EXCLUSIVE: Rare 1981 SanFu Electric

Reader Chad M has decided to part ways with what could be the holy grail of Subaru Kei trucks/vans. Prior to being known here in the States for building all-wheel-drive rally cars, Subaru was primarily focused on building affordable micro cars and trucks. You’ve probably seen a few of those tiny Kei cars, but chances are you haven’t ever seen one of these SanFu vans! It was actually built by Subaru, but was imported to Taiwan and rebadged by SanFu Industries. It’s believed that there are just 24 of these little vans and 18 or so of those have been imported to the States. To make things more interesting, this particular one was converted to Electric and has gone just 217 km (134 miles). It’s going to need work but could be a simple enough project to get going again.

What Makes It Special? It’s a Subaru SanFu that I believe was converted to electric by Bales International. It only has 217 km on it and has sat in a warehouse for the past 40 years. It’s left-hand drive with a 4-speed pair to an electric motor. It looks like everything is there. One of 24 made and 18 that came to the States.

Body Condition: The body only has surface rust, no holes or rot.  There is surface rust on the wheels, frame etc, but wipes off with a rag. Has a dent on drivers side sliding door. Has sliding doors on both sides. The rubber on doors and interior has dried out and is cracking. I spent yesterday wiping 40 years worth of dust off it and it’s cleaning up nicely.

Mechanical Condition: The car was parking lot driving 4 years ago. It has 17 batteries that will need to be replaced. The engine is stamped 1979. I think it is complete including hubcaps, spare tire cover, and keys. I cannot find a VIN number anywhere.

Scotty featured a propane powered SanFu back in December, which you can read about here. Its story is a bit different than Chad’s SanFu, as the one Scotty featured was converted to propane by SanFu Industries in Taiwan and stayed that way after being imported to Texas by Bales International. Chad’s van, on the other hand, was converted to electric propulsion. He believes the conversion was done by Bale International, rather than SanFu. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information out there about these little vans or even on the Bales International Corporation.

Around the time that this one was likely converted to electric, Jet Industries was doing the same with Sambars that they were importing directly from Subaru (Fuji Heavy Industries). Their conversions were supposedly capable of speeds up to 55 mph and up to 100 miles of range per charge. They featured twelve 6-volt batteries, 4-speed transmissions and lacked a rear seat. Chad’s SanFu retains the 4-speed transmission but has 17 batteries and the original rear seat is still in place. It would be interesting to know what the top speed and range were in comparison to the ones Jet was building.

It would be quite fascinating to go through the electronics used in the conversion to see exactly how it’s setup. It would also give you an idea of who exactly built it. Given the durability of electric motors, there’s a good chance this van could be back on the road with nothing more than some fresh batteries. Hopefully, mice haven’t damaged any of the wiring, so you will want to check everything out closely before adding power. We can’t help but wonder what a modern electric motor and batteries could do for this SanFu. Just imagine what one of Tesla’s electric motors could do in such a light vehicle!

Our thanks to Chad for listing this interesting and unique Kei van with us! He really isn’t sure what to ask for it, so if you’d love to have it, be sure to make him an offer (or trade) via the form below. So, what would you do with this SanFu?

  • Asking Price: Best offer or trade
  • Location: Guelph, Ontario
  • Mileage: 217km
  • Title Status: Missing

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  1. Howard A Member

    There’s a “Holy Grail” of Kei vans? I suppose, not in my world. I’d think a gas powered one would be horribly inept for our roads, and an electric one? More so.

  2. Dave

    This van would be ideal for use inside a large warehouse building. Add a yellow flashing beacon and backup beeper and it’s good to go!

  3. Dave Mika

    I agree, Dave! Has anyone noticed how much its nose looks taken from a mid-70s VW Transporter?

  4. Tony Primo

    Typical Barn Finds exclusive with inadequate photos.

  5. Al

    So this is the great Snafu, always wondered what they looked like.

    I could pass this by in a nano-second.

    As Dave has stated, it is good for a warehouse but not much else.A shrink-wrapped VW van, yup I see that too.

    I think it is actually a small scale limo. There is more leg room in the back seat area than there is in the front seat area. Now how do you apply that application to warehouse use? A real poser, hmmm…

  6. Rodney Member

    I get an inordinate amount of pleasure imagining myself rolling down a busy interstate at a top speed of what I would guesstimate must be about 48 MPH in this little thing, irritating every other driver. Why do I have a vision of the driver of this looking like Mario from the video game?
    Cool and weird and pointless. Love it!

  7. PDXBryan

    I should get John Wayland (of White Zombie fame) to help me upgrade this! I’d make it a little less radical though, maybe shoot for relaxed 12-13 second 1/4 mile times. ;^)
    How is it that a non-polluting van is pointless but a sports or muscle car isn’t?

    • dweezilaz

      Because people forget that it’s pollution is produced where the raw materials are mined, the batteries are made and also from where the energy is generated : coal fired electric plants.

  8. David Zornig

    Missing title in Canada…
    Good luck.

    • Dave

      No title, but worse, no VIN. How do you prove ownership or even try to bring it across the border ?

  9. Beatnik Bedouin

    Yes, the front does look like it’s inspired by the ’68 and later Type 2. The again, there are conversion kits in Japan for Kei vans to make ’em look like a Split Window…

    Good luck with the sale; I hope it finds an appreciative home somewhere where a bill-of-sale will be enough to get it back on the road.

  10. Kenneth Carney

    Nice van Chad! Would use as a ’round the towner and nothing more. However,
    distance is one deal breaker for me.
    And the lack of a title and VIN number
    are the other two reasons for me to back
    away from this one. Don’t get me wrong,
    I’d be talking to you by email in a minute
    if you had all those items. It’d be a great
    backup to Mom’s Buick and probably a lot
    of fun to drive too. I really want to see the looks on our friends faces when we
    rolled up somewhere in it. Just got Mom
    onboeard with the idea of owning an EV.
    I’ll show her this one to see if she likes it.
    Would make a great shopping van for us
    as we could get her scooter in it with no
    trouble at all. Good luck with your sale.
    Keep the good finds coming!

  11. Jeremy

    A 38 year old van that’s “been sitting in a warehouse for 40 years”?That math does not compute


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