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July 5, 2014

1968 Subaru cute as a bug

NORMAN — It’s no mystery why the Subaru 360 earned its Japanese nickname of ladybug.

The diminutive automobiles made in the Land of the Rising Sun are adorable as the tiny dome-shaped spotted beetles that go by the same name. Norman resident Ron Borum will tell you that’s what first attracted him to the few Subaru 360s he first saw in Midwest City after mustering out of the USAF in 1970.

“I just thought they were cute,” the retired technician said. “I’d seen a couple of them running around town.”

He didn’t acquire the 1968 Subaru 360 he owns now until 2013. Before that Borum’s primary automotive enthusiasm had been for muscle cars. He’s gone from owning a 1987 Buick grand national GNX, once considered the fastest production car in America to what may be the slowest. The Subaru 360 has among the world’s lowest displacement engines of those assembled in the second half of the 20th century. At 356cc it’s considered small even for a motorcycle let alone a four passenger automobile.

Borum has collected original 1968 marketing materials for his car and they include a curious collection of selling points. “Cheap and ugly,” proclaims one brochure.

A selling price of $1,297 for a new car that tipped in at 886 pounds meant you were getting a bargain at under a buck fifty per pound. The unclear attraction of, “Body styling unchanged since 1958” was balanced by the Subaru 360’s wholly believable claim of 66 mpg.

“D&D Cycle Shop in Norman was one of the dealers,” Borum said. “You had to buy five cars to be a dealer.”

This was before the days of a coast-to-coast Subaru of America network of dealerships. American automobile entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin first brought the tiny cars here through a small collection of independent sales rooms first in California and Pennsylvania. In the USA that’s where most surviving 360s are still found. They were only sold here from 1968-1970.

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