A little car of great importance.
Subaru’s very first mass-produced minicar has been designated as a Mechanical Engineering Heritage item for 2016 by the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers. Nicknamed ‘ladybug’ in its home country, the ‘360’ was introduced in 1958 and was engineered to comply with the regulations regarding minicars of those days which had to be within three-meters long. Despite its very small footprint, the vehicle still had enough room to host four adult passengers.
The two-door city car received its ‘360’ name after the 356-cc, air-cooled two-cylinder engine mounted at the back which worked together with a three-speed manual gearbox sending power to the rear axle. Initially, output stood at 16 hp (12 kW) in a car that tipped the scales at less than 1,000 pounds (453 kilograms). Later on, more powerful versions with 25 hp (19 kW) and 36 hp (27 kW) were launched, along with other body styles, including a wagon and a convertible.
It remained in production until 1971 and a total of 392,000 units were assembled during the model’s 13-year run. With a 0-50 mph (80 kph) run in an agonizing 37 seconds and a theoretical 60-mph top speed, people certainly didn’t buy the car for its performances. They did however purchase the minicar for its downright amazing efficiency, managing to return 66 miles per gallon (79.2 mpg UK or 3.5 liters / 100 km).
The 360 Model K111 pictured below is the 78th item to be certified by the JSME and is on display in the Subaru Visitor Center at the Gunma Yajima Plant in Japan.