The Story of the Subaru 360 in Australia

as told by Ian Newman., a member of the Subaru 360 Driver's Club
and the Motoring Historians of Western Australia

Back in 1961, a car dealer in Ballarat, Victoria (Australia) called Frank O'Brien
decided to try out importing a batch of Subaru 360s.  His story appeared in the
August 1961 edition of "Wheels" magazine (Aussie motoring mag).  It was entitled
"Oriental Mini-Motoring".

Now fast forward to 1980, and a friend and I drove from Perth to Melbourne on
a car-discovery trip (look it up on a map - we used to do it regularly back then!),
and as I was just becoming a "Japanese car collector", on a whim I decided to try
to see if I could chase up this Frank O'Brien from the twenty-year-old Wheels
article - if he was still around!

Well after a bit of detective work, we struck gold and to cut a long story short,
we actually got to meet him at his truck tender yard, just south of Ballarat, in
a town called Sebastapol.  He still had a few of the sedans in his yard, gathering
dust/rotting and in various stages of disrepair. They were the Maia cars - probably
1960 to 1961.  He told me that he had imported around 73 vehicles in all, in a three
year period - broken down into (approx.): 40 Sedans, 15 Trucks and 15 Vans (all
Right Hand Drive of course).

The sedans  had the larger 423 cc "EK-51" engine, but they were unfortunately
found to be prone to overheating - Subaru Japan tried all they could to fix the
problem but to no avail, despite three trips over there by Mr O'Brien. In the end,
this was found (by accident) to be mainly due to #1 piston being pre-heated by
#2., linked with a problem in the oiling of the automatic advance.  They found
that the engine could be timed anywhere within a 360  degree (distributor) range,
and that when timed with the oil entry point towards the top, the oil was reluctant
to travel "uphill" and consequently starvation occurred.  The answer was to time
the engine on the bottom half, so the oil would not have to run uphill.  All this was
by now, too little too late for Mr O'Brien, as he had been losing money due to the
overheating problem, and the dealership was doomed.  It was indeed unfortunate
that things had not worked out for the better.  Once fixed, the vehicles hummed
along quite reliably - Mr O'Brien once drove "flat out" to Sydney non-stop (many
hours driving - at least eight - away) with the car "not missing a beat".  Top speed
was apparently around 63 miles per hour.  

Another sad Subaru 360 importation tale.

if you have any additional information about the history of the Subaru 360
in Australia, please email me.

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