Upon seeing a Subaru Sambar for the first time, people will often stop and point in amazement as though it had just arrived from Mars. “What is it?!” is usually followed by “Where can I get one?” and expressions of wonder at its Lilliputian dimensions.
So be prepared to make new friends if you buy autoTRADER’s Find of the Week, a right-hand drive 1995 Subaru Sambar Dias II Malezza micro-van imported from Japan. It’s what’s known as a “Kei” car or “light automobile” in Japan where it’s small size and small engine makes it cheaper to purchase and insure than larger cars. This Sambar measures only 11 feet long (3,295 mm), 4 ½ feet wide (1,395 mm), and just over 6 feet tall (1,895 mm), yet it’s incredibly roomy inside. Its tall boxy shape, low cargo floor, and cab-over design (where the driver and front passenger sit over the front wheels) creates a spacious passenger or cargo area behind the front seats. The four bucket seats at the rear can be folded individually to create a cargo area over six feet long! For easy access, the Sambar has two large sliding rear side doors and a big lift-up rear hatch door. The Sambar has a surprisingly high payload capacity of 544 kg.
Power, such as it is, comes from a 54 hp supercharged 658-cc inline four cylinder engine at the rear mated to a continuously variable transmission and full-time all-wheel drive. With a curb weight of 990 kg the Sambar is not particularly fast but that’s okay because the Sambar is meant to be an urban runabout where its small size, tight turning circle, excellent visibility and giant-killing utility outweigh any concerns about its 0 to 100 km/h times.
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Dealer specializes in JDM imports
Japanese Kei cars like the Subaru Sambar, Suzuki Wagon R, Daihatsu Move and Hi-Jet, Mitsubishi i, Honda Life, and Toyota Pixis Space are mostly available in micro-van and small pickup truck bodystyles, but they’re not sold new in Canada because they don’t meet stricter North American safety and emissions regulations. However, after 15 years, Kei cars and other JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) vehicles can be legally imported here.
That’s the niche market a small dealership in Burnaby, B.C. has cornered. Velocity Cars is BC’s largest importer and dealer of JDM vehicles. General Manager Bruce Kidd points out that you can also buy a JDM import from a broker, but there might be some unexpected surprises when the vehicle arrives in Canada. “A JDM car can be dropped off at your house, yes, but you might discover that the tires don’t meet DOT standards and have to be replaced, there may be unforseen paint scratches, cracks in the windshield, and safety issues – and that will cost money to fix, if it can be fixed. All import cars to Canada have to be safety inspected by the government before they can be licensed and insured.”
Subaru Sambar comes with safety inspection certificate and warranty
At Velocity buyers can inspect and drive a JDM car before purchasing knowing that it’s already been safety inspected and certified. Velocity Cars provides each car with a Japanese government certified odometer reading certificate, a copy of the government safety inspection certificate, a lien-free guarantee, a 90-day powertrain warranty, and a professional detailing job. In the Greater Vancouver area, JDM imports have a one-year exemption from AirCare requirements. Future servicing and spare parts are available through Velocity.
The biggest JDM sellers on Velocity’s lot are the unique Japanese-market performance cars like the Honda Civic Type R, Toyota Supra TRD, Nissan Skyline GTR, Subaru WRX STI, Honda Integra Type R, and Mitsubishi Lancer EVO as well as popular JDM 4X4s like the Mitsubishi Pajero and Delica. But the tiny Kei pickups and micro-vans have a special appeal to small business owners looking for a cheap, fuel-efficient utility vehicle with a good payload capacity – a type of vehicle that’s simply not available new in North America.
With only 59,000 km on the odometer, this 1995 Subaru Sambar Dias micro-van seems well priced at $6,790. And Bruce says he’ll throw in that missing hubcap for free!