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Micro Survivor: 1969 Subaru Sambar Pickup

Another in the Scotty-G-can’t-fit-into-this-thing-literally, series of vehicles that I’ve always wanted, I bring you this 1969 Subaru Sambar Pickup. This incredible and incredibly small truck can be found here on eBay in beautiful Wilmington, North Carolina. The current bid price is $2,550 but, of course, the reserve isn’t met yet. The seller has a $10,000 buy-it-now price listed and if 2020 wouldn’t have kicked me to the curb, business-wise, I would be all over this thing, even if I just bought it to look at and not drive.

The Subaru Sambar is a van or pickup, such as this example, and this is a second-generation version that was made between 1966 and 1973. This generation of Sambar is very rare to see here in the US – actually, any of them are. Just how small is this thing, SG? Well, here’s a photo showing the seller crammed inside of it, and here is another one with them sitting in the driver’s seat with the door open. At 9.5-feet in length, yeah they’re small, which is why I can’t fit in them.

If I were under six-feet tall, not only could I buy pants at Target, I would be all over this truck and several other microcars. I can’t imagine a better or more appropriate way to haul an oddball Japanese market scooter to a motorcycle show than in one of these tiny Sambar pickups. Well, the van version would be fun, too. In case you weren’t aware of it, the engine is in the rear like a Corvair Rampside pickup, but the side ramp isn’t quite as motorcycle-friendly compared to a Rampside.

This pickup is a little unusual, at least from the aspect of having a bench seat in the pickup bed. I consider myself a fairly staunch Subaru 360/Sambar fan and aficionado and I haven’t seen that before. It’s almost like the granddaddy to the BRAT with the infamous jump seats in the back. As with the exterior, the interior looks really nice, overall, on this truck. They were never fancy trucks and vans, they were meant to be inexpensive haulers for people who owned businesses or anyone who needed an easy to park a vehicle that was inexpensive to buy and operate.

The engine is Subaru’s EK-series 356 CC air-cooled two-stroke twin-cylinder with around 20 horsepower. You aren’t going to win many races with this one and you don’t want to get into an accident with it, but that’s always the case with any vintage vehicle. For the record, the custom bed rack is included but the surfboard is not included. Have any of you driven or better yet, owned a Subaru Sambar pickup or van?


  1. Avatar photo Howard A Member

    While these are cute, they are limited as to where one can drive them. Most states allow them on back roads, with limitations, some, including Colorado, forbid them altogether, and no state allows them on the interstate, for obvious reasons. Great for a ranch or campground, but an modern atv for the rugged places is more in order.

    Like 4
    • Avatar photo RayT

      I’m thinking SBC transplant, Howard A! No more of that pesky “keep it off the Interstate!” stuff….

      Like 4
    • Avatar photo That AMC guy

      To my knowledge if a state issues conventional tags to a vehicle, and they will generally do so if it was street legal when new, it’s allowed on the road whether it’s a Model T or a Subaru 360.

      When the Subaru 360 vehicles were imported they met all applicable regulations at the time (albeit exempt from most) and were 100% street legal. The mini-trucks referenced by the link above seem to apply to later mini-imports that were not street legal at the time of importation.

      Back in the 1980s I had the van version of this for a while, used to use it for flea market cruising. The 360 van carried standard registration and tags, and there were no legal restrictions in place as to where it could be driven. Of course common sense said not to drive it on roads like interstate highways. (When I was young and foolish I did drive a 360 sedan, which could barely make near-adequate speed, on the interstate but that’s another story!)

      Like 6
      • Avatar photo Farhvergnugen Member

        Yes, no doubt that this vehicle will have met all applicable regs, as long as there wasn’t a time limit involved.

        0 to whatever isn’t measured in seconds or even minutes, but by pages on the calendar, pref Calvin & Hobbs or Far Side.

        Like 3
      • Avatar photo Fernando Abruna

        You are absolutely right!
        I am a Subaru 360 owner.

        Like 2
    • Avatar photo Howard H

      Know a guy named Joe in California who’s owned a 360 sedan since new. The little 360 sedan has turned the odometer 4 times so far. He has driven it across country several times.
      I also own a 69 Sambar pickup and would never attempt an interstate unless trailered.

