Subaru has not only survived the forces that have sent some of the smaller Japanese makers into retreat, but even prospered. And this is the car that started it all for Subaru in the US, thanks to Malcolm Bricklin, a serial entrepreneur/huckster who got the rights to import this tiny kei car in 1968 and managed to sell 10,000 of them to unsuspecting Americans for $1297. That was several hundred bucks cheaper than a VW, and the Subaru’s mini-bug looks might have fooled buyers into thinking they were getting a cut-rate Beetle, but there was a world of difference between the two.
For one, the Subaru 360 was already pretty long on tooth by the time Bricklin sent it stateside in 1968 or so. It first appeared in Japan back in 1958, only a few years after the kei car class was was upped to a maximum of 360cc (it had been 150cc). The Subaru 360 and the Suzuki Suzilight were two of the original exponents of the class, given that Toyota and Nissan were pushed into the larger sizes by the all-powerful Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI).
It’s hard to put the 360’s size in perspective except when it’s next to a modern car, or being driven by a sumo wrestler. I’d like to see the other three get in too, and watch it take off.
Here’s a few stats that might help too: wheelbase: 70.9″ (1801mm); length: 117.7″ (2990mm), width: 51″ (1300mm); weight: 900lbs (410 kg).
I remember these buzz-bombs still running around and polluting LA’s smoggy skies after I arrived there in 1976. I wish I could remember when I saw the last one being driven though. I’ve long given up finding one curbside, so am forced to revert to the junkyard, in this case behind Gary’s Subaru garage, Eugene’s long-time Subaru specialist.
Bricklin got his start in business in 1965 when he began importing the Fuji Rabbit, a scooter made by Fuji Industries, which also made the 360. Seeing the Japanese car boom taking off in California, he soon made a deal to be the exclusive importer and distributor of Subaru cars. Subaru of America was soon drumming up other new dealers.
There’s lots of detail in this ad, with one notable exception: performance, or the lack of it. The 360 took almost a full minute (54 seconds) to huff and puff from zero to sixty. It was one of the reasons that Consumer’s Reports gave it an Unacceptable rating.
But this one undoubtedly was much faster, thanks to its aftermarket big-bore dual exhaust. Or at least sounded that way. Those pipes are probably as big in diameter as the 360’s cylinders.
Looks like the exhaust was the extent of any attempts to up the power of this little two-stroke twin, rated at 20 or 25 hp, depending on the source. There was a 36 hp twin-carb version, but I’m not sure those made it to the US.
Here’s a closer look down that cooling duct, where the two finned cylinders are hiding. Looks just like a Yamaha or Suzuki twin of the era.
Here’s a view into its spartan interior. Bricklin miscalculated with the 360; Americans could embrace the VW Beetle, but not really anything much smaller. The Beetle was America’s Kei car; thank you. The result was that Subaru 360 sales languished, and some were seen on dealer lots for several years before they finally found owners. Bricklin’s venture looked like it would go the way of so many others of his: The Bricklin car, Yugo, Bertone, the EV Warrior, and his most recent, Visionary Vehicles. Quite the track record. But he probably managed to make some money for himself on most of them, somehow.
What bailed Bricklin out was Subaru’s highly advanced new car, the FWD Subaru 1000, that laid the foundation of all modern Subarus with its boxer four ahead of the front axle line. Thanks to the 1000, the subsequent FF Star, and most of all the Leone series of cars and four-wheel drive versions (CC here), Subaru of America prospered. In 1984, Fuji finally bought Bricklin and his partner out, for some very serious money. And he’s been trying to replay that success ever since.
Sam Perkinson did find this cute yellow 360 and posted it at the Cohort. It appears to be at a car show. Needless to say, the 360 has a cultivated quite a cult following, and I suspect the junkyard 360 I’ve showed here is quite likely in someone’s shop getting restored. It deserves it. Even if Americans didn’t embrace kei cars then, it’s never too late.
