Kei Car Classic: 1971 Subaru 360

It never ceases to amaze me just how diverse the cars are that we get to feature here on Barn Finds. Take, for example, this 1971 Subaru 360. I am writing about this immediately after completing an article about a Chevy Nova SS 396. The entire engine capacity of the Subaru is less than ½ the capacity of one cylinder of the Nova. And yet, both are significant cars that have a loyal band of supporters and enthusiasts. If you would love to become the owner of one of the cars that started the Subaru story in America, you will find the 360 located in Zahl, North Dakota, and listed for sale here on eBay. Bidding has now reached $1,000 on this classic Kei car.

Just like the old myth about the Ford Model T being available in any color as long as it was black, American 360 buyers really could have their car in any color, as long as it was white with red interior trim. Therefore, it is no surprise to find that this is the case with this car. The body sports a number of minor dings, but overall, it looks quite good. I can’t see any obvious signs of rust issues, and the owner makes no mention of any in his description. One of the great little features of the 360 is the roof, which is constructed with a fiberglass insert. This was done to reduce weight, which was successful in giving the car an overall weight of 925lbs. It was also a bit of a triumph of packaging because Subaru had managed to build a car that was well under 10′ in total length but could still seat four people. One interesting anomaly in American safety standards worked in favor of the 360. Due to it having a total weight of less than 1,000lbs, the 360 was exempt from many of the safety standards of the day. For a fledgling company like Subaru of America, being spared the rigors and costs associated with safety complliance testing was an absolute blessing. By and large, the 360 was a relatively safe car, but it received some pretty bad press when it performed badly in a head-on crash test. The fact that this was a 30mph head-on collision with a Cadillac meant that the odds were firmly stacked against the Subaru. The reality was that per car, the Subaru 360 did not prove to be any more hazardous to its occupants than any other car on sale in America at that point in time.

The interior of the Subaru is serviceable as it is, but it does require some work to return it to its best. The front seat will require a new cover, while there are also some issues with the trim in the rear of the car. However, it looks like some judicious use of glue might address those problems. The remaining trim looks quite good, and the map pockets in the door have managed to avoid the “sagginess” that can afflict them. Luxury items don’t really rate a mention in a 360, with a heater and demister being about it.

There are no engine photos provided, and that’s a real shame. The engine is a 356cc (21.7ci) two-stroke twin-cylinder engine, producing a staggering 25hp. This is sent to the rear wheels via a very interesting transmission. Early 360s were equipped with a 3-speed manual, but by the late 1960s, a 4-speed transmission was standard. In addition, an optional system called “Autoclutch” had been introduced. This was effectively an ingenious clutchless 3-speed manual transmission and is what this car has been fitted with. The owner says that the 360 runs quite well, but that the fuel system will require a complete clean and some work will be required on the brakes to return it to active duty. The owner also states that the car has a mere 650 miles on the odometer, but doesn’t mention whether he has documentary evidence to support this claim. Apart from its diminutive physical size, it is the engine that provides the contrast that I referred to at the start of this story. The SS 396 that I had previously written about has an engine capacity of 49.5ci per cylinder. The entire engine capacity of the Subaru is 21.7ci, which seems so tiny by comparison. However, size isn’t everything when it comes to engines. The engine in the Chevrolet produces 350hp or about 0.889hp per cubic inch. By comparison, the Subaru’s engine produces 25hp or 1.15hp per cubic inch. That makes the Subaru a bit of a surprise packet.

When it hit the American market with a sale price of $1,297, the motoring public was amazed that they could purchase a car for such an insignificant amount of money. Subaru of America’s Malcolm Bricklin even used the car’s odd appearance to his advantage by coining the advertising slogan “Cheap and Ugly Does It.” The 360 was not an enormous sales success, but over a 3-year period, around 10,000 cars found their way to American shores. Today it isn’t clear how many cars remain, but these little cars have managed to develop an incredibly strong following. These are also a car that has spawned a very strong owner’s club, and members seem to be motivated to help others to maintain their little classics in road-going condition, and to help locate parts and services for other members. If this sounds like the sort of environment that would motivate you as a classic car enthusiast, then perhaps this Subaru 360 is the perfect car for you.

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Comments

  1. 408 interceptor

    The back wheel wells have spats that look very similar to what Trans Am’s had.

  2. Ben T Spanner

    In 1973 or so I had a Honda Z600. I was on an interstate when a 360 came up a ramp. I honked and waved and he turned toward me with an ugly expression until he saw what i was driving. Then he was all smiles. I would imagine he was tired of horn honks and the finger as he held up traffic.

    4
  3. That AMC Guy

    “Some work will be required on the brakes.”

    All of the major brake parts on these cars are aluminum and tend to corrode badly, especially if the car is not used much and the brake fluid not changed regularly. (Sleeving the aluminum hydraulic cylinders in brass or stainless steel can help here.) Whoever buys this should be sure to join the Subaru 360 Drivers Club, which has a wealth of technical information and info on parts for these cars.

    http://www.subaru360club.org/

    3
    • Tim C

      I’m the new owner of said vehicle. Already own several, but this one is the first autoclutch model in my collection.

