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January 5, 2013

1970 Subaru Sambar may be tiniest truck in town

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NORMAN —

Saunders wanted the Subaru because he’d owned a Volkswagen single cab pick-up which was similar but larger. “I owned it for 20 years but sold it and that VW is now in a museum in Mexico,” he said. “I’ve always had a fondness for small cars and thought Smokey would be a great little parts runner to drive around and have fun in.” He was not familiar with the Subaru Sambar but recalls that a motorcycle shop in Norman had a few for sale years ago. In 1970 Smokey’s new sticker price was around $1,249. Then as now Saunders was in the rolling stock business. In a long profession he has repaired and sold Norton motorcycles, VWs and Porsches in central Oklahoma. Saunders Import Cars dealership was a fixture at 1210 N. Flood Ave. for three decades. He has an eye and taste for unusual automobiles. Unlike Smokey most in his current collection are restoration works in progress. They are primarily from the late 1950’s era. Included are a Trojan 200 (Heinkel) micro car, Berkley 328, NSU (Neckar-Sulm) Sport Prinz and BMW 600 Limousine. These are obscure rides built by former aircraft manufacturers after WWII for Europeans wanting to squeeze efficiency out of every drop of gasoline. They are weird little cars and finding replacement parts for them is a challenge.

“When I was in high school and thereafter everybody was into hot rods and big engines,” Saunders said. “The motorcycle shop I was working for at the time traded for a Berkley 328 sports car. On a tight road racing course that little car would win against a Mustang or early Corvette.” This reinforced Saunders’ conviction that maybe you don’t need more horsepower to go faster. “Handling and power to weight ratio were often overlooked,” he said.

There are engineering features on Smokey not found on other vehicles. “I was familiar with two-cycle engines from working on motorcycles but the Subaru has an oil reservoir and pump rather than mixing oil with the fuel,” he said. “They use the frame rail as a channel for an air-intake tube that runs from the front of the truck to the rear engine so you don’t pick up dirt from behind.” Smokey has no air conditioning other than an outside vent that opens a breeze to your knees. The only gauges are a speedometer and fuel. Controls for lamps and windshield wipers are on the dash. The transmission is a 4-speed manual with the last gear on the shift knob oddly labeled “OT.” It stands for Over Top.

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