Cute Bike-powered Subaru 360 Probably Wants to Kill You

Seldom does one find a car both cute and incredibly terrifying, but if ever one were to find such a vehicle, the 24 Hours of LeMons’ paddock would be the place to find it. Naturally, we did indeed find exactly that in the LeMons paddock in Charnal House Racing’s ferociously tiny Honda CBR954RR-powered Subaru 360. A 150-horsepower microcar that revs to 12,000 RPM? Why yes, you would like to learn more.

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LeMons regulars probably know of Charnal House’s “Geo MetSHO,” a mid-engined Geo Metro that features the high-revving—Notice a pattern?—Yamaha V6 from an early Ford Taurus SHO and a remarkable cocktail of junkyard engineering. It’s no huge secret that Charnal House builder “Crab Spirits” (You should  know his junkyard tirades on The Truth About Cars) has spearheaded the work on the bike-powered Subaru for nearly five years with his Charnal House compatriots, but he brought the recently completed 360 to October’s 24 Hours of LeMons race at Autobahn Country Club near Chicago.

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Inspired by the insane Geo Metro Gnome, Charnal House originally intended to race the unholy amalgamation in LeMons. However, the series’ Fun Police added a minimum 82-inch wheelbase to the rules in 2012 that rendered the Subaru illegal for racing. Undeterred, they pressed on to re-engineer the 360 as a completely insane street car. They ditched the original 22-horsepower two-stroke engine for the 150-horsepower engine from a low-sided and salvaged Honda CBR954RR Fireblade.

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The build got bogged down a few times, but it never went away and as early as 2013, the 360—which Crab Spirits coined a “Rolex watch made from garbage”—ran a bit. The build thread details the complexity of constructing on a threadbare budget using primarily creativity. If you know where to look, you’ll find junkyard parts from donors as varied as the Pontiac Fiero, Daewoo Leganza, Ford Taurus, Ford Contour, Volkswagen Golf, Honda Prelude, Volkswagen Jetta, and more.

As they approached completion, the Charnal House perpetrators coined the build the “Firebug” and splurged on a fittingly 1990s No Fear-style graphic for the air intake. It’s likely the most expensive thing on the car.

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There’s no point attempting to show the engine compartment because the drivetrain is all packaged to the millimeter underneath a small fuel cell on the former parcel shelf (literally the only place to fit it) and in front of the John Deere-sourced radiator that occupies the entire area under the engine-cover. Accessing it requires disassembling several components; obviously “convenience” isn’t on the dumpster-Rolex features list. The suspension is made up entirely of broken Stance coilovers that were rebuilt and the brake system uses a Nissan Quest master cylinder and Metro front brakes on all four corners. As the original Subaru 360 was an exercise in design efficiency, the Firebug makes solid tribute to the microcar with its tightly packaged.

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Despite not using it for racing duties, Charnal House built a full cage for the car, not in the least to add some much-needed structural integrity to the wafer-thin Japanese metal. They also replaced the sheet metal on the floor, which had at some point been kludged with aluminum siding. Getting in and out of the car, now a one-seater, is a bit of chore. Because of the car’s minuscule nature, the suicide doors also carry part of the modified Fiat 500 fender flares that were necessary after adding wheels that, unlike the original ones, weren’t lifted directly from a lawncare implement.

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If you’re wondering how one transmits power to two wheels from a motorcycle transmission, this is the biggest hint: An A-6 Intruder throttle quadrant houses the motorcycle transmission’s sequential shifter while on the floor, the blue-knobbed shifter rows the gears in a Geo Metro five-speed transaxle. Yes, the creative minds at Charnal House machined a fitting between the bike’s output sprocket and the input shaft of the Metro transmission, which was left over from the MetSHO build. Two transmissions with 30 forward gears for domination!

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The cabin is pretty spartan with the centerpiece Intruder throttle drawing attention from onlookers (Crab Spirits uses all kinds of surplus and parted-out military jet equipment from eBay in his builds). The coupled transmissions give, in theory, 30 forward gears, though Crab says the Metro transaxle’s third and fourth gears are really the only practical cogs in combination with the Honda gearbox.

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The footbox is really the biggest indication of the original death-machine capabilities of the car; the driver’s feet hang out only a foot or so from the front bumper. Crab originally intended to retain the floor-hinged pedal setup, but that proved impractical and a Honda CRX setup was instead bolted to the firewall, which he wisely reinforced. The steering column is from a Metro but is flipped upside down with backwards-mounted knuckles and the Ackerman geometry reworked to minimize likely death.

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The seat is hard-mounted to the reinforced floor and and the beefy cage should keep the car from crushing the driver if/when it lift-throttle oversteers into a truck and nerfs off into the roadside weeds.

No one had driven the car above about 30 miles per hour before turning up in the LeMons paddock with the trailered360, so Crab Spirits took some LeMons racers along for a first drive while he tried to figure out the gearboxes. As it turns out, adding seven times as much power as the original engine with all of the weight behind the rear axle creates an extreme case of the early Porsche pendulum problem, which is not helped by the myriad of chassis tuning items left to investigate.

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However, this only scratches the surface of the process of building the 360, which was detailed here and is well worth the read not just because of Crab’s dry sense of humor but also because the build is staggering in its ingenuity. Next up on Charnal House’s plate (besides tuning the Firebug): the most unlikely of LS drifting builds.

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