Journal: The Subaru 360 Is A Toy Car Big Enough For A License Plate

The Subaru 360 Is A Toy Car Big Enough For A License Plate

Michael Banovsky By Michael Banovsky
July 5, 2016
12 comments

Photography by Michael Banovsky

“We call it ‘Cheap and Ugly’,” says the old-timey narrator on Subaru’s first U.S. advertisement—a tagline that thankfully didn’t stick to the 360 microcar. Sales didn’t stick, either: imported into the U.S. by Malcolm Bricklin, the car was regularly passed over by customers who wanted larger vehicles. Perhaps the 360 works better nearly 50 years later as a classic runabout?

I recently met up with collector Kenn Poore to take his 360 out for a morning jaunt. It’s a happy coincidence that there’s even one of these cars near me, given how few 360s were sold in period and how many survivors are left. Up close, its details are strikingly different from similar cars from Volkswagen (people kept wondering if it was “a Bug”), Fiat, and even Mazda, which also shared a preference for building rear-engined microcars in period.

Like other microcars, it attempts to do a lot with very little. Its body styling is wholly influenced by a bulbous, egg-shaped pressed-steel monocoque chassis, where the hood, trunk, and doors are bolted to. It’s just how you’d make a life-sized tin toy, though if you look closely enough there’s definitely style to be found in its fender mirrors, integrated louvres, vents, and moulded bodysides. Kind of like an outlaw Porsche 356, shrunk in the wash until 1:3 scale. Kinda.

Performance? Not much. We went for a city drive, so I wasn’t able to verify its top speed of 60 mph or its zero-to-50 mph time of more than 30 seconds. Behind the cabin sits a 2-stroke, 2-cylinder engine with 356-cc, with enough oomph to transmit pleasing vibrations but not really to keep up with modern traffic.

Kenn had been shifting its 3-speed transmission with gusto, noting the car is actually pretty practical next to his BMW Isetta, American Bantam, and Vespa 400—arguably, it’s because the Subaru is both newer and designed to be for more “mainstream” drivers than the others. In Japan, the cheeky microcar had siblings, too: successful rollback top “convertible”, truck, van, and wagon variants were based off of the 360.

The U.S. has harbored a few of the above, but sales were so dire that Bricklin devised the ultimate solution to a growing inventory of unsold cars: turn them into “FasTrack” go-karts with the help of dune buggy pioneer Bruce Meyer. Kenn’s left-hand-drive 360 was thankfully spared from that fate.

Once out of first gear, with the vents letting fresh morning air into the cabin, it reminded me most of an original Fiat 500, where motoring must happen with a healthy dose of con brio. With only 25 horsepower, the 360 needs all the gusto it can get—the scenery moves by slowly but it at least feels quick. Without much traffic to contend with, the car felt strangely at home.

This tiny Subaru is definitely one of the less expensive ways to get yourself a unique classic car, but it’s time to set the record straight: it’s far from being ugly. I call it “cheap and cheerful”—what do you think of the 360?

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Dmasterernesto guevaraVasi AtanasovaPedro MacedoSam Lazarakos Recent comment authors
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Dmaster
Dmaster

Another reason Canada rocks

ernesto guevara
ernesto guevara

I have a subaru 360 1969, I bought it in Miami, brought it to Querétaro Mexico and restore it.
I am very lucky because the car engine was in very good shape.
This is a car that is very fun to drive and it stars every time.

Vasi Atanasova
Vasi Atanasova

Now that is a car I can call cute, little refresher. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true 🙂 Whenever I think of buying a classic car I picture a Beetle or a Citroen, when I am riding the small, classic car wave. But then I see my BMW Wagon d320 and I am like no, if I buy a classic it’s gotta be a BMW or something else with power. Now, looking at this fun car I certainly want it!

Sam Lazarakos
Sam Lazarakos

Absolutely Wonderful little car, reminds me of my mother’s Figaro. I love that moment when you know exactly where the photos were taken.

HitTheApex
HitTheApex

If legendary anime filmmaker Hiyao Miyzaki made Totoro into a tiny car, it would be the 360. How charming!

This kei jidisha was to Japan what the VW Beetle, Fiat 500, and Mini, were to Germany, Italy, and England.

Pedro Macedo
Pedro Macedo

The 360 has already been immortalized in anime in the series “Get Backers”, where it did a hell of a job as the main characters’ vehicle (*^_^*)

Douglas Anderson
Douglas Anderson

I wonder if we will begin to see the re-emergence of this type of car in the not too distant future ?
The trend of people leaving the suburbs and returning to inner city living leads me to think there just might be a market for small city cars .
I’m not thinking it will be a huge market ,otherwise the SMART car would be selling better. ( price of the Smart car is killing it) The biggest hurdle for these cars would likely be the “ride sharing ” programs and the Uber’s of the world.

HitTheApex
HitTheApex

The size of large SUVs, trucks, and the like, along with the ever-growing girth of modern cars serves as a hurdle, as does the growing girth of drivers in westernized nations, what with the unhealthy lifestyle, challenging the safety and room of these cars. That said, kei cars have never gone out of style in Japan and some are sold, sometimes under a different name or badge, in Europe, where certain models have done quite well, and kei jidosha can be found sprinkled throughout much of Southeast Asia. The French still make a number of interesting micro cars as well,… Read more »

James Toal
James Toal

Porsche 365? Nobody heard of the Fiat 500?

JB21
JB21

When I was a kid in the land of the rising sun, those were of course everywhere. Once I was in the passenger seat, the car was going downhill, the driver told me to hold the door. As I grabbed on to it, the door started to open under the air pressure, and till the bottom of the hill, I was holing onto the door like the biggest catch ever. I remember the incident well, but I can’t call it a fond memory, I’d rather like a car that can keep its doors shut when told.