Note to those that find their way here via a Google search: This car is no longer there, so please no e-mail inquiries to me about buying it.
Being old enough to remember U.S. urban traffic exhaust before pollution control devices, I realize how much worse it would have been with lots of 2-stroke engines in the mix; I suppose Japanese cities were very bad places to breathe, if this car is representative of kei cars of the ’60s.
Big Japanese cities had some serious smog problems as well, and the Japanese got serious about emissions controls just a few years after the U.S. did. (The major cities would have liked it to be sooner and threatened to implement their own standards.)
In 1991 I lost my mind and went on a three week tour of Indonesia with some friends. After a 27 hour flight (with fuel stops) I was in Jakarta. When I looked out the window of the hotel in the morning I
looked down at the city. We were on one of the top floors and there was a thick white fog below covering the city. Turned out the main mode of powered transportation is a small 2 stroke powered 3 wheeler called a tuk tuk. We were driven around in a Mitsubishi mini van that was equipped with A/C and a bottle of oxygen if needed. Everybody wore paper face masks. We were told that the smog would disperse later in the day. It didn’t.
is there any Fiat 500 in this, formally or informally?
Certainly not formally. The Subaru is smaller yet, and different in many ways. The Fiat 500 arrived in 1957 and the 360 in 1958, so there wasn’t time to copy it anyway.
My guess is that the 360’s styling was a tribute to the VW, which was by then very much a global phenomena.
The was a “dealer” – I use the term loosely – in Dellwood, MO, near where I lived that tried selling these. One evening, a couple buddies and I stopped by to take a look. One of the guys went to the front of the “car” and actually lifted the wheels off the ground! We all shook our heads in disbelief. These weren’t cars, but four-wheeled motorcycles.
Later, when in the air force, and on Okinawa for a few months in fall, 1970, I saw a whole ‘nother world of kei cars, many like the Subaru, most notably a three-wheeler Mazda – I think they were Mazdas, which I have not been able to find any photos of anywhere. They used motorcycle engines, too.
Funny thing about the yellow 360 – I have never seen these in any other color except white.
One final note: I guess that’s the car the Ford Maverick stole its lower-dash package shelf from!
Every 360 in stock at the Erie, PA dealership was white.
Yellow was available on the sporty “Young” model.
The only ONE I actually saw running was a seventh grade acquaintance whose parents had one . . . it was the “Young” model with the sport steering wheel and a black vinyl top! This would be around 1970 or so . . .
4 wheeled scooter….motorcycles could perform at least.
When these cars were designed, the fastest passenger cars built in Japan was Nissan’s license-built version of the Austin A50, which was capable of a heady 81 mph. I don’t think there were any roads with speed limits above about 40 mph, there were fewer cars registered in all of Japan than in, say, Milwaukee, and the streets were dominated by little three-wheeler trucks. The first Mazda car, built a couple of years later, wasn’t all that terribly different from this. But 10 years later, the game had really changed even in the Japanese domestic market.
I saw a couple of 3-wheel Mazda trucks last week that a guy had bought in Japan, must post to the Cohort
I shot that picture at the Hershey car show in October- I’d never seen one before in the flesh.
I almost bought one of these years ago. The early arrival of my first son scuttled that plan however. Probably for the best.
I do remember that a chunk of the old unsold inventory was sold as driver’s ed cars with the roof and side doors taken off. A further number were dumped in the Pacific Ocean!
Do you know of any existing documentation on the ones with the roofs cut off? I’m looking to verify that story and also looking to verify the dumping and the number dumped. I belong to the Subaru 360 Drivers club and Own 2 driveable, one 90% driveable and 4 parts cars. They are under powered but are a hoot to cruise around in. Any articles or leads you may be able to provide would be appreciated.
What should someone expect to pay for a junker? Are parts available? Motor parts? Glass?
