Fuji Heavy Industries’ Subaru division introduced the Subaru 360 which was considered as the first mass produced vehicle by the company. It was first launched in 1958 and remained in production until 1971. Subaru 360 was a perfect vehicle that was designed to comply with the government regulations to produce ‘people’s car’ featuring an engine no less than 360 cc. It was a small and inexpensive car for the people of Japan who couldn’t afford an expensive car at that time. It was designed to fulfill the Japanese regulations regarding a kei car. In the Japanese market, it was well known as ‘ladybug’ and proved to be a successful car among other smallest cars. During its lifetime from 1958 to 1971, total of 392,000 units were sold in Japan. Subaru R-2 replaced the 360 in Japanese market.
The engine displacement, i.e. 356 cc defined the name of the car. The first competitor of 360 appeared in Japanese market in 1961 in form of Mitsubishi 360, which was later joined by Daihatsu Fellow. In 1967, Suzuki Fronte also joined the competition.
It featured a small air-cooled, 2-stroke inline 2-cylinder 356 cc engine fixed diagonally at the rear. The 360 was also got its name after this small engine. Compared to 360’s air-cooled engine, all the vehicles producing at that time in Japan were traditionally came with water-cooled 4-stroke engines with 4 or more cylinders fixed at the front. 2-stroke engines are normally simpler, lighter, and facile to cold start as well as generate twice the power for lesser weight.
The 360 was certainly a remarkable vehicle which took on an arrangement analogous to the Volkswagen Beetle. But the car was small, less powerful and was not as much popular across the world. The 360 features a monocoque body construction in which body served as frame and featured a light fiberglass roof panel. The unibody construction became the standard for the passenger cars as well as for several light trucks since the post war period. The engineers from former Nakajima Aircraft Company had come up with many innovative ideas. The Company later transformed into Fuji Heavy Industries in later years. The 360 also featured ‘suicide doors’ hinged at the rear.
The 360 featured a 3-speed manual transmission and had a maximum speed of 60 mph. The weight of the 360 was measured just under 1000 lbs, which means that 360 had an exemption from US safety regulations. As for fuel economy, the vehicle achieved 66 mpg, though the Customer Reports tests claimed its acceleration as modest with 0-50 times in about 37 seconds contrasted to 14.5 seconds for Volkswagen. The reports claimed to expect nothing more than 25-35 mpg. The first production unit came with an engine delivering 16 hp (12 kW). However, the power of the engine had boosted to 25 hp (19 kW) with an introduction of a 36 hp (27 kW) twin-carbureted engine.