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Baby Bus: 1969 Subaru Sambar

1969 Subaru Bus

There is a special place in our hearts for micro cars, not because we are concerned so much with fuel economy, but because of how unique they are. When we spotted this 1969 Subaru 360 Sambar here on eBay, we had no idea how small it truly was. It doesn’t look that much smaller than a VW bus in the photo, but when you see a person standing next to one you will see that it is a fraction of the size. We don’t think you can get much more unique than a micro bus and as much as we hate to say this… it’s just so darn cute!

Restored Sambar
Image Credit: YouTube

Just for comparison sake, a VW Bus is about 7 feet tall and a hair under 15 feet long, whereas this Subaru is barely 5 feet tall and is well under 10 feet long. Seeing a 6 foot tall man climbing in and out of one of these is rather comical, but somehow they manage to fit.

Subaru Sambar interior

We can’t comment on if it’s a comfortable fit, but we are sure it’s a tight one. We can already see our knees pressed to that dash and the resulting pain from any sudden braking maneuvers.

Subaru Sambar motor

The Sambar’s engine shares a few traits with the VW as well. It isn’t a boxer layout, it’s missing two cylinders, and more than half the displacement, but it is rear mounted and air-cooled. This 2-stroke motor was pulled from Subaru’s 360 platform and displaces just 356 cc. The 20 horsepower that this little motor puts out does a decent job at moving this tiny van around, but don’t plan on winning any races.

Subaru Sambar

The more we look at this bus, the more we want it. It is going to need a lot of work and we are sure finding parts for it here in the states will be a challenge, but think of all the smiles it will bring you every time you open the garage door to find it there waiting for you. We can only imagine all the smiles (or laughs) it will generate from fellow motorists when you pull up next to them at a stop lights too. The big question here though, is all that cuteness really worth $1,900+ plus the cost of restoration?


  1. Avatar photo Oceane

    Love it!

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  2. Avatar photo MikeG

    Tempting! What a cool piece of automotive history.

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  3. Avatar photo rancho bella

    I know I write this a bunch. But, if I didn’t have the garages full, I would own this. These are so stinkin’ neat……………

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  4. Avatar photo paul

    Nope never seen one, & yes the white one with the guy next to it is a hoot.

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  5. Avatar photo Paulo

    The attraction to this one is lost I me. I would leave it in the barn!

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    • Avatar photo James Spradlin

      Think turbo charged Hyabusa transplant… ;)

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  6. Avatar photo Mike

    It’s like a bargain Multipla

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  7. Avatar photo Charles Gould

    These are fabulous little vans, and are set up with the standard Subaru 360 Coupe driveline with some minor differences. So, that means that they have a two cylinder, 360cc, air cooled, two stroke, parrallel twin mounted in the back.
    They are called “Sambars” and they are quite fast, very economical, and surprisingly reliable.
    I have two Coupes, and the pick up truck version which has a side gate like the Corvair Rampside because the rear engine prohibits a rear tailgate.
    I had a van years ago ands regret selling it, and am currently looking for another one, but I prefer the stock appliance white paint.

    Like 1
  8. Avatar photo Chris H.

    Needs a Hayabusa swap! *ducks and runs*

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  9. Avatar photo Robert J

    I am 6ft. 6 inches tall and I somehow fit in these and can see through the windshield. I could actually drive one if it ran…
    I think the spacetime folder was an original factory option on these.

    Like 0
  10. Avatar photo Plasticman

    OMG I must have one of these! Which is the front end?

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  11. Avatar photo Charles

    Never seen one. Pretty cool!

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  12. Avatar photo Bryan Cohn

    Interesting, a car I’ve never known of let alone seen before.

    I always wondered why when doing a restoration of a vehicle like this one would do an engine conversion to something like a Kohler twin or Briggs and Stratton twin. You could get more power and torque, reliability, parts availability and a little more strange to add to an already strange mix.

    I live in Joplin, MO, 50 miles west of Springfield and would be happy to perform a PPI for someone if needed. Contact me at bryancohnracing “at” yahoo.com

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  13. Avatar photo jim s

    i think somebody loves FC van/trucks a lot. i do hope someone either saves this or uses it for parts.

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    • Avatar photo Josh Staff

      I just love how small it is! You would think the proportions would be off, but it actually looks normal. Hopefully someone will give it a good home. There can’t be many left here in the states.

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      • Avatar photo jim s

        the small size is a concern to me. i do not see it being used on road as a daily driver. i have seen them being used in malls, factories,and airports. thanks

        Like 0
  14. Avatar photo Horse Radish

    Let’s face it, this ‘Van’ was probably not designed for tall people.
    Most asian people are not that tall .
    That would also explain the low ‘export’ numbers….

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  15. Avatar photo Mark E

    Was gonna say this is WELL worth $1900 but I see it’s over $2500 with almost 5 days to go! A TV repairman had one of these in my home town back in the late ’60s. There was also one of those Subaru 360 bubble cars too. Quite exotic for a small town in Southern MN!

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  16. Avatar photo alex

    I have a 70’s 360 sedan, love it

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  17. Avatar photo Charles

    If the running gear is similiar to the 360, mechanical parts should not be impossible to find.

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  18. Avatar photo Jim-Bob

    With this and my daily driven Geo Metro, my 1 car garage would suddenly become a 2 car! Plus, the nice thing is that it is Japanese, which means it was a quality piece of hardware when new. However, I can see it as having a lot of limitations in modern traffic, so it is probably best used in towns with low speed limits. My Metro may be slow, but it has 2.5x the horsepower of a 360, and probably double the top speed. (I have done nearly 90 in it) Even still, it is not always easy to merge into traffic with it, and it has a 0-60 of around 15 seconds. The Sambar will likely take twice as long (if it can even hit 60) and would be terrifying to use in the cut and thrust of traffic, where SUV’s may not even see the car because it is so small.

    What it needs is more power. If you don’t plan to actually use it as a car then this may not bother you. However, if you do want to use it, I have an interesting alternative: convert it to electric power. You could use the motor from a fork lift and try to find a wrecked Tesla, Volt, Leaf, Plug in Prius, etc. to source the battery components from (Most modern electric cars have battery packs comprised of multiple smaller batteries, so there would be flexibility in how many of the cells you used). Like a Tesla, your fabricated battery pack should be beneath the floor to keep the center of gravity low and help the handling. However, you would have to watch the weight since the 360’s tiny 4 wheel drums will still have to stop it-unless you can figure out a better solution using parts from something like a golf cart or 4 wheeler. I would also figure out a way to add a set of solar panels to the roof. That way, when you park the car somewhere it will recover a little bit of charge while it waits. Regenerative braking would be nice too, but I have no ideas as of yet to how to make it work. Likewise, a freewheel system like DKW/SAAB/Wartburg/Trabant used would be great since it would allow for use of pulse and glide driving rather than the current on or off system used on most new electric cars.

    Like 1
  19. Avatar photo Dave H

    I’m sure it needs brakes. That was the failing point of these cars. My Subaru 360 was stored inside for 32 years and the brakes were junk. Didn’t take much to get it running, but the brakes were a different story.

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  20. Avatar photo Charles

    How about a conversion to a motorscycle engine. Maybe a four cylinder Honda? Or could a VW engine and transaxle be cut down to fit?

    My family owned three BMW Isetta’s 300 and one 600. The 300’s used half of the 600 engine which was a 1 cylinder 13 HP four stroke. The 600 used an engine similiar to the 600 CC motorcycle which was a two cylinder boxer style.

    Like 0
  21. Avatar photo Jonathan Miller


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