Seldom Seen Microvan: 1969 Subaru Sambar

UPDATE 4/11/21: Several of our readers have indicated these were sold in the U.S. as the Subaru 360. Sorry for any confusion.

The Sambar was a microvan that Subaru first launched in 1961 and would build for another 50 years. It had a rear-wheel-drive cabover design with a rear-mounted engine that came in both pickup and van configurations. It was never sold in the U.S., so the seller’s 1969 edition found its way here through other channels. A nice survivor that has recently been serviced, this Sambar is in San Diego, California and available here on eBay where the bidding is currently holding at $15,401.

Known in Japan as a kei class truck because of its small dimensions and even smaller powerplant, the Sambar was the first Japanese foray into this market. These became enormously popular for hauling people and cargo on that country’s crowded roads. The first two generations, including the seller’s example, would use a 356cc air-cooled engine. The second generation would cover the model years from 1966-73 and include some revised styling. The little engine would be slightly more powerful, with an output of just shy of 20 hp. Not a lot of muscle, but not much was needed to propel a vehicle that weighed under 1,200 lbs. as a microvan.

The seller says this little van is completely original down to the 450×10 Bridgestone tires. He’s owned it for about 20 years and has only added 1,000 miles to the 4,900 miles that it already had on it. We’re told it has recently been serviced, but that doesn’t really tell us what work was done. The body has a little surface rust on it, but nothing that a good clay bar cleaning might not take care of. The interior is said to be immaculate and needs nothing done to it.

These little vehicles don’t turn up for sale very often. This one in Miami is currently going for $14,000. That suggests that the seller’s van might not see much more bidding action, but you never know. Something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. This van looks like it would be a lot of fun to jockey around town. I hope the front license plate and rear window sticker go with the car!

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  1. Twinstick

    I’m surprised that this author isn’t aware that these were sold in the us via Malcolm Bricklin as the Subaru 360. Had the pickup version.

    Like 3
    • That AMC Guy

      I was just about to make the same comment, they were definitely sold in the U.S. I had one of these vans years ago. Scary to drive on the highway!

      Like 2
  2. chrlsful

    made 50 yrs? might B a record? Also, more importantly, parts might B avail.
    Need to place something B side to give scale. I believe the roof top would B below my arm pit/mid chest level. Lookin at the frnt floor board (what lousy pics, not 1 ‘full view’ either) I could not place my foot down in an anatomically correct position…
    Our mechanic had one on the property growin up. It musta sat out there to draw attention to the business as it never moved. I very much like the concept but need a lill more size (esp now, older, I can not bend & crunch-up as B4). We need lill boxes (like this), the mini p/u, return the ‘station wagon’ (all EVs) may B ona 106 inch WB (bigger than this yet still small).

    • angliagt angliagt Member

      Could you please use complete words?
      This isn’t texting to your buddies.Your posts are
      very difficult to read,& I’m not always sure what
      you’re trying to say.

      Like 27
      • misterlou Member

        Broken “e” on their keyboard?

        Like 2
      • k

        B nice

      • Gerard Frederick

        Don´t worry. Whatever he has to say is doubtlessly totally irrelevant.

        Like 2
    • grant

      This is a forum for adults, not teenage girls, thanks.

      Like 4
  3. Paolo

    It’s not well understood in the United States but vehicles of this scale are more than adequate for many city and suburban people and businesses.
    Was can’t American manufacturers be diverse enough to provide honest vehicles that actually meet user’s real needs?
    Oh right, needs vs. wants.
    Instead every manufacturer is headed toward a vehicle singularity, the gargantuan suv that fills all available space alloted, consumes resources, a lumbering juggernaut etcetera. A dishonest vehicle, unsuitable for most people but it’s the thing we’re told we have to have. We’ve have argued about this endlessly.
    I like this little beast.

    Like 8
    • Dave

      You may not know this, but here in the US we have a serious problem with distracted driving. Hardly a day goes by without reports of fatalities caused by self-absorbed morons who must text while driving.
      Having said that, an electric vehicle like this would be perfect for retirement villages and other areas where residents drive golf carts.
      Kei class cars were designed and built with the crowded streets of Tokyo in mind, not the wide open American highways.

      Like 1
      • Paolo

        Dave, I know it all too well. I probably didn’t flesh out my argument enough. Like I said, it’s needs vs. wants. Small vehicles are adequate for most urban and suburban needs. Long distance highway driving between cities and regions is something else. It would take a massive sustained effort to convince people to to change their driving and car buying habits. But manufacturers bear responsibility too. Are they creating demand for shoddy, dangerous products or are they merely fulfilling the expectations of buyers? Trick question, it’s both. But manufacturers spend Bazillions to create desire for new and novel products. Also true is that many manufacturers have gone bust trying to convince people to buy things because they are “good for you”.
        So my point, if I have one, is people are no good and it is frustrating to see that the lack of common sense and the reality of herd mentality controls much of peoples thinking which prevents implementation of sensible progressive ideas that could make some improvement in the quality of life for more people outside of our own selves.

