Rare Rides: A 1970 Subaru 360, America's First Subaru Experience

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides a 1970 subaru 360 americas first subaru experience

Subaru is presently in the midst of a sales boom. As Tim Cain pointed out last week in his Subaru Question of the Day, the company has found fairly recent success selling what are essentially three different variations of the exact same all-wheel drive crossover formula. Customers just go into the dealer and say whether they’d like the extra small, small, or medium-sized version. But long before today’s crossovers, and even the quirky Leone and XT which preceded them, there was Subaru’s genesis.

And the little white Kei car you see before you is the very genesis of which we speak.

It all started back in the mid-1960s with a man named Malcolm Bricklin. An entrepreneur who’d later create his own car (the SV-1), Bricklin’s first foray into automobiles was with Subaru.

At the time, Bricklin was looking for a supplier of scooters for a rental idea he had, where gas stations would double as rental offices. Traveling to Fuji Heavy Industries in Japan, Bricklin’s initial intention was to check out their Rabbit scooter. However, Fuji was moving away from scooter production (the Fuji Rabbit lived to just 1968), and was honing in on cars. In comes the 360.

The 360 could avoid expensive federalization (including crash testing) thanks to a curb of weight less than 1,000 pounds, and its tiny engine promised up to 60 miles per gallon. Bricklin negotiated an exclusive importation contract with Fuji and formed Subaru of America, importing the first 360s in 1968.

Starting life back in 1958, the 360 became Subaru’s second passenger vehicle after the 1500P1 ended production in 1955. The entire body is just 117.7 inches long, with a width of 51.2 inches. The engine is located in the rear, and it’s a 423 cc two-cylinder. Basically, a motorcycle engine. The three-speed manual transmission helped get the 360 to 60 miles per hour in an incredibly leisurely 37 seconds, making use of all 36 horsepower.

Ultimately, the 360 was not in line with American driving tastes in regards to space and power. A big nail in its coffin came in 1969, when Consumer Reports labeled it “Not Acceptable” because of power and safety concerns. The 360 existed on dealer lots for just three years in America, being succeeded by the FF-1 Star starting in 1970.

Our example today was found on eBay in a listing that concluded last week. Despite bids up to $6,199, the listing did not meet the reserve, meaning the dealer should still have it available. It’s a most interesting start to a car company that’s a household name half a century later.

H/t to commenter PrincipalDan for reminding me the 360 existed.

[Images via seller]

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  • Mister steve Mister steve on Oct 10, 2017

    I remember going to the dealer in Elmhurst, IL to look at these in 1970 or so. I actually managed to twist my teenage 6+ foot frame into the back seat. When I put my feet on the floor, the metal flexed about 2". I also have a recollection of seeing a photo of a herd of these used at a go kart track at some point.

  • Jdmcomp Jdmcomp on Oct 10, 2017

    I was in the Army in 1968 stationed in Oklahoma. Thousand of these were parked at the old air base outside of Oklahoma City. Like gumdrops in bright colors. I think these were the ones with bad defrosters which went back to be crushed.

  • FreedMike This article fails to mention that Toyota is also investing heavily in solid state battery tech - which would solve a lot of inherent EV problems - and plans to deploy it soon. https://insideevs.com/news/598046/toyota-global-leader-solid-state-batery-patents/Of course, Toyota being Toyota, it will use the tech in hybrids first, which is smart - that will give them the chance to iron out the wrinkles, so to speak. But having said that, I’m with Toyota here - I’m not sold on an all EV future happening anytime soon. But clearly the market share for these vehicles has nowhere to go but up; how far up depends mainly on charging availability. And whether Toyota’s competitors are all in is debatable. Plenty of bet-hedging is going on among makers in the North American market.
  • Jeff S I am not against EVs but I completely understand Toyota's position. As for Greenpeace putting Toyota at the bottom of their environmental list is more drama. A good hybrid uses less gas, is cleaner than most other ICE, and is more affordable than most EVs. Prius has proven longevity and low maintenance cost. Having had a hybrid Maverick since April and averaging 40 to 50 mpg in city driving it has been smooth driving and very economical. Ford also has very good hybrids and some of the earlier Escapes are still going strong at 300k miles. The only thing I would have liked in my hybrid Maverick would be a plug in but it didn't come with it. If Toyota made a plug in hybrid compact pickup like the Maverick it would sell well. I would consider an EV in the future but price, battery technology, and infrastructure has to advance and improve. I don't buy a vehicle based on the recommendation of Greenpeace, as a status symbol, or peer pressure. I buy a vehicle on what best needs my needs and that I actually like.
  • Mobes Kind of a weird thing that probably only bothers me, but when you see someone driving a car with ball joints clearly about to fail. I really don't want to be around a car with massive negative camber that's not intentional.
  • Jeff S How reliable are Audi? Seems the Mazda, CRV, and Rav4 in the higher trim would not only be a better value but would be more reliable in the long term. Interior wise and the overall package the Mazda would be the best choice.
  • Pickles69 They have a point. All things (or engines/propulsion) to all people. Yet, when the analogy of being, “a department store,” of options is used, I shudder. Department stores are failing faster than any other retail. Just something to chew on.