Microcar Face-Off – 1969 Subaru 360 vs. 2005 Smart Fortwo Passion

When we think of the “golden age” of the micro car, it’s likely the 1950s and 1960s come to mind. For North American purposes, the thread of the microcar pretty much ran out once the safety bar was raised in the early 1970s, struggling on in the form of oddball electric cars like the Citicar and Zagato Elcar. In 2008, though, Smart put an end to that dry spell by bringing its Fortwo coupe to the market. Interestingly, the Fortwo and Subaru have as much in common as they do differences – quirky styling? Check. Small dimensions? Check. Good fuel economy? Check. Rear engine? Check. Speaking of checking, check out this 1969 Subaru 360 for sale for $3900 in Forest Grove, OR.

1969 Subaru 360 left side

It’s nice to see one of these for an affordable price – many are in nicer condition, but get up into the five figure price range. This one looks like a well-preserved original – it does have some small rust spots and paint issues, but is said to run pretty well. Interestingly, these apparently weighed under 1000 lb. and therefore skated beneath the safety rules when they were sold new. Not that you care, but consumer Reports branded the car Not Acceptable, and that’s in the days when driving buzzed was not only condoned, it was expected.

1969 Subaru 360 interior

The interior’s clearly been redone in a more modern fabric, and while the vinyl has more period charm, ask someone in a sunny climate whether they liked period charm the last time it burned the back of their legs. Of course, there are also significant differences, first off that if you hit an S-class Mercedes you will probably succumb to sudden deceleration trauma in the Subaru, while the Smart’s structure will keep you covered. Also, vertical door handles.

1969 Subaru 360 engine

This Subaru’s two-stroke two cylinder engine is said to run well, and everything else is said to work including the reverse light. Honestly, this kind of car is exactly what this site is about – mechanically decent but a little rough around the edges when it comes to the looks. The car has new brakes, tires, and inner tubes, some work on the fuel system, and rather oddly, a tiger’s face and flowery pattern engraved into the rear window.

this 2005 Smart Fortwo Passion

2005 Smart Fortwo Passion right front

Interestingly, this is a first-generation car that seems to have been federalized with mile-per-hour speedometer and tacked on side marker lights, even though they were never officially imported – will Smart collectors of the future criticize owners who haven’t had those shaved and the holes filled in? With just under 50,000 miles, it’s said to run and drive like new, and as a 2005 model year car it is equipped with the 698cc engine putting out 50hp.

2005 Smart Fortwo Passion interior

The interior is full of funky features usually not found in North-American market cars of any brand, like periscopic gauges and vents, as well as a shift knob with a simple plus, minus, neutral and reverse, controlling the semi-automatic transmission. One major shortcoming here is the lack of a back seat, so if you need to transport a couple more truly small people, the Subaru should be your choice. Depending on who you ask, Smarts are either agonizing or fun to drive, and personal experience suggests if you enjoy a varied palette of automotive experiences, you’ll have fun figuring out how to optimize the output of the turbo triple. So would you pick old funky or new funky?

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2 Responses to “Microcar Face-Off – 1969 Subaru 360 vs. 2005 Smart Fortwo Passion”

  1. 1977chevytruck Says:

    I find it interesting that you in the US got these so much later then us in Canada.

    They’ve been sold here since 2004, while it appears that dealers first started selling them there in 2009.

    • Chris Keen Says:

      Yeah, we never got the first gen cars with some of the more funky details, though there were attempts to sell them with an electric powertrain and some were maybe privately brought over from Canada. .

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