The Japanese people's car
The makers of Subaru, Fuji Heavy Industries, was incorporated in 1953. Although they had been building scooters since the 1940s, it wasn't until 1958 that they introduced their first car, the diminutive Subaru 360. Made in response to a mandate from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry for a Japanese "People's Car", the 360 was a big hit, and production would reach almost 400,000 by the time it was discontinued in 1971.
Built to the 360 cc standard set for the diminutive class of automobiles called kei cars in Japan, the Subaru 360 was actually the first kei car to feature four wheels as well as room for four people. Suicide doors made getting in and out of the 900-pound car a bit easier.
Other distinguishing and advanced features included unibody construction and a fiberglass roof. Powering the first 360s was a 25-horsepower, 356 cc, two-stroke, air-cooled straight-twin, but this would later grow to 423 cc. Considering its lack of power, the 360's top speed of about 60 miles per hour is at least respectable, and it could reach that speed in about 37 seconds. Not exactly World Rally Championship-winning performance, but perfectly adequate for buzzing around Tokyo.
The 360 was great in the world of kei cars and certainly helped bring Subaru to where they are today, but in foreign markets it found less love. Microcars didn't stay popular for very long in most of the world, and there were enough cheap cars like the Volkswagen Beetle that were bigger, faster, more practical and had four-stroke engines. One look at a 360 next to a WRX STI shows just how far Subaru has come.