In a lot of ways, cars are like goldfish or gasses: they expand to fill their container. In a place like North America, where space is (for now, largely) plentiful, cars and trucks became very large, heavy, powerful pieces of equipment. They were designed for long voyages, high speed and the comfort level needed for this was built right in. However, trying to navigate a typical American car of the ‘60s or ‘70s through a major urban centre almost anywhere else in the world is not only ill-advised, it can actually be almost impossible! There’s an old magazine article where the authors took a 2nd Gen Trans Am (similar to Faust) through France, and one angry pedestrian hurled the insult “Your automobile is obscene!”. Of course, in North America, the T/A was a small-end-of-mid-sized performance car, nowhere near the “obscene” size of the majority of cars and trucks on the road.
However, where tight streets, expensive gas and high taxes are levied against automotive development and procurement, the car takes on a totally different form. Sure, they’re usually four-wheeled vehicles, but as we’ve seen from the Honda Today, cars in Japan (like those in Europe) are usually much, much smaller. However, they don’t have as far to go as North American cars, nor is there as much space to put them in. This problem of both cost and space becomes even more pronounced when business vehicles, like delivery trucks, are considered. In a place like Japan, there’s not much room for an American-style van. So, what’s the answer?
Well, the answer was deceptively simple: Take the front of a motorbike and stick a small, open bed to the back end, creating a “motor trike” with cargo capacity. It’s simple, durable, cheap to run and it fits almost everywhere! One such vehicle of this type was the Mazda Go, and it was in production well before WWII. After the war, with Japan’s economy and infrastructure in ruins and under rebuilding, the Go entered production again, providing reliable, cheap transport for any variety of light cargo through Japan’s increasingly crowded urban centres.
The problem with a motorcycle-based truck is that it’s still a bike at heart. This means that the driver is open to the elements, and that there can be no passengers. The quickest remedy for this was to take the idea to the next level, and introduce a closed front body to the three-wheeled truck. This protected the driver, allowed for a second seat, and transformed the crude-looking Go into something more modern than it actually was under the skin.
This new vehicle was called the Mazda K360, and entered production in 1959. Like its closest rival, the Daihatsu Midget, the K60 was a somewhat frog-like little truck with bugging headlights and a simple, almost tinplate toy-like construction. Still, they were durable, reliable and became one of the symbols as well as the drivers, of Japan’s economic and technological post-war recovery.
Given the importance of the K360 to Japan’s automotive industry (280,000 were made, and that’s a lot for a little delivery truck!) it’s a surprise that there aren’t more kits of it on the market. However, until 2020, the only kit available was the little old LS 1/32 “Owner’s Club” kit. While this is available in open and roofed versions, from both LS and later Arii, they’re all the same. Amazingly, there is now a new kit from KA-Models in 1/24! This is very deluxe, but it’s also one I’ve never seen. I was lucky enough, however, to receive five of the LS/Arii three-wheelers as a Christmas present from my Uncle a few years ago, so let’s check out that version, shall we?
The Owner’s Cub series is a very wide range of simple 1/32 car and truck kits originally produced by LS models in Japan. They were later bought out by Arii, and now MicroAce still issues them today, I believe. The main difference in the boxes is that the original LS kits use the whole box for the art, and the Arii ones use the same art on a white frame. This is a bit of a shame, since it means the artwork is a little smaller, so the nostalgic details aren’t quite as impactful as they were before.
The scene on the box is a supremely nostalgic scene of a K360 plying its trade somewhere in early ‘60s Japan. Interestingly, the vehicle is not shown in a “modern” urban environment, but rather in a part of a city that’s still to feel the impact of Japan’s modernization. While the K360 is the main technical focus of the illustration, it really isn’t the spiritual focus of the picture at all. It’s something that’s allowed a fanciful, nostalgic image of a bygone era to be produced for the modern time. In fact, the K360 almost looks like an afterthought on its own box art!
