Subaru’s market performance in recent years has really surprised car fans. After more than 20 years of driving high and low, with the hot SUV market, Subaru has come out of a bottoming out with three SUV models. The “K” line, especially the excellent performance in the US market. Speaking of Subaru in the US market, today we will review the story of Subaru’s earliest entry into the US market.
In the mid-1960s, automotive magnate Malcom Bricklin wanted to invest in a chain of gas stations that would rent out cheap scooters. Malcom Bricklin came across Subaru’s subcompact car, the adorable 360, during his trip to Fuji Heavy Industries, Japan, to inspect the Rabbit. This miniature car was born when the Japanese government encouraged the development of “people’s cars”. The fuel consumption of less than 4 liters per 100 kilometers and the weight of less than 500 kilograms made this car more practical than some motorcycles. When Bricklin saw the car, he realized that it was a good opportunity, so he decided to import the 360 to the United States, and he could avoid many strict car import regulations. Soon he established the Subaru America Corporation, and in 1968 ushered in the first ship of the 360 model.
But things were not as smooth as imagined. It didn’t take long for the American media to question the safety of this miniature car, including that the doors would open during driving if the doors were not fully locked, and the face in the event of a collision would be opened. There is no advantage to this tiny car in the 2-ton class in the US. Afterwards, the 360 model began to be unsalable. Except for the sedan, the pickup version and the Van version of the 360 failed to become “people’s cars” in the United States. Fortunately, Subaru launched the more potential front-wheel-drive FF-1 Star model at that time. For Bricklin, although the mini-car failed to achieve the expected success, the brand successfully opened the market in the United States.
Is the early Subaru 360 minicar really as unbearable as the media said? To find out, we borrowed three Subaru 360 models at the Lane Automobile Museum in Tennessee for a test drive, and of course there are other surprises.
1966 Subaru 360 Sambar Van
Before seeing this car, your impression of Mini Van may be Dodge Caravan or Volkswagen’s T series. But this Subaru is obviously smaller than those cars. The Subaru 360 Van is only 2996mm in length, 1296mm in width, and 1520mm in height. , the 360 Sambar Van launched in 1961 is Japan’s first miniature Van model. The front row of this car adopts a “suicide” door design, which provides the greatest convenience for passengers to enter and exit, after all, the body size is already very compact. Entering the U.S. market is the second-generation model, which still uses the same 356cc air-cooled inline two-cylinder engine as the previous model, with a maximum power of 25 horsepower. Although the displacement is small, the feeling at the start is still very refreshing. I really like the thrill of stepping on 80% of the accelerator and then releasing the clutch. But don’t expect anything when you accelerate halfway, even if you step on the accelerator to the end, you don’t feel much. The top speed of this car is 80km/h, but during my test drive, the 4th gear speed of 64km/h feels like the limit. The feel of the “dogleg” shift lever is still good, and it is very comfortable to operate, but the highest gear is only 4th gear, while the first-generation model is a 3-speed gearbox.
1970 Subaru 360 Sambar Pickup
Pickup is also one of the models derived from Subaru 360. In Japan, Subaru’s miniature pickup has the largest cargo box volume and the lowest cargo floor in its class, which is a great advantage for consumers, and Subaru A version with a high-side cargo box is also available for consumers to choose from. However, for American consumers, the carrying capacity of this miniature pickup is really negligible compared with local pickups. I had some trouble starting up this antique museum pickup, but it finally worked. This car feels more dexterous, and every bump on the road can be clearly conveyed to me. Just as I was excitedly driving this car on the huge parking lot of the museum, the car broke down again, and it failed to start again until the end of the event, which is a pity. Shortly thereafter, I test drove a 1963 Fiat Multipla, which was much more reliable than the Subaru. But then again, in 1963 Fiat had been making cars for 64 years, and in 1970 Subaru had been in the business for 17 years.
Subaru 360 FasTrack II
Subaru pulled the 360 from showrooms after media reports called it the least safe car in America. However, Bricklin did not admit defeat, but contacted Bruce Meyers, the boss of Meyers Manx, to customize a car shell that can be placed on the chassis of the 360 model. car, the 360-degree bumper with no dead ends does give people the impression of safety. Bricklin intends to turn this car into a small racing car for people’s entertainment. The model is a bit like today’s go-kart, and it charges $1 per lap, but unfortunately, at this price, everyone can experience a more pure racing car. In the end, most of the FasTrack II models disappeared, and the museum car survived 15 years of loving care by the original owner. Compared with other 360 series models, the power of this car has not changed much, but the shape has a big difference. Of course, the one-piece body and the body of the tube frame structure have greatly reduced the weight of this car, which is softer. The suspension and the shock absorber that feels like it will break at any time really make it hard to imagine that this is a “racing car” in the corners.
1969 Subaru 360 “Peanut”
Finally we found the dusty Sambar Camino 360, also known as Peanut, in a corner of the Lane Auto Museum. This car has the front of a car and the rear of a pickup truck. It has a very unique shape, and the windshield and steering wheel of this car can be folded down. Why? Because this way the car can be driven into the 1.6m wide and 0.7m high “garage” of the caravan, which is ideal for consumers who travel in a caravan and need a mobility scooter that can be driven away at any time s Choice.
1981 Jet 600 Electra Van
Jet Industries, located in Austin, the capital of Texas, is famous for producing electric vehicles. They are good at converting traditional fuel vehicles on the market into electric vehicles and naming them by themselves. And this 600 ElectraVan is based on the Subaru 360 van. It is said that the output exceeds 100 units. Of course, there are not many existing estimates. Twelve 6V batteries are placed in the rear seat of this car, which also makes the Van’s center of gravity lower. Interestingly, unlike the single-speed design of current electric vehicles, this electric van produced by Jet Industries retains the configuration of the original car’s 4-speed gearbox. The car is said to have a range of between 40km and 80km.