The story behind the Rabbit shown here has an Alice in Wonderland-like aspect. It was transformed from a tired castaway to being a beloved entrant at the Radnor Hunt Concours d’Elegance, an annual event held on the grounds of Radnor Hunt. (Radnor Hunt in Malvern, Pennsylvania, holds the oldest fox hunt in the United States as well as polo matches, horse shows, and horse races.)
It’s somewhat ironic that Subaru of America, Inc. (SOA) selected a car show at a fox hunting lodge for the debut of this reborn Rabbit.
This particular scooter was acquired by SOA in the 1980s and was stored in a warehouse in California along with other historic Subaru automobiles. It was long since forgotten and wasn’t “discovered” until the lease expired on the storage space.
In April 2012, all of the vehicles were moved to SOA headquarters in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
“When we first saw it, we weren’t sure what we had,” said Kelly Geist, Service Operations Manager, Subaru of America, Inc. “After a little research, we realized we had a vital piece of Subaru history, but we weren’t sure what to do with it. Then someone suggested we restore it and enter it in the Scooter Class at the annual Radnor Hunt Concours, held in Malvern, Pennsylvania [just 30 miles from Subaru’s headquarters].”
That created multiple challenges. The concours was September 6, 2012, leaving little time to do a ground-up restoration. “First, we discovered it was a 1965 model, S402AT. It was a U.S.-spec model, and only 528 were built. So we knew finding parts would be difficult,” Geist added.
Now the real fun began: The team had manuals for the Rabbit – but they were printed in Japanese. Some of the staff members at SOA helped translate the manuals. In addition, time had caused some of the original parts to disintegrate. “Parts like the side panels were made of thermoplastic, which after 47 years fell apart when you touched them. It took a team effort and a lot of research. We found a reproduction seat in Thailand. And there is a company in Japan, called Rabbit House, that specializes in parts for the Fuji scooters.
“But those parts didn’t arrive until the third week in August, which put the pressure on Hank Reynolds at Autobody Enterprises Inc. to get the scooter assembled and ready to show in two weeks.” Reynolds had been involved in previous Subaru restorations, most notably a 1986 XT Coupe shown at the 2011 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show.
“We also wanted to keep the Rabbit as ‘original’ as possible, so we had to maintain its 3-speed transmission (Japanese versions had a 4-speed), have a speedometer in ‘miles per hour,’ whitewall tires (only one company in the world produces these tires), a double-length seat – we found a replica seat in Thailand in the correct blue and beige color scheme – and a U.S.-spec headlamp. We even maintained its two 6-volt battery setup. They built it that way so the weight was properly balanced. We wanted it to be complete and accurate so people could see that Subaru evolved from very humble beginnings,” said Geist.
Autobody Enterprises Inc. in West Collingswood Heights, New Jersey, played a vital role in this restoration. They were responsible for painting and assembling the scooter. “Kelly and his team did the hard work finding the parts and picking the correct colors,” commented Hank Reynolds. “Our job was to make it look authentic in every aspect. And even though the replacement body panels were ‘authentic reproductions,’ they provided some challenges to make them fit properly and look original.”
Reynolds added, “Amazingly, once the Rabbit was all together, we turned on the ignition, kick-started the engine, and it started!”
But the work wasn’t done yet. On opening day of the Radnor Hunt Concours d’Elegance, the team was still touching up the paint.
Once the event started, everyone who saw the little Rabbit fell in love with it. Geist added, “As people walked around the scooter, when they got to the back and saw the Subaru license plate frame, they’d say, ‘Wow, I wasn’t aware that Subaru made scooters.’”
What’s next? Geist says to keep an eye out for a 1961 Rabbit S-201 Model 90 roaming the roads around Cherry Hill.
Subaru and scooters – just another example of Subaru. Live. Love.