By on October 9, 2017

Image: 1970 Subaru 360, image via sellerSubaru 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.

Image: 1970 Subaru 360, image via sellerIt 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.

Image: 1970 Subaru 360, image via sellerThe 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.

Image: 1970 Subaru 360, image via sellerStarting 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.

Image: 1970 Subaru 360, image via sellerOur 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.

Image: 1970 Subaru 360, image via sellerH/t to commenter PrincipalDan for reminding me the 360 existed.

[Images via seller]

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46 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1970 Subaru 360, America’s First Subaru Experience...”

  • avatar

    I assume this entire vehicle will fit inside the same year Electra’s engine compartment.

  • avatar

    Hey, look, it’s got seatbelts!

  • avatar

    Here’s a link to the Consumer Reports article about the Subaru 360. When I was a kid in late 1968, our local Buick/AMC dealer began selling the Subaru 360. By 1970, the dealer had marked down new 360 leftovers to a $395 selling price. The geekiest kid in my high school in 1972 drove a blue model. I haven’t seen one in the wild since.

    • 0 avatar

      Even as kids, when my brother and I saw one at the Chicago Auto Show we laughed ourselves silly at the thought that something this miniscule could attract buyers in America. It’s hard to get a sense from these pictures just how tiny and insubstantial the 360 is. I think that the wheels were 12″, everything about it was flimsy, it was proportioned about right for kids, there was no way that adults could fit. I’m kind of surprised that this one has survived as well as it has. I think a hard rainfall could have dented it.

      • 0 avatar

        I saw a 360 once in a showroom on Old York Road, Jenkintown, PA, probably 1969 or ’70 – it wasn’t a Subaru dealership primarily, although I don’t recall whether the other cars were American-made.

        Don’t knock a car for having 12-inch wheels. For 10 years I drove a 1983 Honda Civic 1300 (the 4-speed base model) that drove like a very well balanced roller skate on its 155SR12 radials.

        • 0 avatar

          Which dealer? Our ’64 Riviera was from Fowler Shinn Buick. There was Waller Lincoln Mercury next to them, and a Dodge or Chrysler dealer across from them, if my memory serves me correctly. And, ironically, the VW dealer up the road next to the synagogue.

          • 0 avatar

            It was one of two dealers on the west side of Old York Road, opposite where The Fairway begins/ends. Today they’re Sussman Acura and Faulkner Nissan, if Google Maps is correct. Across the street was a Hot Shoppes restaurant, decades ago.

        • 0 avatar

          My 1990 Festiva had 12″ rims. I wanted to upgrade to at least 14″, but I would have had to swap hubs with an Aspire (or maybe a 323/Protegè, or 91+ Escort/Tracer?) to upgrade the wheels.

        • 0 avatar

          My Ford Festiva had 12″ wheels, too. Never had any problem with the wheels, but the Yokohama tires it came with must have been made of bakelite, because they had absolutely no traction in the wet. I had that car spin out on me a couple of times in rainstorms, and I was not driving aggressively at the time.

        • 0 avatar

          To add to the tiny wheels, great handling list: the original Mini used 10-inch rims. Nobody would ever refer to one as suffering from poor handling.

          Interesting re: the 1983 Civic, though. I had always previously believed that the base wheel size was 13″; it appears as though I stand corrected.

          • 0 avatar

            1983 was the last year for 12-inch wheels on the base Civic 1300 4-speed, which was a real stripper – no armrests, painted metal interior windowsills, no rear defogger, etc. – but still fun; mine had a dealer-installed right-side mirror (both outside mirrors were decently large). The ’83 1300FE, however, came with a 5-speed and may have had 13″ wheels standard.

        • 0 avatar

          12’s ain’t bad. My little 68 Mini Traveler bops along quite happily on its 10’s, thank you

      • 0 avatar

        The Subaru had 10″ wheels like the Mini.

    • 0 avatar

      The dealership in Erie, PA back in 1970 was a two story house on the west side of the city proper that had previously been a restaurant. The dining room was able to hold six of these cars as a showroom. Having read nothing about them previously, I was stunned as I bicycled past the place and had to take a look inside.

