The Subaru 360, the first line of vehicles produced by Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company of Subaru, debuts on March 3, 1958, in Japan.
The country's small islands and increasing population density in the postwar years prompted government officials to issue strict guidelines for the country's fledgling auto industry. When the K class was established in 1955, the small vehicles were limited to about 10 feet in length with engines of no more than 360cc of displacement.
K-class buyers also enjoyed tax benefits and were allowed to park their vehicles on city streets overnight.
The Subaru 360 featured a uni-body construction but used a fiberglass roof insert to keep weight down.
The car came in four body styles. Two sedans: the standard, which was painted white, and the sport model, called the "Young," which came in yellow. 360s were also available later as vans, which were more rare than the sedans, and the rarest body style -- the 360 pickup.
Because of its ladybug shape, the 360 sedan was nicknamed "Ladybird" in Japan.
The Subaru 360 was exported to the U.S. starting in 1968 by Malcolm Bricklin. It was priced at $1,297 and claimed 66 mpg from an air-cooled 360cc two-cylinder engine. But it was slow. It took 37 seconds to hit 50 mph. It came in only one color -- white -- with a red interior. Subaru pitched them as "cheap and ugly" in ads.
In a 1969 review, Road & Track called the 360 "a car of uncommon ugliness."
Consumer Reports was not kind to the little car in another grim 1969 review, calling it "unacceptably hazardous" because of safety concerns and inadequate power, and "bumpers ... virtually useless against anything more formidable than a watermelon." The review helped kill demand for microcars.
U.S. sales were lackluster and most of the 10,000 cars imported by Bricklin remained unsold after three years. Subaru ended 360 output in 1970.