        Like 5
      • That AMC Guy

        That sounds like ideas that someone who has never been outside a crowed city would espouse. I for one am unwilling to change my driving habits or adopt “progressive” ideas. Having owned one these little vans, it was a novelty when I was young but these days no way would I go back to driving something like this.

        Like 3
      • Dave

        The only “lumbering juggernaut” SUV that I know is the Suburban. It is built on a truck chassis and is quite popular among those who need to haul a lot of gear and people. You’re not going to get very many oilfield roughnecks or ranch hands into a Samovar.
        Publicly traded companies exist to serve stockholders. Guessing wrong causes unhappy stockholders and leads to rapid management changes. People want four wheel drive, tech heavy station wagons.
        Vehicle makers either think that we all want electric vehicles or expect them to be mandated by government fiat.
        Put another way…”need” is a minivan, “want” is a new Corvette.

        Like 1
  4. Car Nut Tacoma

    Nice looking microvan (kei van). I’ve only seen one Sambar in person. It was immaculate. Given its size, I imagine a 10 yr old could learn to drive something like this around the neighbourhood with guidance from a parent or a responsible adult.

  5. local_sheriff

    This Subaru must have been sold new in the US – both the MPH speedometer and the ‘ISO Metric Thread System’ warning label suggests it was intended for the US market.
    I had a music teacher in primary school (his choice of wheels was obviously an anti-materialistic statement as he was a well-known local leftist) who drove one of a slightly newer model, also there’s a van identical to his sitting as yard art not far from my homestead

    Like 2
    • Eric B

      In primary school you were aware of what a “leftist” was? Do “leftists” as a rule strictly only drive anti-materialistic cars?

      • local_sheriff

        OK, it isn’t easy to NOT make this political but since you’re absolutely asking I’ll take your 2nd question first; yes my personal observation of people with obvious(read: open) leftist views is that they GENERALLY opt for typical non-materialistic cars, almost as a method to front a political statement. There are of course exceptions to that rule, like my primary school teacher (an open leftist to this day) who preferred her husband’s K5 Blazer over her own Beetle.

        And yes, I learnt at a very early age that political opinions range on a ‘left-right’ scale. During my childhood in Norway my aunt and uncle (both open Communists) went on an ‘educational excursion’ to China – Soviet as a destination was out of the question as they stated she was ‘too westernized’. I remember they drove nothing but Ladas – but when those went off the market they had to ‘make do’ with SAABs.

        I think it’s important to point out that the mentioned music teacher was a known figure in local government so this is not only my assumption. Even though he dressed ‘alternatively’ and drove a weird-looking van he was also a very fair-minded person and a good teacher

        Like 3
      • Dave

        On this forum, left and right refer to which side the steering wheel is on.

        Like 3
    • Eric B

      Actually, it IS quite easy to not bring up politics on a site about cars, on a site where insults, politics, etc are frowned upon. For the record, I’m what some would call a “leftist” I guess, here in the U.S. I have a Mustang with a 390.

      • local_sheriff

        Well Eric, seems we’d probably not be so unlike then, and also that we’re so talking apples and oranges here – guys of the caliber I mention above would simply have us both DISQUALIFIED just for owning an American car not to mention one of any notable value, or any US made product whatsoever 😏
        I’m an owner of ‘some’ vintage US vehicles too…

  6. Comet

    I drove a RHD (BTW easy to learn) Sambar pick up while stationed in Japan. Tons of fun. Great little truck!

    Like 1
  7. Eric B

    To anyone into these little buggers, I highly recommend this guy’s channel. Mostly 2 strokes and micro cars, but plenty of other cars make appearances as well. Great channel, free plug for him….

    Like 1
  8. Jonathan Q Higgins

    It’s something interesting for in town use. The older ones have poorly designed suspensions. Newer ones have vastly better suspension design but they lost the suicide doors. None of them are powerhouses.

  9. Jwaltb

    Some of our commenters today sound like they’re having PMS.

    Like 1
    • Ralph

      (punish my spouse)
      I live with that everyday.

  10. Jay Bree

    I remember seeing a few of these miserable little death traps years ago.

    Time probably hasn’t improved their utility much, however leg prostheses have come a long way, so there’s that

  11. Gbar

    No politics. Please.

    Like 3
  12. Kenn

    The blue van in Miami sold 5 years ago….the writer should check the dates.

  13. Charles Sawka

    I was stationed in Okinawa in 1970. We saw many of the kei class vehicles. They don’t do well in accidents.

    Like 1

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