The art itself is awesome, though. The driver is heading down a muddy, still-dirt road, while a child runs behind him brandishing a weapon – likely a water pistol of some sort. It’s sunset on what appears to have been a rainy day, as there are puddles everywhere. In the far background you can see heavy industrial buildings; the encroaching mechanization of the “new ways”. However, the foreground is dominated by old-fashioned wooden buildings, including some that look like bomb-damaged wartime factories, their windows largely broken and barbed wire still adorning the walls around them.
There’s even a frog in the road! Equally interesting is the cat, a freshly-caught (or stolen?) fish in its mouth. It’s drawn in mid-leap, as if it were just getting out of the K360’s way. However, it’s backwards glance implies that it has been up to no good, and may be being pursued! The presence of a cat seems to be a thing for the box art on these old Arii three-wheelers, as two others in this series also feature them!
The box art is really a study in metaphor all by itself. You can say volumes about the choices made in the art. The beauty of a clearing sky at the end of a rainy day, the mix of old ways and the onset of the new, the playfulness of kids with toy guns against the scars of a very real and recent war… it’s so thick with nostalgia and double-meanings that its use as a model box seems almost unfortunate. Of course, this itself is, I feel, part of the plan. By using it as a model box, the artists are able to get their clear emotional attachment to this time and type of situation across to a much wider audience.
It also adds a lot more gravitas to the subject than might otherwise be expected. I mean, it’s a small cycle-truck. So what, right? But now, we see the humble K360 as an integral part of a massive social, technological, economic and even moral change. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a simple kit of a three-wheeled delivery truck to handle; especially one that only made a whopping 11hp.
The sides of the box are pretty useless, with one side having a small writeup of the K360 in English, with the other side having it in Japanese. Well, actually, that’s not quite right. Most of the English writeup is a short history of the Mazda company, with little about the K360. They say it was as popular as the Midget, but the latter did outsell the Mazda considerably until both were phased out in the early 1970s.
The LS kit originates, according to Scalemates, from 1984. Like the subject, the kit is a fairly small and simple affair, and the unusual 1/32 scale doesn’t help with this. That’s a small scale for most cars, but when you’re a tiny, Kei-Class trike-truck, well, it’s just not going to result in an overwhelming presence in kit-form.
There’s a single sprue of white plastic parts, as well as a separate body shell and four rubber tires! I’m assuming these same tires are used for some four-wheel cars, and that’s why you get a spare. Still, if you want something to put in the cargo bed, you’ve got a start at least! There’s also a small transparent rack with the front windscreen separate from the rear window, and two glass headlights. That last bit surprised me; I’m not used to even large -scale cars necessarily having glass headlights!
The moulding is very good. There’s almost no flash, and detail, while sparse is acceptable for a kit of his size. The chassis is moulded as a single pan, and while there’s no separate engine, the bottom end of the motor is moulded into the chassis, along with some round detail under one of the seats. The rear suspension leaf springs, as well as the exhaust and muffler and the gas tank are also moulded in. This keeps piece count down, and will make for some fun detail painting later.
There’s not much of an interior to these things, as a quick internet search will show! Thus, the extremely spartan interior of two seats, a steering wheel and a very rudimentary dashboard isn’t really a disservice at all. Most K360s seem to have the same seats; an oxblood colour with white piping. Amazingly, this division of the seat is accurately represented, so you can actually do the piping and keep this little guy looking accurate without a lot of effort! Nice work, as expected, LS!
The wheels are well-moulded too, and will look good with a coat of Aluminum, silver or steel, and then a black or brown wash to bring them out. I have seen some K360s with white wheels, too, should that ring your bells. The little “bumperettes” (and that’s being kind) that go around the front end, as well as the mirrors are also separate pieces. The headlight trim rings are part of the glass lights. This is important since they are all chrome, normally, so this means less masking. However, the Mazda script on the front end is moulded in, so that will need some skill to pick out properly. There’s a rack for behind the window, too. Sadly, this version doesn’t include the soft top. Although, to be honest, I do prefer the open back on these.
