The Kei van’s legality might be under attack in other parts of the country, but things are fine and dandy here in Ohio, knock on wood. While exploring Cleveland, this purple Subaru Sambar caught my eye, so I pulled over to get a closer look.

  • Car: Subaru Sambar, with a VW Type 2 conversion front fascia
  • Location: Cleveland, OH. 
  • Photog: me (Kevin Williams)
  • Camera: Canon Eos M50

The Subaru Sambar is probably the greatest of all time (see: GOAT) of the ’90s-era Kei vans. Chock full of windows and rocking a very sophisticated DOHC engine, the Sambar had a lot more pizazz and charisma over the Daihatsu Hijet or Honda Acty. No word if this one’s a four-wheel-drive turbocharged model. I didn’t look underneath, and most of the badging has been painted over. The importer chose correctly, though. No three-speed automatic here, this Sambar’s got a five-speed manual. An automatic Kei van would likely be a road hazard on Cleveland’s fast-paced roads.

Subaru Sambar parked
Kevin Williams
Kei Vans Like This Subaru Sambar Make Great Marketing Fodder

This one’s been painted a jazzy purple and is advertising a trendy new Cleveland-area bar space. Did I go to that bar? No. It looked kind of cute, though.

Kei vans’ dopey proportions and ubiquity in Japan mean they’re great blank slates for all sorts of customization. This Sambar has a custom front fascia, complete with round headlights and Volkswagen logo. It’s a retro pastiche take on the Volkswagen Type 2. It’s camp, it’s kitsch, it’s executed maybe a little bit poorly, but that’s this restyled Sambar’s charm. It’s not meant to be some 1-to-1 near-perfect replica of a VW Type 2. it’s just a little bit of spice to make a boring workhorse breadvan a little bit cuter. 

Hopefully, road salt or a stray piece of legislation won’t take this little goober off Ohio roads.