, as well as drives of a Honda 600 and Renault LeCar. He is also an Oregon resident.
Many moons ago, Motor Trend had an article about a gaggle of NASCAR drivers being invited to race in 360s. Seems the organizer of the race had spotted a storage lot full of 360s and bought several to populate his track. I remember Buddy Baker being one of the drivers. The article had a great pic of Baker gritting his teeth as he thrashed the 360.
Never realized these were actually smaller than a Fiat 500. Something about the curvaceous styling makes them look larger than that. Very cool that you got to drive it though!
I wonder if it ever came in a WRX model. (lol)
It sure did….twin carbs and 36 hp!……
Lol, that was hilarious, they even counted “First, second, third – Over Top!”
“Over Turnpike”? A high speed expressway, often with tool booths.
Dad used to drive his ’66 Beetle with size 13 triple E width. I know Paul used to drive a Beetle, so the Subaru must be tighter in the pedal area. Maybe more room in the shoeless socking feet mode?
I always wanted to take on these little eggs for a spin. Paul is one lucky guy. I wonder if they really do get 66 MPG? Great write, the last thing I would have expected on CC is a Subaru 360 driving impression, complete with video. Well done!
In reality they got somewhere in the upper 30 mpg range. Damn good for 1969, but not exactly the 66 Mal Bricklin’s ads were promising.
Absolutely fantastic. There’s only one phrase that can sum it up: “Su-ba-ru. Wow!” (c:
The smallest car I’ve ever driven/ridden in was a Honda 600, back in the early seventies. The Honda was definitely a small car, especially compared to the typical American vehicle of that era, but it would be downright broughamtastic compared to the Subaru. Several people commented that the Subie would make a good city car; where I live a good percentage of the vehicles on the road are either full-size pickups or SUV’s. Someone in a Suburban or an F150 could run right over the Subaru and not even notice it.
This car looks HIDEOUS in my opinion.it’s gor to be the UGLIEST car ever built? I figure an old FIAT 500 & one of the original Volkswagen Beetle had a forbidden love child,and this was the result. There may have even been a little Soviet built Trabant in there somewhere?
I read once many years ago that asians see cute and charming where westerners see ugly and hideous. Perhaps its because asian eyes are different, which they are, as they need different shaped contact lenses, or perhaps uis because they see facial features thats recognisable to them, in a vehicles front end, which might be alienating to westerners (and others), and vice versa.
Never found any confirming evidence or article of this nature, but an interesting theory nontheless.
Could perhaps explain why so many asian cars have hideous taillight arrangement. Try envison an asian face overlayed, and it suddenly looks mych mire harmonious.
Wondering where I had seen a speedometer like that before and it dawned on me. The bicycles from my youth! In the picture below, you’ll see the Subaru 360 speedo on the top, juxtaposed with the two “Schwinn Approved” speedos on the bottom. The one the left is like the one from my ’77 Varsity, and the one on the right is like the one I had on my ’71 Sting-Ray.
Those Schwinn ones remind me of older, round-headlight Honda Cub speedos – at first glance I thought that’s what they were.
Partial CC (comment) effect … walking home tonight I saw a blue Schwinn Varsity just like the one I bought with my paper route money in 1969, except without that chrome Schwinn speedometer that mine had.
Uh, toll booths, that is.
This is smaller than the Fiat 500, but the SMART Fortwo and Toyota iQ are smaller still, but only 2 seats or 2+1 in the Toyota.
Still, at 65% of the length of the car, getting Paul was going to be tight! This is 3 inches shorter than Mini with a wheelbase nearly 10 inches shorter
I was shocked at how short the wheelbase is.
Great article and this 360 was at the Portland Swap Meet earlier this month. Wonder if this 360 was driven from Portland to Eugene or trucked down?
Here is the other 360. A bit more worn looking so I am not surprised the other one sold more quickly.
All I have to add is that I went to Hebrew School with Mr. Bricklin’s daughter. Later, she went to Girls High. Every now and then you’d see him pick her up in a yellow Bricklin.
Man… this car makes the Zaporozhets-965 my friend has just bought look like a limousine !.. And I only fit in it with my knees blocking my ears (almost literally, in a very awkward Z-shape). (No engine in it, hence the extreme camber on rear wheels)
Oh and by the way… that’s me… the bearded guy on the background. (and NO, that’s not my hand touching the steering wheel…)
Please keep us informed on this one Stanislav.
Could take the front seat out, and a tall person could drive it from the rear seat. Just add a telescopic steering wheel and shifter and pedal extensions . The head room doesn’t look too good in the back though, so maybe it could be turned into a convertible . I wonder about that tiny trunk up in front ? Think you could actually get a suitcase in there ?
I new a guy who did just that with his Zappo. He was some 2 m 4 cm tall and could easily drive it from the backseat.
Paul takes one for the team! I think I’d rather be riding a bicycle at 70 mph… I saw 2 of these in Tokyo 2 years ago, one perfect one at the Edo Tokyo museum and one at a restaurant with a couple other Japanese classics. Cool stuff. I’d love to try driving one of these. Subaru has come a loooooong way!