The tires are much softer and more rubbery than the vinyl tires found on American kits. I fear this may lead to them splitting, or at least degrading faster than American tires. However, that’s for the future, I guess. With what I imagine will be a fairly light sand, the light seam and attachment points should come off these without a fuss. The clear parts are nicely done, too, although they are not overly thin.
There are a few deficiencies with this kit, although none are deal-breakers. The largest, and most obvious issue is a crime of omission: there are no side windows at all! On the real K360, the windows are sliding examples. They move along a track to open and close. However, the kit’s side windows aren’t there, so the cab is “open”. This isn’t technically correct, but it looks fine if you don’t know much about the real things. Most looking at it will just think the windows are “rolled down” like on a normal car. Also, the black seals that surround the headlight pods aren’t that well reproduced. These are a very prominent feature, but the detail for them is very softly raised. I fear some rescribing will be needed here, and on such an oval surface, that will not be fun.
One thing about this kit: it is SMALL. I don’t have a lot of 1/32, but I do have both LN7s and EXPs in this scale. (Of course I do. What else did you expect, a Grenada? Oh, wait…) Given that the LN7 was at hand, I used it as a comparison. I grew up driving an ’89 Escort, so I know how big they, and thus LN7s, are. They aren’t. However, they are giants compared to the K360! Even without its aerodynamic nose on, the LN7 is far longer than K360; in fact, the truck only makes it half-way to the rear wheel opening! It’s also much narrower, and believe me, the Escort is no widebody! That’s what I meant about “expanding to fill your container” at the beginning!
Decals and instructions:
There’s not a lot to this little guy, but the instructions are clear on how it goes together. They are printed on a single piece of box-sized paper included with the kit. There are a total of 7 steps, and these, plus a small paint plan and parts- inventory take up ONE SIDE of the sheet. This is not one that’s too complicated, as you can judge from that. There are some notes on the instructions too, that may be pointing out features or other salient information. My Japanese reading ability is nil, though, so they mean nothing to me. This shouldn’t hamper things much though; the pictures are clear and there’s not enough on this kit that I’m worried there are a lot of hidden pitfalls!
The decal sheet consists of the little red “M” for the centre of the steering wheel, a few scripts (likely in case you sand the nose script off) and some lettering that’s likely for some kind of delivery service. There are also a couple of license plates and the one dial that’s on the instrument panel. They look like pretty typical waterslide decals, and they’re shiny, unlike Revell Germany’s matte ones.
This little model is a simple and fun-looking kit of a rather obscure vehicle. It’s well-moulded and should build up quickly and relatively painlessly.
It’s perfect for beginners, because there’s not a lot to do wrong, but it has enough to it to keep more veteran modellers entertained. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to superdetail this; after all, there’s no engine to wire nor is there much to do in the interior (other than detailing the door panels, should you want to.). It is a great and fun little project for someone who hasn’t built a lot of cars and wants to practice some of the basics before getting too advanced, too. If you’re looking to brush upon your detail painting, the Mazda door and front scripts, as well as the underside engine detail, should be a good workout, too.
I can’t think of anyone for whom this kit isn’t well-suited, and its small size means that it won’t take up much room when it’s done. The odd scale of 1/32 is somewhat neat when you think of parking this beside a comparably scaled plane; then you’ll really get a feel for how small it is! This model looks like a good one to help break up a case of AMS (Advanced Modeller’s Syndrome). Small and fun, without aftermarket or conversion to worry about, it’ll be a fun way to snap yourself out of a “not getting anything done” funk.
This little model is a simple, low piece-count representation of a fairly significant piece of Japanese automotive history. They’re not that well-known outside of Asia, where they were a more common sight, and they’re largely unknown over here in North America. If you like weird subjects and want something that will definitely elicit a response from almost everyone that sees it, then this kit, or one of the other Owner’s Club three-wheelers is a good one to grab!