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January 5, 2013

1970 Subaru Sambar may be tiniest truck in town

NORMAN — In 2011, Wayne Saunders bought himself a birthday present that is undoubtedly the smallest street-legal truck in Norman. It’s a 1970 Subaru Sambar 360.

Assembled in Japan by Fuji Heavy Industries, there’s nothing weighty about the miniscule workhorse. It tips in at 1,020 pounds and is powered by a 360cc engine. Most American motorcycle riders would reject a motor that size as being too small. This little two-cycle beast powers a truck that can haul a driver, passenger and payload in the shallow bed. It easily cruises at 50 mph. “I like that it gets 60 miles to a gallon of gasoline,” Saunders said. He found the Subaru for sale on-line by its original owner in Long Beach, Calif. Saunders named the miniscule truck “Smokey” because two-stroke engines burn oil by design as piston lubricant. Smoke comes out the tailpipe and there’s a message stenciled on the rear glass that states, “If it’s not smokin’ it’s broken.” One reason Smokey was for sale is that she couldn’t pass California’s tough tailpipe emission standards and couldn’t be registered there.

Wayne Saunders has an affinity for micro vehicles that predates his first Oklahoma driver license over fifty years ago. His first ride wasn’t even a car, it a succession of motor scooters. But the 14 year old had his sights set on a big wheel motorcycle. Against his mother’s wishes, Saunders’ step-dad helped him acquire a 1947 Triumph 650cc Thunderbird motorcycle. She protested that the bike was too big. “When he learns how to put it together, he’ll know how to ride it,” his diesel mechanic step-dad wisely replied. The big British bike was actually a frame and three bushel baskets of parts needing to be assembled into a functioning motorcycle. It took young Saunders over a year of working to buy needed components and put the Triumph back together. But that experience helped launch a decades-long career repairing and selling small vehicles.

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