The Subaru 360 has been named a “mechanical engineering heritage item” by the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers.
The organisation has been designating items since 2007 in an effort to recognise and keep alive this part of the country’s cultural heritage. All up, the society granted this status to 83 items, including the Subaru 360, which made its debut in 1958.
Items inducted onto the list in earlier years include the Motoman L10 industrial robot, Japan’s first mechanical coin counter, a train ticket collection gate, and the revolving stage at a kabuki theatre.
Although the 360 may seem like oddity today, it was like many other small cars from that era and born out of post-World War II necessity. Countries heavily affected by the war were trying to get their people on wheels, but fuel was expensive and materials scarce.
Measuring just 2.99 metres in length, 1.3m wide, 1.38m tall, and riding on a 1.8m wheelbase, the Subaru 360 was designed to be compliant with Japan’s first set of kei car rules.
Behind the rear axle was a 356cc two-cylinder engine that, at launch, developed 12kW of power and drove the rear wheels via a three-speed manual transmission.
The monocoque 360 was most commonly sold as a two-door with a fibreglass roof, but it was also available as a convertible and a two-door station wagon. All variants featured rear-hinged ‘suicide’ front doors.