My Little Corner of the Net

Subaru, the Original Smart Car?

In 1968, Subaru entered the American market with the 360 mini-sedan. The tiny car, which Subaru marketed as being “cheap and ugly,” cost just $1297 (which would be about $8036 in 2010 dollars). Subaru marketing (see below) boasted that the 360 could go—even places that larger cars wouldn’t fit. With a length roughly equivalent to the width of a standard car, the 360 could fit perpendicularly in a parallel parking space.

Subaru claimed the 360 would get an impressive 66 mpg with its rear-mounted two-stroke engine. Unlike similar two-stroke engines in other smaller cars of the time, the 360 did not require adding oil to the gas when filling, as Subaru had pioneered the “Subarumatic” system, automatically adding the right amount of oil from an under-hood reservoir.

Despite the low cost, an early unibody frame design, high efficiency, and Subaru innovations, Consumer Reports rated the 360 “not accetpable” claiming that, in a crash with a standard-size American car of the day, the bumper of the larger car could end up in the passenger compartment of the 360. Wind resistance could also cause the suicide doors to open while driving if not properly latched, Consumer Reports said, and they claimed the engine did not deliver enough power, reaching a top speed of only 60 mph and taking nearly 40 seconds to go from 0-50 mph. Consumer reports also claimed the expectation of 66 mpg to be exaggerated, claiming that drivers could really expect about 25-35 mpg.

Perhaps the 360 was a bit ahead of its time. With today’s high gas prices, small, cheap, highly efficient cars, such as those from Smart are gaining popularity.

Note the lack of “professional driver, closed course, do not attempt” disclaimers in the ads.

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