The 1/8 scale subscription models are among the most expensive and time consuming kits available in Japan. It takes serious commitment to complete them, and because of their complexity only a couple get produced per year. Only the most revered cars are immortalized in this fashion, making the collection of subscription models something of an automotive hall of fame. While we’ve seen Skyline GT-Rs and Toyota 2000GTs receive the 1/8 treatment, the latest offering is far more humble — a 1958 Subaru 360.
The Subaru 360 was unveiled to the public in March 1958 at the now defunct Shirokiya department store in Nihonbashi Tokyo. It wasn’t just any store, but one that traced its origins to a time when Tokyo was still called Edo. The final branch, located in Hawaii, closed in 2020 as a result of the pandemic after having been in business for over 350 years.
The location of its debut is significant because it was a time in which mass-produced consumer goods were rapidly proliferating in Japan, and such department stores sold everything the average Japanese household could want. Most didn’t yet own cars, but the Japanese government’s new kei jidosha program sought to change that. Built to specific dimensions and with an engine size no larger than 360cc, these people’s cars were formulated to be affordable to the average citizen.
The Subaru 360 was by far the most popular and successful of all of them. It was so popular that production lasted until 1970. That’s 12 years, and Subaru built approximately 392,000 of them. Without it, Japan would not have evolved into the automotive wonderland that we know and love. So while the tentoumushi (Japanese for “ladybug”), as it is nicknamed, isn’t a high-dollar sports car, it most certainly deserves to be included among Japan’s seminal cars in 1/8 scale.
However, whereas the 1/8 Hakosuka GT-R measures 21 inches long, the diminutive Subaru 360 is only 14.7 inches, or about the size of a laptop screen. That doesn’t take away from its high level of detail, though.
Since this is an early model, it features the protruding headlight bezels affectionately known as demekin (Japanese for “telescope-eye goldfish“) lights. All of the lights can be turned on via a remote control, and in the case of the turn signals they will blink while emitting a relay clicking sound.
The lighting continues at the rear, with turn signal and brake light units, as well as a center license plate light. The rear hatch has horizontal louvers unique to the 1958 model.
Beneath it is a comprehensive replica of the EK31 engine. The air-cooled, two-stroke, 2-cylinder engine generates just 16 horsepower and 22 lb-ft of torque. All the colors and stickers are faithful to the real car’s.
Open up the front to reveal a spare wheel and scissor jack. The blue serial number plate is accurate as well. Even the unique hinge mechanism has been recreated.
Inside a realistic replica of the spartan interior. A slender 3-spoke steering wheel frames a single, centrally mounted speedometer on the dashboard. Naturally, it’s linked to the front wheels, which can turn when the steering wheel is operated.
The Subaru 360 seats four, and the front lawn chair-esque seats fold forward to allow access to the rear. Further details come in the form of a working dome light in the cabin. The windows mimic the sliding glass of the real car, and the wind plate angle can be adjusted as well.
The weekly subscription sends a few parts at a time. It’ll take the full 90 installments to complete the car, by which point you’ll have spent ¥196,010 (which works out to $1,475 at today’s exchange rates). Along the way, there will be opportunities to pay a little extra for accessories like an 1/43 scale model of the same car finished in blue.
For an extra ¥4,998 ($38 USD) they’ll throw in snazzy acrylic display case. The buttons in the stand are designed to resemble the gauges and switchgear of the real Subaru 360. The display plays sounds from the actual car, such as the horn, starter, and engine. Each installment also comes with a pamphlet about the 360. Put all 90 together and you get a book about the car. A DVD about its history also included.
The Subaru 360 is made by Hachette, which also made a Toyota Celica Liftback, Toyota 2000GT, Nissan Skyline GT-R, and Seibu Keisatsu DR30 Skyline. Other Japanese icons that have been transformed into 1/8 scale include DeAgostini’s Toyota AE86 and Honda MP4/4, as well as Eaglemoss’ S30 Fairlady Z and R35 GT-R. The little Subaru 360 can stand with the best of those giants. For a more complete understanding of this phenomenon, see our history on subscription model kits in Japan. If you’d like to subscribe yourself, you can do so at Hachette’s website (Japan only).