1970 Subaru Microvan: 360 Sambar

The market for collector cars is a fickle thing. Often times, the cars that end up being valuable are not the ones you would expect. What ends up being collectible are the cars which had limited production, special options, or were such commercial failures that they were discontinued quickly – only to become a cult classic down the road.

The Yugo, the Corvair, the Pinto, and the DeLorean have all played the role of the ‘black sheep’ of the automotive industry at one time or another. Due to reliability, safety, or other issues, these cars basically flopped when they hit the market. Dealers had trouble moving them, and they were not produced in large numbers.

But now the tables have turned! With so few of these cars surviving, values have started to increase for these cars that nobody wanted when they were brand new. Well, here’s another example of a car with that same fate: The Subaru 360 Sambar microvan.

The Subaru 360 first came out in 1958 and was named after its 358cc engine. The 360 was sold in Japan as a special class of vehicle called a kei car – which are known for being very small and inexpensive as well as providing little to no driver safety.

Back in 1968, Malcolm Bricklin arranged to have 10,000 of these vehicles imported to the U.S. for sale. Because the car weighed under 1,000 lbs, it did not have to meet certain safety regulations.

The cars cost about $1,300 brand new and were almost immediately a commercial flop for two reasons. First, Subaru actually said the cars were “cheap and ugly” in their television ads! Second, a 1969 article in Consumer Reports magazine rated the cars “Not Acceptable” which I believe is really what did the 360 in.

Of the 10,000 vehicles that were brought over, there were four body styles: two sedans (base and sport), a van, and a pickup. The van and pickup are significantly more rare than the sedans. Subaru discontinued the 360 in 1970, ending its unspectacular run in the United States market after just 3 years.

This 1970 Subaru 360 Sambar microvan is definitely a rare find. All 360s imported into the U.S. came equipped with the same engine: a 356cc horizontally opposed 2-stroke, oil injected, air cooled engine which produces 25 horsepower. Even with a 4-speed manual transmission, this was not a sporty car by any stretch of the imagination. Consumer Reports stated that 0-60mph took a staggering 37 seconds!

The Subaru Microvan is absurdly small: it rides on a 70.9 inch wheelbase (a 2008 Smart car has a 73.5 inch wheelbase) and measures 117.7 inches from end to end. It rides on 10-inch tires with tubes and tops out at 60 mph. Though the manufacturer claimed it achieved 66 mpg, Consumer Reports yielded around 25-30 mpg in their tests.

With so many unfavorable things going for it, Subaru’s first entry into the American market was of little interest to U.S. buyers. So few of them survived that today, they are becoming quite collectible. A restored 360 sold at Barrett-Jackson 2012 for a little over $12,000 dollars. Another one sold by Mecum Auctions in January 2014 sold for $11,000. If you can find one of these Subaru Microvans for sale, you should buy it because they are the right combination of rare, interesting, and desirable!