Ask people to name the oldest Subaru model they can remember and some will say Outback. Others might add the Brat. A rare few will name the 360. But fewer still know the whole story.
When it comes to the history and heritage of Subaru, few companies can boast such a diverse evolutionary background: Imagine starting a company in 1917 – not to build cars, but airplanes. Then, in 1946, the company shifted its focus – no, not to cars, but to scooters.
Yes, scooters. In this DNA chain, the first prototype Subaru car would not be built until 1955 … but we digress.
The fact is that terrestrial transportation for the company that would ultimately become Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (Subaru parent company) started on two wheels, not four. In June 1946, the residents of Japan needed affordable, efficient transportation, so Fuji Sangyo stopped manufacturing airplanes and completed Japan’s first prototype scooter.
The first Fuji Rabbit was a modest little scooter named the S-1. It was powered by a 135cc, single-cylinder engine that developed 2 horsepower and was built utilizing surplus parts. The original front wheel, for example, was from the tail landing gear of an airplane.
Total production for that first model was a modest 538 scooters, which were built from 1946 to 1947.
The Rabbit quickly became a success because it provided reliable urban transportation, plus its design allowed the rider to sit with feet together. That, and the low center of gravity, made the Rabbit easy to handle.
The first Fuji Rabbit scooter came to the United States in 1967, one year before the first Subaru car, the 360. It was known for its distinct styling and reliable performance.
In 1957, the Rabbit Superflow scooter was introduced with a powerful 150cc engine and a torque-converter automatic transmission. Along with the upscale Superflow, Fuji also offered a more basic, affordable model for the masses, the Rabbit 90 (also known as the S-202).
Production of the Fuji Rabbit ended in 1968, when VIN S211-22565 came off the production line on June 29.
The reason for the Rabbit’s demise? Scooters had fallen out of fashion, and cars were more popular and more profitable.
But Rabbits continue to live on today through a worldwide group of dedicated enthusiasts.