More JDM commercial goodness……
Fun review Paul! I’ve seen a few of these around over the years – and in the CC effect spotted one 3 weeks ago all painted up like a police car… (“Stop!…I said ‘Stop’…Don’t make me chase you!!!…No seriously, please don’t make me chase you…”). Will try to grab photos of it this weekend. In the meantime, what’s the craziest thing anyone could do to a 360? Easy, turn it into a 360Z…:
As a good friend of mine reminds me whenever he sees my Outback:
“The little Su-bar-u, wow!”
I’m assuming that getting into this thing took about as much effort as it did for Wilt Chamberlin to get in a VW Beetle…
Back when I daily-drove an MG Magnette, I bought my parts at B&K imports on Hennepin in Minneapolis. They had a row of 360’s in front marked at $999. A few years later neighbors up the road kept one in their big rural backyard for the kids to drive around. Steve
This thing is so small yet so cute, way cuter than any VW bug IMO. The 4th pic from the top featuring the typical Japanese ’60s family getting into this car is so nice – such elegance with the man in his tailored suit, his wife looking perfect in her poufy dress with heels, gloves and a matching white purse slung over her wrist, and the little boy in his shorts, vest and shirt outside their gorgeous new home. The inside shots of this car show a lot of attention to detail as well – notice those split front seats how the backs have a nice curve to cradle your back, and even the back seat though very small still looks inviting.
It may not be a hot rod but this car strikes me as something special from an era long lost.
“Over Time”? “Oh shit Time” Ok, that’s funny.
Thanks for taking one for the team, Paul. I only wear a size 12, but with Crocs (my standard off-duty footwear) my feet are clumsy even in the Saab. Must be for dainty ladyfeet.
Growing up a family friend of ours had one of these for 2 years – I rode in it when I was 6 or 7; at first I thought I recalled it was the tiny BMW but after looking at these pics it was a Subaru 360. How their family of 4 grain-fed Americans fit in there is beyond me.
One of the best CC test drives in a while. I wonder if anyone ever really liked this car? Or if it just seemed like a good idea because it was cheap, and the owner typically grew weary.
It would be too much of a struggle for my size 13 feet and occasional sense of automotive claustrophobia to do more than give this car a test drive for the novelty.
Having only seen these in black and white pictures, I figured they must be about the size / height of a Bug. Didn’t realize just how small they really were until looking at the pic of you standing next to it. Very interesting to see them closer up (inside, motor layout, etc). Not for the claustrophobic, presumably.
First time I saw one of these in person was next to a Fiat 500 (Nuova) in the Mega Web Classic museum in Odaiba, Tokyo. Wasn’t too far away from a Mazda Carol and Citroen 2CV. Point being, it didn’t really seem to be much smaller or less sophisticated than any other ‘people’s car’ of the early 1960s. Even though some of those European rivals had been on the road years earlier, they were still contemporaries.
These were pretty rare to see even in California. But when I was 12 in 1969, my mom took me to my first car race, an SCCA Regional club racing event at the then-new Sears Point Raceway (now Sonoma Raceway). One of the cars competing in the D Sedan class, with Minis and a Hillman Imp, was a Subaru 360. It was VERY slow. I may still have a picture … I’ll see if I can find it and scan it. By the way, I wonder if the 360 (perhaps subconsciously) influenced the Nissan Leaf’s designers.
I recall some hilarious articles on this car, including the “not acceptable” Consumer Reports rating. They weren’t able to get theirs up to 60, and stated they couldn’t imagine any used car that could be worse than a new Subaru 360!
Many years later, a writer in Autoweek called it “a car designed to get you up to 50 mph, and pitch you into oncoming traffic!”
Happy Motoring, Mark
CC Effect: I saw one of these in the Subie dealer last week and shot these pix. The sales guy told me it was a 1967. Thanks for the in motion videos.
A buddy of mine just picked up a running and driving 360 van. Cute lil bugger but not one for interstate vacations. The OT makes sense when one remembers that direct or high gear was referred to as Top Gear in England. Overdrive would then be Over Top. I do like the other meanings you guys came up with. I think a custom shift knob with OS would be appropriate. Or maybe MS for more smoke. At least it has auto oil injection and not dependent on premix. I’d rather drive a DKW.
DKW! I knew these reminded me of something.
This is an early one from probably 1950, before the more familiar (well, if you know what a DKW is) oval grille models.
Thanks for the test drive Paul. When I was stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in 1970 I would occasionally see one in one of the parking lots on the base. That was the only one I ever saw stateside. When I was stationed in Taiwan in 1973, they were all over the place.
Ive seen one close up since this article first appeared and yes they are tiny like a kids toy car I’d not attempt driving one and I have some problems driving my Superminx in work boots a 360 Subaru would be impossible I reckon.
Thanks for the review and road test, that was great! Is the tachometer stock? It sort of looks like it was added.
How was the ride quality?
BTW – thanks for this website and posts. I receive them daily now and are great to read.
Ride? And a few blocks of smooth streets? Ok. One certainly feels whatever is happening between the tires and the road.
