A brief history of Japan's first kei car.

Fuji Heavy Industries was incorporated in 1953, being a combination of six engineering firms that had been part of the giant Nakajima aircraft firm, although a part of the dismantled aircraft firm already carried the Fuji name in 1946. Its logo carries the six stars of the Pleiades constellation, representing the six formative parts.

Fuji began making their S-1 scooter in 1946, six months before the Vespa, and they continued to make their technologically-advanced Rabbit scooters until 1968. They introduced their first car, the Subaru 360, in 1958, in response to a Ministry of International Trade and Industry mandate for a “People’s Car.” 

It was the first “kei” class car with four wheels and room for four people, and with its nickname being the “Ladybug,” it became one of Japan’s most popular cars. Its partly recessed headlamps flanking a VW-like lid gave it an appealing “face.” The car demonstrated a technical sophistication rarely seen in a microcar at the time, such as torsion bar trailing arm suspension, a unibody construction, and a fiberglass roof. Doors were of the rear-hinged “suicide” type. It sold well in Japan, being made until 1971, but it was less successful in the U.S.A. in terms of sales.

Part of the RM Auctions event for Bruce Weiner in February, 2013

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Darin Schnabel

Gallery: Subaru 360