Home » This Very Weird Little Car Started Something In Japan That Only Subaru Continues To This Day

This Very Weird Little Car Started Something In Japan That Only Subaru Continues To This Day

Bee Top
ADVERTISEMENT

See that strange little car up there? That funny little car up there is Daihatsu’s first passenger car, the Bee. The Bee wasn’t exactly a huge success. Built from 1951 to 1958, only about 300 Bees were built, though they seemed to have some popularity as taxicabs, because licensing for three-wheeled cars was cheaper than those having a lavish four wheels, like some kind of fancy-ass grocery cart. The Bee had a fiberglass body and was derived from Daihatsu’s three-wheeled pickup truck line, but had one significant difference that was a first for Japan, and was something that would come to define Subaru in later years. I’m going to make you wait for the next paragraph before I tell you, though, because I’m a jerk.

Bee Ad1

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Okay, so here’s what the Bee’s big first was: it had the first horizontally-opposed engine used in a production Japanese car! This is, of course, a big deal for Subaru, because Subaru is one of the two remaining mass-market passenger car holdouts of the horizontally-opposed engine, with Porsche being the only other one. I believe they’re also the only current Japanese manufacturer of horizontally-opposed automobile engines, too, and it all started here, with the Bee. Look, you can see and hear for yourself:

Oh yeah, listen to that baby purr! It’s an interesting engine design, an air-cooled flat twin with twin sidedraft carbs mounted low. There were 540cc versions of this engine (known as the 2HA) that made a bit over 13 horsepower, and also a super-hot 804cc version that made a face-melting 18 hp. The valve pushrods are above the cylinders, the opposite of how a Volkswagen air-cooled flat-four engine does it, and it appears to be a bit more complex than a more famous flat-twin like the Citroën 2CV engine.

ADVERTISEMENT

Interestingly, the finned cylinders don’t seem to be completely shrouded, like most air-cooled engines would be, with only a sort of air barrier between the cylinders and the carb.

Bee Engine

Actually, now that I look closer at the engine, I think there is a fan mounted near the firewall there somewhere, perhaps co-axially with the generator, like a Beetle, and there seem to be some blower ducting around the cylinders, and they’re just open at the rear, exposing the cylinder fins.

There appears to be no sort of real trunk under the front hood, with just a fuel tank and the front wheel and steering mechanism living inside that tapered snout. I bet you could cram a soft bag on top of the fuel tank, though, if you needed to.

Bee Int

ADVERTISEMENT

The Bee is surprisingly large and roomy-seeming for a three-wheeled car, with a full four-seat cab that almost looks like it could have had four doors. The interior floor is flat with no transmission hump, and it appears the rear windows roll down, too. Honestly, it looks pretty comfortable and airy in there!

The overall look is definitely a product of late 1940s jello-mold design, and from the A-pillar back, it’s really quite a conventional-looking car for the era. The single wheel up front demands a more tapered nose, and that’s where it gets more strange, culminating in a front bumper that would make an excellent parenthesis if you were building a big metal sign that demanded one.

Bee SideAlso, note the odd little air-intake duct above the rear fender; most cars would use louvers or slots. That’s an interesting, almost aeronautical, choice.

The suspension design seems to have been fairly advanced, too, at least from what I can gather from these diagrams:

ADVERTISEMENT

Bee Suspension

The rear suspension seems to be independent, with some sort of double-arm setup on each wheel, and is compared to the solid live axle on a conventional car. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to be a swing axle design as was so common on rear-engined cars of this era, like Porsche and VW and Tatra. The other diagram also shows off the Bee’s low floor, since it didn’t need to accommodate a driveshaft.

Bee Women

It’s definitely a cool little car, and it’s a shame it’s effectively unknown outside of Japan, really, Of the 300 or so built, only about three are known to survive, one of which has been restored and was written about almost exactly one year ago.