Been a while since I posted this. Yes parts are available through our club of owners. Most parts come as parts cars though. I have personally reproduced pistons (Wiseco) made them and they have been successful. I’ve also had Metro rubber reproduce windshield gaskets. I have one for sale currently that needs brake work and body repair. You can reach me at email@example.com
I see on parked in front of a large Motorcycle parts salvage yard about 20 miles from my home. It needs Resto. but looks complete from the road as I drive bye.
I remember a guy who cut the tips off the exhaust of his 500 Titan expecting that the more freely flowing exhaust would increase performance. He was disappointed as anyone familiar with expansion chambers would have guessed. Can’t see the high performance exhaust on this mighty subaru but can make some guesses.
Possibly a member of the fart can japanese hot rodders assn.
A silly idea at any time. My friend talks about how putting a Flatulence Projector on his 90s Civic actually decreased his power.
The sound of 2 strokes has almost disappeared from UK streets.The last time I heard one it was an aircooled Yamaha twin with a yellow and black Kenny Roberts paint job in the summer.
And there’s still nothing in the world like an Elsie. I’ve found a couple over on this side (sold as RZ350’s), but the owners absolutely refuse to consider selling.
Once Britain’s most stolen bike.The Police once raided a race track and found every LC 350 to have been stolen
Japan does a better Fiat 500 is how I see this car it really cant have been slower than one of those or more crudely put together surely.
The Subaru 360, Being the car nut crazy kid I was, I’d ride my bike up and down both sides of Francisco Boulevard East and West (dissected by U.S. 101) in San Rafael, Calif. Sometime in 1969, I remember about a dozen Subaru 360s sitting brand new in what was then Marin-Bay Lincoln-Mercury at their new dealership on Francisco. Fast forward two years later to 1971; five of them were still there on the lot with those big pressed cardboard signs in the window listing them for $595 !! The paint on the remaining 360s were well oxidized with surface rust bubbles on the chrome bumpers (these cars sat outside next to the San Rafael Canal all that time). These made Trabants look somewhat civilized . . . .
These also made Trabants look fast. The Trabi’s 0-60 is merely a slug-like 30.3 seconds, not a glacial 54 seconds.
Speaking of which…
Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, C/D privately imported a Trabant to perform a Road Test on it — which had to be done on a racetrack because the Feds wouldn’t permit even one Trabant to drive on real US roads, due to safety factors like the vehicle’s inability to get up freeway on-ramps in a timely manner. (Having its gas tank located under the hood beside the motor probably didn’t impress the authorities either.) And yet, looking up the Trabi’s acceleration time just now, I found a site that — at least until 2007 — was importing reconditioned examples from former East Germany. Evidently these folks had found some way to bring the formerly-banned commie clown-car to these shores, but for whatever reason no longer do so:
“SHOC Auto is no longer in the business of selling Trabants or Trabant parts but will continue to offer Trabant information through this site.”
The might have been using the 25yrs and over loophole.
When C/D did that test, much closer to the fall of the Berlin Wall as you mentioned, the Trabi they had was less than 25 years old and so did not qualify for importation unless it was full DOT/EPA compliant. Today, all but the last year or two of production can come in pretty much unregulated under the 25 year rule, and can be tagged anywhere, well at least anywhere there isn’t an emission test.
Sure would be great to see a CC of the Trabant, the crown jewel of the worker’s paradise. Imagine a comparison test of a Trabant, Subaru 360, and Renault Dauphine.
Subaru New Zealand aren’t ashamed of the 360 though. Check out it passing the (!) new XV Impreza (and the way Subaru is pronounced in Enzud).
Some guy in Portland apparently has a working one.
When I was in college (late 70’s), there was a guy who had a 360 and had fun driving it on paths that weren’t supposed to be accessible to vehicles. There were bollards where the paths intersected a road running through campus. No obstacle for the 360, which slipped right between them.
Sounds like something from Animal House. I can imagine Bluto and D-day some how getting a 360 into Dean Wormers office.