I was immediately reminded of the Wheeler Dealer episode where 6’7″ Edd China actually fits inside an Isetta and can drive it, unlike the earlier Triumph Spitfire episode where they had to drive with the top down because the top of the windshield was level with Edd’s chin.
There’s a few of these in the Portland area since I stumbled on a micro car club run around Forest Grove circa 2013 which included at least one 360, a a Goggomobil, an Isetta a Subaru Sambar and a Citroen 2CV chase car.
Ha! Never saw this when it was first published… We had those in Israel back in the day – people drove them everywhere but, well, it was back in the day. Subaru in Israel continued importing Kei-cars all the way through to the end of the Vivio production in 1998 but, other than in Japan, in 2022 no one wants a Kei car – not even in Israel which is one of the few countries where such cars make perfect sense.
In 1969 there was a guy in the office who was 6’8” and drove a VW Beetle. That is about 5 inches less than Wilt Chamberlain, but as I remember Brian did not have that much trouble getting into it. As far as I know he did not have any modifications to help him fit.
“Seriously, it gets one there, up to about 35 or so, anyway. Did anyone ever go faster in Tokyo back in the day?”
I don’t think anyone in Tokyo drives faster than this today. Urban streets are limited to 40 km/h. The urban expressways are 60 km/h.
Exactly. As a rule speeds in Japan – even on their equivalent of interstate highways – are low. A modern Kei-car with its 660cc engine would not feel inadequate anywhere. In the 1960s or the 1970s roads were even worse and one rarely got over 50 MPH. The same was true for Israel.
During college In the early seventies I had a summer/part time job at a foreign car importing operation at the Dundalk Marine Terminal in Baltimore. In 1970 maybe 900 or so Subaru 360’s arrived, which we stored in a remote part of the terminal. Most imports we handled (mostly VW’s) were at the terminal for maybe a week, before being shipped out (mostly by rail) all over the eastern U.S. The 360’s stayed there for over a year. Sales had collapsed after a scathing Consumer Reports review. Then one day we loaded them onto a ship to South America. I recall what a pain this was, as few of them ran and we had to tow them ship side. These were crude beyond belief and IIRC oil had to be mixed with the gas.
As a long time Citroen 2CV owner I would think the power would be sufficient for the city but a bit scary on a highway. My car has the big 602cc engine with 29 hp and it is fine in town, and OK on highways with a limit of 80 kph/50mph. You can drive on higher speed limit roads, but is is not relaxing. A friend has a 435cc 18 hp version and it is noticeable slower. It is fine in the city but not great outside.
About the shift pattern… it is the same as the 2CV. Most driving uses 2 and 3, so it is an easy shift. The early cars labeled the top gear as “S” for surmultiplié which is overdrive In French.
There’s a wonderful book called “Engrish” – it details the Japanese mangling of English in older shop manuals .
I remember a 1960’s Yamaha that had a chapter “If light has got dim” and explained what to look for or fix .
One of the buff books did a mini-feature a few decades ago, all about mangled English in vehicle owner manuals. Probably the best one was from the manual for one or another Japanese car, advising to adjust the radio tuner if it makes noise like “shatz, shatz” and “julu, julu” or the voice of the female announcer becomes husky.
For some reason, that really made me laugh! Oh dear. Very childish.
Did this article also include the legendary “tootle him with vigor” from a Honda motorcycle manual?
Interesting thought for a QOTD as to the smallest car you’ve ever driven. I’ve driven an AH Sprite briefly, but that apart, mine would be my first car, a ’73 Civic – which compared to this Subie or a Nuova 500, is a stretch limo.
Way back when I $old Oldsmobiles the dealer took these on. Truly a tiny PO$ on 4 tiny wheels!
I actually sold one of these to a family of 4; still have pangs of guilt over doing that to somebody! My dominant memory of these things is pushing them in and out of the service Dept. to display them in front of the dealership! The battery would rapidly run down if they were driven in and out each day.
I made the mistake of driving on from the dealership (@ a mile south of the 10 on Crenshaw Blvd) via mostly freeway out to Whittier, CA, and back. Can you say TERRIFYING? Even before-long before-the advent of HUGE suvz “driving” thru a big chunk of metro LA in a Subaru 360 was not the thing to do. I had to pull over twice to let it cool down as it “said” it was in danger of overheating while driving at 60-65 mph.
Definitely NOT a “vehicle” designed for use in America….my John Deere lawn tractor would be better!! :(:(:( DFO
“I would soon have a chance to find out myself what a Subaru 360 is (in)capable of.”
Paul, you made me laugh out loud–appropriate, for this great story. Thanks !
Does your phone have SteadiCam ? Great job shooting while shifting, steering, pedaling and narrating the action, all at once ! And, it’s good to see and hear our host, at last . . .
This Subaru has to be smaller than the Fiat 500 I just saw on the Cohort.
I have seen a Subaru 360 in the metal, it was sitting at a Subaru new car dealer in the showroom one time I dropped off my son there to pick up his car from maintenance. I asked a few people in the showroom about it, what year it was, etc., and they all looked at me with that look – “Who cares?” Unfortunate, but an interesting car for sure for one with an appreciative eye.