Subaru 360

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Subaru 360
PredecessorSubaru 1500
SuccessorSubaru R1/Subaru R2
Classmicrocar/kei car
Engine(s)356cc straight-twin
Wheelbase70.9 in (1800 mm)
Length117.7 in (2990 mm)
Width51.2 in (1300 mm)
Height54.3 in (1380 mm)
Curb weight900 lb (408.2 kg)
ManualService Manual
Subaru 360 Convertible as shown in Pokémon

The Subaru 360 was the first automobile mass produced by Fuji Heavy Industries' Subaru division. Rather than a scaled-down conventional auto, it used a number of innovative features to produce a car to address government plans to produce a small "people's car" with an engine no larger than 360cc when most in Japan could not afford a car. The body size and the engine capacity were designed to match within Japan's kei car regulation. Although it was one of the smallest cars to attract a significant following, it was a step up from microcars such as the Isetta and was the first kei car that had four wheels and room for 4 passengers. 392,000 units were produced in Japan from 1958 to 1971. Despite the marginal success of the 360 in America, Subaru would eventually become successful in the US as a vendor of somewhat quirky cars, now known for boxer engines and all-wheel-drive, both introduced long after the 360.

The car's name was derived from the size of the 356 cc engine.


The 360 was named for the size of its very small air-cooled, 2-stroke inline 2-cylinder 356 cc engine mounted transversely at the rear. By contrast, most conventional automobiles at the time used water-cooled four-stroke engines with 4 or more cylinders mounted in the front. Adapted from a scooter motor, two-stroke engines are lighter, simpler, easier to cold start, and produce twice the power for a lesser weight because they produce power each 2 rather than 4 strokes. As with the two-stroke Saab 93s and other small gas engines, oil was needed to be pre-mixed with gas, with the fuel tank lid serving as a measuring cup. In 1967, the "Subarumatic" lubrication system did this mixing from a an under-hood reservoir. [1]

While this was one of the more notable cars which adopted an arrangement similar to the Volkswagen Beetle, the car is much smaller, less powerful, and was not nearly as well accepted in the world marketplace. The body was of monocoque construction where the body serves without a separate frame, and used a lightweight fiberglass roof panel, unusual in 1958, but now most automobiles are built with unibody frames. 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 rear, which Consumer Reports remarked could and did result in a partially locked door falling back in the wind in their testing.


Equipped with a 4 speed manual transmission, it had a top speed of 60 miles per hour. [2] It weighed under 1000 pounds, with fuel economy claims as high as 66 mpg. In Consumer Reports tests, acceleration was modest, with 0-50 times over 37 seconds compared to 14.5 seconds for a Volkswagen, and they reported to expect 25-35 miles per gallon. [3] When introduced in 1958, the 360's engine turned out 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 as an option.


Several variants were produced, including a station wagon (called the Custom), a convertible, and two sport models known as the Young S, which had a slightly upgraded 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. The Young SS, which had dual carburetors and chrome bores, produced 36 hp (27 kW). 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 the United States, these were used in parks, such as in Washington State Parks, and as small vehicles used in large manufacturing sites.


Approximately 6,000 were imported into the US with an original Cost 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. [4]. Sales soon collapsed as there were various rumors of Subaru 360s 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. Despite this, Subaru gained popularity in the United States with its later models, and remains profitable there today.

The Subaru 360 was replaced by the less popular but more advanced R-2 which was quickly superseded by the long-lived Subaru Rex model.

6th generation Sambar


In the 2000s, the 360 remains a popular subject for collectors, and model cars among other mini-cars such as the 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 still appears in Japanese anime series such as Pokemon and Get Backers.


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 front grille.

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