Subaru 360 is a rear-engined, two-door city car manufactured and
marketed from 1958 to 1971 by Subaru. As the company's first
automobile, production reached 392,000 over its 12-year model run.
Noted for its small overall size, 1,000 lb curb weight, monocoque
construction, swing axle rear suspension, fiberglass roof panel, and
rear-hinged doors, the inexpensive car was designed in response to the
Japanese government's light car or
Kei car regulations and its
proposal for a larger "national car," both intended to help motorize
the post WWII Japanese population. The 360's overall size and engine
capacity complied with Japan's
Kei car regulations.
Nicknamed the "ladybug" in Japan, and ultimately superseded by R-2,
the 360 was one of Japan's most popular cars and was available in a
single generation in two-door, station wagon, "convertible" (coupe
with roll-back fabric roof) and sport model variants.10,000 were sold
in the United States, imported by
Malcolm Bricklin — advertised as
"Cheap and Ugly."
The nameplate 360 derived from its tax-limited engine displacement:
8 External links
EK31 engine of
The 360 featured an air-cooled, 2-stroke inline 2-cylinder 356 cc
engine mounted transversely at the rear, and was introduced March 3,
As with the two-stroke Saab 93s and other small two-stroke gas
engines, oil was needed to be pre-mixed with gas, with the fuel tank
lid serving as a measuring cup. In 1964, the "Subarumatic" lubrication
system provided automatic mixing via an under-hood reservoir.
Floor-mounted controls located between the driver and passenger seat
included choke, heater and fuel cut-off — the latter to accommodate
gravity fed fuel which obviated the need for a fuel pump. The
initial production featured a full metal dash board and three-speed
manual gearbox, while subsequent models featured a partially padded
dash with an open glove compartment, pop-out rear quarter windows,
split front bench seat, map pockets, a four-speed manual and optional
three-speed-based 'Autoclutch' transmission — the latter which
eliminated the clutch pedal and operated the clutch via an
Final assembly included wheel alignment, brake testing, chassis
dynometer, headlight testing, and high-pressure water spray
In contrast to the Volkswagen Beetle, the 360 is much smaller, less
powerful, and was not nearly as well accepted in the world
marketplace. The body was of monocoque construction and used a
lightweight fiberglass roof panel. In the post war period, more
automobiles would switch to unibody construction, which is now the
norm for passenger cars and even many light trucks. Many of the ideas
came from engineers from the former Nakajima Aircraft Company, which
became Fuji Heavy Industries. The "suicide doors" are hinged at the
Consumer Reports remarked could and did result in a
partially locked door pulling open in the wind during testing.
Equipped with a 3-speed manual transmission, the 360 had a top speed
of 60 mph (96.6 km/h), and with a curb weight under 1000
pounds, the 360 was exempt from compliance with US safety regulations.
Consumer Reports recorded a 0-60 time of about 37 seconds and reported
25–35 mpg‑US (9.4–6.7 L/100 km;
30–42 mpg‑imp), despite Subaru's claimed 66 mpg‑US
(3.6 L/100 km; 79 mpg‑imp). When introduced in 1958,
the 360's engine produced 16 hp (12 kW). By the end of
production, power had increased to 25 hp (19 kW) with a
36 hp (27 kW) twin-carbureted engine optionally available,
achieving 100 hp per liter. The performance and size limitations were
largely the result of it having been engineered and designed for
Japanese driving conditions, as the speed limits in Japan are
realistically set at 40 km/h (24.9 mph) in urban areas, with
average driving distances at 5–8 mi (8.0–12.9 km) per
Subaru 360 Custom
Subaru 360 Convertible
Subaru Young SS
Several variants were produced, including a station wagon (called the
Custom), a convertible, and two sport models known as 1) the Subaru
Young S, which had a slightly upgraded (EK32 "F") engine and
transmission (4 gears instead of 3), bucket seats and a tachometer
along with a black, white striped roof with a dent along the middle to
put one's surfboard, and 2) the
Subaru Young SS, which had all the
Young S enhancements, but also the EK32 "S" engine with chromed
cylinders and dual BS32 Mikuni
Solex carburetors, producing 36 hp
(27 kW) - and 100 brake horsepower per litre.
