The vintage Subaru 360 model K111 minicar has been designated the 2016 Mechanical Engineering Heritage item by the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers (JSME). A designation awards ceremony was held at Ichijo Hall in the University of Tokyo Yayoi Auditorium on 7 August as part of an event celebrating Machine Day and Machine Week.
Established in 1897, JSME (Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers) is among the country’s largest engineering societies and aims to advance and develop mechanical engineering, related systems, and associated fields. JSME certifies historically significant mechanical engineering heritage items existing in Japan in the aim of encouraging the careful preservation of such items and passing them on to future generations as part of the nation’s cultural heritage. It has been certifying Mechanical Engineering Heritage items continually since 2007, and including this year’s additions has certified 83 items in total.
Launched in 1958, the Subaru 360 was the marque’s first mass-produced minicar. Built within the 3-meter total length required of minicars at the time, the Subaru 360 seated four adult passengers with ease and offered a comfortable ride. Nicknamed the “ladybug”, it gained wide popularity in Japan for its compact design and practical layout.
The Subaru 360 Model K111 certified this year as item No. 78 on the JSME list of Mechanical Engineering Heritage items is displayed in the Subaru Visitor Center at FHI’s Gunma Yajima Plant. Visitors taking factory tours at the plant can see the vehicle displayed with other past Subaru vehicles.
Subaru 360 (Wikipedia)
Subaru 360 is a rear-engined, two-door city car manufactured and marketed from 1958 to 1971. As the company’s first automobile, production reached 392,000 over its 12-year model run. Noted for its small overall size, 1,000 lb curb weight, monocoque construction, swing axle rear suspension, fiberglass roof panel, and rear-hinged doors, the affordable car was designed in response to the Japanese government’s light car or Kei car regulations and its proposal for a larger “national car,” both intended to help motorize the post WWII Japanese population. The nameplate 360 derived from its tax-limited engine displacement: 356 cc engine.
In the 2000s, the 360 remains a popular subject for collectors, and model cars among other mini-cars such as the Fiat 500, 2CV and Morris Mini. Although it was primarily popular in Japan, it was not entirely forgotten even in markets such as the US. It was one of the smallest cars to attract a significant following from the 1960s to early 1970s, though it was never significant in North America, and also appears in Japanese anime series such as Pokémon and GetBackers, as well as racing video games such as Gran Turismo and Auto Modellista.