Vintage R&T Road Test: 1969 Subaru 360 – “Great Fun, But Only For Very Brief Spans Of Time And Distances”

I might have been a bit surprised to read that R&T had a lot of fun with the Subaru 360, but then I did too. In both cases, the big qualifier is that the fun was good for short stretches of urban roads, where the 360 could be driven flat out (needed to be, actually), which is fun. Kind of like taking an enclosed go-cart out on the streets. Well, the other qualifier is that hopefully the traffic wasn’t dense, as swimming with big cars makes the 360 feel more than a bit vulnerable. And the cars (and trucks) have all gotten a lot bigger since 1969.

R&T starts out by saying that a lot of problems could be solved if all cars were the size of the 360, as in limiting the environmental impact (smog), space demands, and even safety, as its low top speed (56 mph) means “it has got to be safer”. Really? Given that the 360’s two stroke engine had zero emission controls—it fell under the EPA’s 50 cubic inch minimum–and it didn’t have to meet many of the federal safety regulations because it weighed under 1000 lbs (980 lbs), those assumptions look a bit iffy, unless they were made in jest—quite likely.

Performance? What’s that? it couldn’t make it to 60, so the 0-60 time is…infinity. The 1/4 mile came in 27.4 seconds @46 mph, which has to be some sort of record for cars sold on the US market in the 1960s. Maybe even the ’50s. And fuel economy was a very disappointing 28 mpg, the result of needing to drive it flat out all the time. So much for the ads that promised up to 66 mpg! Malcom Bricklin strikes again. Actually, this was only his first automotive “strike”, having run his father’s building supply business into the ground amid a string of lawsuits previously. But in America, business failure is good! It makes you look bold and daring.

Yes, there are very few cars that can be driven flat out all the time these days, back in 1969 and today. Maybe that’s a good thing, although I am a lover of relatively underpowered cars. I love caning my xB every time I turn into a highway or such. But even then, I have to back off before too long. But back in the day, I did drive my old 40 hp VWs flat out for hours on end.

The room for two in the front was deemed adequate (I didn’t quite think so, but then I’m taller than average). But in order to seat two in the back, the front seats have to be pushed forward. There’s no luggage space in the “frunk”. But the amusement value was high, as long as the drivers at R&T kept it close to home. Maybe just in the parking lot?

R&T recommended giving serious pause to actually buying one, as the fun wears off rather quickly (5 miles? 6?).

My drive in one was a bit under that, so I never hit the wall, metaphorically speaking. Just as well; I’d like to remember the fun I had in it.

CC Driving Review (With Video): Subaru 360 – Can I Even Fit In It?