From 1961 onwards, a flat-nosed truck and van called the Sambar were
also produced using the 360's engine, with arrangements similar to the
Volkswagen Transporter in a smaller size. Many small businesses became
very successful thanks to the pickup's small size for tight streets,
quickness, ease to drive and great fuel economy. In Japan between 1960
and 1966, an export version, known as the
Subaru 450, increased the
engine's displacement to 423 cc using the
Subaru EK51 series
engine. This model was also given the name
Subaru Maia. The Maia
variant was the sole sedan model imported into Australia (approx. 35)
in 1961 - along with approx. 38 Sambar vans and trucks.
A used car dealer in Ballarat, Victoria (Frank O'Brien) brought
Subaru 360 vehicles into Australia in 1961. This was
a mix of Maia sedans and Sambar vans and trucks. Unfortunately they
suffered from overheating problems and although a solution was
eventually found, it came too late, as the associated losses were too
great for the dealership to cope with and further importations ceased.
From 1968, approximately 10,000 were exported to the US, with an
original price of $1,297. The 360 was imported to the United States by
Malcolm Bricklin before he later manufactured his own cars. The Subaru
360 received notoriety in 1969, when
Consumer Reports magazine branded
the automobile "Not Acceptable" because of safety concerns and lack of
power. Because the car weighed under 1000 pounds, it was exempt from
normal safety standards, but it was reported that it fared badly in a
test crash against a large American car with the bumper ending up in
the passenger compartment of the Subaru.
Sales soon collapsed, and there were various rumors of
being tossed overboard or being shredded to pieces. It was also
reported that many 360s sat on dealers' lots for two or three years
without ever being purchased.
Subaru 360 was replaced by the less popular but more advanced R-2
which was quickly superseded by the long-lived
Subaru Rex model.
In the 2000s, the 360 remains a popular subject for collectors, and
model cars among other mini-cars such as the Fiat 500, 2CV and Morris
Mini. Although it was primarily popular in Japan, it was not entirely
forgotten even in markets such as the US. It was one of the smallest
cars to attract a significant following from the 1960s to early 1970s,
though it was never significant in North America, and also appears in
Japanese anime series such as
Pokémon and GetBackers, as well as
racing video games such as Gran Turismo and Auto Modellista. In 2013,
the Orient Watch Company introduced a limited edition
Subaru 360 55th
year anniversary watch .
For many years,
Subaru searched for ways to capture the car's heritage
in a new model. A string of city car concepts in the 1990s were tied
to the 360 in various ways. The
Subaru Jusmin from the 1991 Tokyo
Motor Show was painted in a yellowish color reminiscent of the 360.
Later concept cars such as the 1997 Elten and 1999 Elten Custom
proposed a modern remake of the 360. However, it was not until the
Subaru R1's release in January 2005, that a production Subaru
blatantly cited influence from the 360. The R1 concept, known as the
R1e, wore a 360 Young S-like yellow paint scheme along with a small
^ New Subaru, The Autocar, 4 November 1960, page 821
Subaru Corporation. Retrieved 10
^ "What Would You Do With Eight Tiny Subarus?". The New York Times,
Bejamin Preston, January 29, 2014.
Subaru Corporation. Retrieved 10
^ a b c "The tale of how
Subaru came to America with the 360, and how
it all nearly ended". Hemmings, February 2006.
^ "Review: 1968
Subaru 360, Owned By Lexus LFA Engineer". The Bertel
Schmitt, June 7, 2012.
^ "How the
Subaru 360 Was Manufactured".
^ Lane Motor Museum
Subaru 360[dead link]
^ Joe. "
Subaru History". Cars101.com. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
^ a b Personal interview with Frank O'Brien (Ian Newman), Ballarat
^ "Subaru: The Innovator Down Under" (Davis, Pedr) Pub: Marque 1991,
Consumer Reports April 1969" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-05-24.
Subaru Kei Jidosha
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