      Like 1
  2. Avatar photo Ken Bagby

    If they’re over 25 years old you can tag them! I bought a 1992 a few months ago that was imported from Japan. It’s 4cyl 660 cc engine 4wd 5speed with a granny gear and can do 70. I agree with the freeway statement! It cruises well at 55-60. I have learned to drive on the wrong side of the car and shift with my left hand! We were looking for an ATV and I found Sammy! I can’t make beer runs or go pick up lumber with an ATV. It also has A/C! I got lucky and found a great importer in Florida. It would be interesting to find out where this little truck came from because it is American side drive!

    Like 1
  3. Avatar photo Steve RM

    I drove one many years ago but my experience would not be typical. The owner had installed a VW drivetrain. It drove okay and had enough power but it was never meant to go fast no matter how much power it had. I always thought it was a shame that he changed out the drivetrain. He said he was tired of trying to find parts. This was pre-internet.

    Like 1
  4. Avatar photo John

    In Florida its like the golf car, even W/license

    Like 1
  5. Avatar photo Douglas Brooks

    I drove a modern kei van for a couple of months in Japan. It had a mid-engine arrangement, basically between the two front seats, accessed by tilting the seats back. It was an automatic and I found on the highway it was really winding out to stay at speed. I kept track of the mileage religiously and it got really unimpressive mileage with highway driving, but on the back roads averaging about 45 mph it seemed to find its sweet spot. A year ago I was in the exact same region and rented a kei car and that was much more comfortable at highway speeds, probably due to lighter weight and better aerodynamics.

    Like 1
  6. Avatar photo Willowen

    I had the van version for a few years, in Tennessee; bought it from a kid out in the country near where my brother lived. I have to say that it was easily the least competent chassis design I’ve ever had the (dis)pleasure of driving, since the front suspension was a single trailing arm on each side, so that when it leaned over in a turn the outside front wheel went over into negative caster, making the steering want to turn even tighter. Just for extra fun, the driver’s side door liked to pop open (chassis flex),inviting me to fall out. And of course I didn’t have a seat belt either! But driven very gently it was an okay city car, and
    got a lot more attention for being cute than it maybe deserved. But lousy engineering and total lack of parts availability meant that it barely made it to my garage on its last running day … but by then a bad exhaust leak, filling the interior with two-stroke fumes, had made it undrivable.

    I think its only saving grace was how much prettier it was than the sedans … but I mostly remember it as the only car I had whose chassis could not deal with SIXTEEN horsepower! Pathetic, just pathetic.

    Like 0
  7. Avatar photo chrlsful

    many of us remember the Yugo too. Purpose built all. Just not usa. Japan, euro (& not all of it) & no 3rd world. Like most automotive Qs its: ‘what is the application?’ Many Americans own several cars, this for a specialty. Most of that might be the wrk commute. 50% of us could use it (we’ve become an urban nation) but that would wear it out quickly (an econobox needs kept after AND those in the know here say “No prts avail.”)

    Every time I see a gent standing beside I say that 4 ltred wrd: “cute”. Would I put 2, 3 K on it, sure. Like Scotto I like small, quirky. But 10K$? no way. 1st thing I’d do? havea canvas cover made, just like done in Nagoya, Kyoto or Osaka. I’d hafta take out 3 of the seating positions, put up side boards, cover the ramp, and make a rack so the hand truck didn’t rattle around, may B put it where the 1st useless seat is (in cabin w/me?). Git ‘er done !

    Now 4 WD, ground clearance’n tires? That’d be useful (as personal transportation only). And they have them. Side’b’side or ‘quad’ is not much different but off the acreage it can drive to the store’n those can’t (most do as it’s just the country, know the cops, & we all do it). Winter it’s almost legal. Better stop, gettin off topic~

    Like 1
  8. Avatar photo Wayne Saunders

    I own 2 Subaru 360 Sambar trucks & 2 Sedans, I drive them any where. Some of you are saying things that is not true. You either are making things up to say to be funny or just not informed about the 360s Like they are 25 BHP not 16! No 360 had an automatic transmission. A Sedan just sold on B.A.T. for $50,000.00 Look it up.

    Like 1
  9. Avatar photo Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Auction update: this one ended at $6,800 and no sale.

    Like 0

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