Horizontally-opposed engines have never been common in Japan outside of Subaru; that’s a big distinction to make, because Subaru very likely is the world’s largest producer of cars with such flat engines. Toyota may be the most visible other example of a horizontally-opposed car, with some Publicas and the coveted little gem, the Toyota Sports 800:

ADVERTISEMENT

Sports800

An interesting note to tie-in Subaru once again: with the introduction of the Toyota GT-86, a joint project with Subaru, the flat-four engine used there was technically classified by Toyota as part of their U-series of engines: the Sports 800 had a 2U, and the FR-S/BRZ/GT86’s Subaru-sourced engine was called by Toyota a 4U, putting in the same family as the old air-cooled flat twin of the Sports 800, even though all it shared was a general layout concept.

So, Subaru, I hope you’ve paid due respect to this interesting and humble little pioneer, the funny fiberglass vanguard of Japanese horizontally-opposed engine-crafting, the Bee.

 

Relatedbar

ADVERTISEMENT

As Usual, Daihatsu Schools Us All On How To Do Concept Cars Right

Is This The Smallest Car To Have An Opera Window?: Cold Start

The New Performance-Enhanced 2024 Subaru BRZ ‘tS’ Should Make Subaru’s Riotous Sports Coupe Even More Fun

 

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
21 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Highland Green Miata
Highland Green Miata
9 months ago

Don’t let Jeremy Clarkson near any of them or there will only be 2 left.

Bhtooefr
Bhtooefr
9 months ago

Not a car, but Honda does make boxers, too, for the Gold Wing.

Toobs-N-Stuff
Toobs-N-Stuff
9 months ago

is there any relationship to the BMW motorcycle opposed twins of the era?

Subie started out with VW engine clones, could these have been BMW ripoffs (as with the russian Ural motorcycles)?

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
9 months ago

Only three wheels but honest-to-God dual exhaust.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
9 months ago

THIS is what I come to The Autopian for. That is a delightfully wonky car that tickles my thinky-meat in all the right ways. I would drive the crap out of that! I want more articles about things like this, not the newest bland electric crossovers that make me feel the way cardboard tastes. If I wanted to read about that, I’d read a normal car news site, Daihatsu Bees are the kinds of things you only see at The Autopian and I want more.

Last edited 9 months ago by Austin Vail
A. Barth
A. Barth
9 months ago

The suspension design seems to have been fairly advanced, too, at least from what I can gather from these diagrams

The Bee won’t be doing any burnouts, but I still heard Marisa Tomei explaining how the suspension works.

Ricki
Ricki
9 months ago

Honestly, if it were a four-wheel vehicle, I’d consider the thing. Maybe EJ swap it like the kids do with VWs sometimes.

Then probably die in a crumpled heap like a hipster James Dean when the ass end stepped out on me.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
9 months ago

what’s all the buzz about?

DysLexus
DysLexus
9 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

Honey, Apparently the hive is all abuzz with this little queen.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

What? Couldn’t hear you over all that droning.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
9 months ago

“It’s definitely a cool little car, and it’s a shame it’s effectively unknown outside of Japan, really…”

With an air-cooled flat engine in the back, it’s practically a Japanese Beetle, so you’d think it would’ve been more invasive overseas.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
9 months ago
Reply to  FuzzyPlushroom

I’d say its more the Japanese version of the Bond Minicar (but far less crude), the Subaru 360 is closer to a Beetle equivalent

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago

Yes the Subaru and Porsche with huge maintenance costs who wants them.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago

That thing looks and sounds broken.

Paul E
Paul E
9 months ago

That engine looks and sounds like a cross between a BMW airhead and a Cushman Truckster boxer engine. Daihatsu needs to tap into this bit of their heritage for their next concept.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago

That actually looks like a bee.

W124
W124
9 months ago

This is charming, but if being honest it reeks “crap” quite heavily. I guess it might be one reason why they have been so rare since new.

AssMatt
AssMatt
9 months ago

Love those diner/church basement seats!

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
9 months ago
Reply to  AssMatt

Beat me to it. Please accept this complimentary hood ornament as your gift.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
9 months ago
Reply to  AssMatt

+1 came here for this

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
9 months ago
Reply to  AssMatt

I chipped a tooth just thinking about being in the back seat and the driver slamming the brakes!

21
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x