      I think they were asking something like $1095.00 for the car at the time.

      Never did see any running around the streets of Erie.

      We have a couple of them that show up at Cars and Coffee Richmond every couple of months.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the link, that was a pretty great read. Sad thing is that the performance is more than adequate for the Boston area traffic I was in last Friday for hours and hours…

  • avatar

    There was one of these for sale last week at Hershey Fall AACA Meet in the car corral. On Friday the owner was trying to get it started for a potential buyer. Interesting little car!

    • 0 avatar

      I saw that car and wonder if it’s the same one for sale here on eBay. I remember the flat black roof that I, at first and from 10 feet away, thought may have been a cloth sunroof like a Fiat 500. Nope, I think it was barbecue grill spray paint.

  • avatar

    Bricklin’s a story all by himself…

    • 0 avatar

      Absolutely – He’s a salesman of the highest order. Like Iaccoca minus the actual car knowledge. ;-)

    • 0 avatar

      It would have been interesting to see how Subaru would have panned-out if Bricklin hadn’t sold his interest and stayed involved with the company. My guess is that, given Bricklin’s proclivity to eventually screw-up everything he touches, Subaru would never have survived.

      Iacocca is not nearly as bad, having some real skill and ability that Bricklin sorely lacked, but it’s worth noting his showmanship hasn’t been nearly as wondrous since he left Chrysler. In fact, one of his more interesting forays was an early adopter into the world of EVs. Seems old Lido tried to pull a rather Bricklin-like maneuver by importing and selling electric bicycles at Chrysler dealerships to satisfy the coming EV mandate by exploiting a loophole in the law. Needless to say, it didn’t work, with few of the actually rather nice (but pricey) electric bikes selling.

  • avatar

    Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay over priced.

  • avatar

    Extremely unique car.
    This is only the second one I’ve seen. The other one is on the showroom floor at Nate Wade Subaru in SLC, UT.

  • avatar

    Still better than a Yugo! What? No symmetrical all wheel drive?

  • avatar

    I lived in Cleveland back then. Remember a gas station / Subaru dealership on the west side, I think it was in Middleburg Hgts or Strongsville.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I remember these along with the first Hondas. I was driving my fathers Chevy II when I was in high school and the first few years of college when one of these pulled up along side of me. The Chevy II looked like a limo in size alongside one of these.

    I know someone who sold these when Subaru first came to the US market. You did not have to own a dealer you could just take an order and the car was delivered. Just one model and very limited colors.

  • avatar

    Interesting commercials though.

  • avatar

    I first saw some of these cars on a used car lot in Baltimore circa 1973-74. The lot also had a mini passenger van version which was pretty unique looking. The story was that the cars had sat in a lot in the Port of Baltimore for 4 years and were caught up in a legal dispute. They were finally auctioned and the lot bought about 12 vehicles all told.
    Last year, I saw a cabriolet version of the 2 door in a garage in Laurel while checking out a Crosley station wagon. The owner told me that it was 1 of only 100 made

  • avatar

    I actually used to own one of these in the late 1970s. As I recall I paid $100 for it. It was like having a go-kart that you could drive on the street. Made a VW seem like a stretch limo.

  • avatar

    One of the jack-ass car / hot rod shows should buy this, paint it World Ralley Blue and drop a WRX motor in.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, a Suzuki GT750 (water buffalo) two stroke triple would come close to doubling the horsepower and performance, if you can just figure out how to link it up to the transmission.

  • avatar

    Is that a Leaf charger door I spot between the headies?

  • avatar

    I’m genuinely amazed that this 360 somehow managed to survive. Before it is sold to a private buyer, perhaps it should be auctioned off to a museum!

  • avatar

    The 360 actually had a 356cc, 25 horsepower motor. That’s where the name comes from, rounding up the engine’s size. This was to stay under the kei car requirements of the time which were regulated to 360cc’s. Having a kei car meant a big tax break as well as being able to park your car on the streets of Tokyo overnight, so they were quite popular and built for a purpose. They definitely didn’t have America in mind, but Bricklin had a nose for bad ideas that he felt could make him a quick buck.

  • avatar
    mister steve

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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