  4. Donny

    It’s Richard Scarry’s Car!

    1
  5. William Soboleski

    Scorpionman if my memory serves me correct those were Fuji motors which Polaris industries eventually bought and used them in their snowmibiles

  6. Bill McCoskey

    Ahhh, yessss,
    The only car to ever receive a Consumer Reports rating of “Unacceptable”. If my memory is correct, CR also said the front bumper was only useful against a watermelon.

    3
    • That AMC Guy

      I have a copy of that issue, it’s pretty funny.

      2
    • Steven Ligac

      Absolutely Hysterical!

  7. Bill McCoskey

    I have a related TRUE story to tell our readers;

    When I was still in high school in the suburban Washington, DC area, I had a much older friend who owned several Packards, including a beautiful and all original 1935 Packard Twelve rumble seat coupe. My friend was quite tall, about 6′ 8″, and loved driving the coupe as he found the Packard was a great fit for his tall body. [Long time Mid-Atlantic Packard Club members will quickly recognize the car and owner.]

    One day we were in the Packard coupe when we saw the new Subaru 360 cars parked outside of a newly opened Subaru dealership in Rockville, MD. My friend suddenly had a brilliant stroke of genius [if a bit nasty].

    He drove the Packard into the parking lot at the dealership, and began looking at a 360. The salesman quickly came out and while trying to sell my friend a new Subaru, was clearly mesmerized by the Packard.

    My friend indicated some interest in the Subaru, suggesting that the old Packard was using way too much fuel, and he was looking for a car with better gas mileage. The salesman took the bait, and tried his best to talk my friend into trading in the “old dilapidated coupe” on a new Subaru 360. When it was clear my friend was unable to fit into the Subaru due to his height, the salesman went as far as to suggest they could remove the center of the roof because it was a bolt in fiberglass panel, and my friend could drive it wearing goggles!

    I could barely refrain from busting out laughing as my friend decided not to trade the old car in on a car he couldn’t drive, and we got back into the coupe and went on our merry way, busting out laughing like crazy, once we were about a block away!

    1
    • Steve Foster

      What color was this Packard work-of-art, and do you know what became of it? The ’35s were magnificent…
      Thanks,
      Steve

      • Bill McCoskey

        Steve,
        I remember that wonderfully massive rolling work of art very well, it was black with tan wool broadcloth interior, black leather rumble seat out back. And it was one of the few Packard Twelve cars I’ve ever seen without sidemount tires, having only one outside rear mounted spare tire, and all the tires on the car were blackwall.

        The lack of sidemount tires gave those massive long fenders an even more impressive look as they flowed down into the running boards. Except for tires and typical maintenance items, the car was all original, including paint.

        The history of the car is just as impressive as the car. It was one of 3 new 1935 Packard 12 cars bought by Mr Corby, the owner of Ishpiming, the beautiful mansion on Chevy Chase Circle, in Chevy Chase, MD. [Google “Ishpiming mansion” to see photos.] Mr Corby had the 3 Packard cars delivered overnight for the family to discover on Christmas Morning, 1935.

        If I remember right, the other 2 Packard 12 cars were a 7-passenger limo, and a convertible sedan, all 3 being black cars. Two of the 3 cars were disposed of after the Corby family moved away [the mansion was willed to the Catholic Church], but because the coupe was said to have a cracked block, no one wanted it.

        In the late 1960s my friend, wanting a Packard 12, took a chance and bought the car. [he would never say how much he paid, but I doubt it was more than about $2,500.] Turned out all that was wrong with the car was it needed the head re-torqued, and that stopped the coolant leak!

        My friend had arranged to keep the car in the 3-car Corby mansion garage until the mansion was sold. The other 2 spaces in the garage were taken up by my friend’s 1947 Packard Custom Eight sedan, and his 1953 Packard Convertible.

        I remember as a kid in high school, taking a tour of the Corby mansion, and being blown away by the built-in Wurlitzer automatic-player organ, and discovering that the equipment for the organ took up almost the entire basement.

        In the 1980s I visited the mansion & obtained the owner’s permission to park a couple of my Rolls-Royces under and around the front portico, and I still enjoy looking at those photos, with fond memories.

        Sadly, I don’t have any photos of the car due to a massive fire in 1996, but I can show what it looks like if you click on this link: https://www.conceptcarz.com/profile/4238,11399/1935-packard-twelve.aspx
        [This is not the same car, I suspect the car I knew and loved, is now in the Bulgari collection.]

  8. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Sold for the curious highest bid of $2,247,22

    It hasn’t been mentioned in this article, but weren’t these used in some sort of weird racing park or something like that?

  9. chrlsful

    luv any of the minis, this certainly is one…

  10. Steve Foster

    Thank you much Bill for sharing and the link! Classic elegant style bespoken even in their black and beigeish/orangeish color scheme. Dad had a straight 8 coupe from AZ and we did see a 12 original coupe near Sedona about 20 yrs ago, also without sidemounts (admittedly I prefer the sidemounts and even 4 doors). And what a 1935 Christmas that must have been… though maybe the same as Corgi Toys for Mr. Corby! Style never goes out of style… thanks again Bill, Steve

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