• It’s a clever 1960s solution to long-distance mobility, a small 53cc motorcycle that folds up into a carrying case for easy portability.
• Often misrepresented as part of Subaru’s history, the scooter has its roots in the early heritage of Nissan and Hitachi aircraft.
• It’s Bring Trailer auction ends January 15th.
There’s a childish magic to folding mobility, whether it’s Honda’s Motocompo scooter, a WWII British paratrooper’s Welbike, or even Mazda’s ill-fated luggage car. Going up for auction this week on Bring a Trailer—which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos—it’s a bar stool and mini-bike combination, straight from the 1960s with pint-sized two-stroke fun packed into its own carrying case.
This is the Go-Devil (not to be confused with the early four-cylinder Jeep engine of the same name). With a bright red open frame, 53cc two-stroke single-piston engine and 5-inch wheels, it’s pocket-sized joy that folds into a small cube. Stash it in your trunk, then unfold it, start the engine, and go around the paddock or parking lot with a grin you haven’t felt since borrowing a friend’s mini-bike on your tenth birthday.
Fuji Go-Devil is a list that isn’t uncommon on Bring A Trailers. This example is the seventh scooter to traverse the BaT block in the past year, but it’s nothing short of outstanding, with new powder coating, new seat foam, new tires and new wheel bearings. It’s ready to roll.
Go-Devils were exported to North America from Japan from 1964 to 1967. Because the company that produced them was called Fuji Motors, there was a tendency to identify their origins with Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent company. Indeed, at the same time the foldable Go-Devil was being created, FHI was producing the Fuji Rabbit, one of the first Japanese scooters capable of approaching 60 mph. The Fuji Rabbit resembles a duck crossed with a Vespa and is unrelated to the Go-Devil.
Instead, to dig into the origins of Go-Devil, we have to relearn the primordial soup of Japan’s bubble car era. As in post-war Germany, many former aircraft manufacturers turned to production of small proto-cars, designed to sip fuel in the rationed gasoline era.
One such manufacturer was the aircraft company Hitachi, which made engines for wartime trainers and bombers. Forced to divert its efforts towards peacetime mobility, Hitachi Aviation changed its name to Tokyo Gas and Electric Manufacturing Company, and began building 60cc engines for various applications including motorcycles. At the same time, a former Nissan subsidiary called Fuji Motors had lucrative contracts for the repair and overhaul of US occupying forces vehicles. The two companies merged. The engine is supplied to outside motorcycle companies and is also used in internal FMC and Gasuden brands.
One of Fuji Motors’ most famous automotive products is the small, tilted Fuji Cabin, which looks like the wheels someone attached to one of Gru’s Minions. Written by the oft-overlooked Ryuichi Tomiya, an early Nissan designer who is sometimes called the “Leonardo da Vinci of Japan”, the Fuji Cab is small, cleverly constructed, but ultimately a failure. Consider it a cousin of the BMW Isetta or the Messerschmitt Kabinenroller, but which never made the cut.
Tomiya had designed Nissans before World War II and was a contemporary of Yutaka Katayama and, “Mr. K.” Datsun 240Z fame. Prior to Cabin, the two had collaborated on a very light prototype car called The Flying Feather, which is considered an early indication of Katayama’s forward thinking.
To return to Go-Devil, his scooter legacy is linked to an inventive period in Japanese automotive history, long before the government moved to consolidate its constellation of car companies into a handful of mega-conglomerates. In the mid-1960s, FMC and Gasuden were suppliers of household (in Japan) small two-stroke engines for chainsaws, scooters, and all manner of applications. FMC/Gasuden was eventually taken over by heavy equipment manufacturer Komastu, and the motorcycle engine department was disbanded and then acquired by Husqvarna.
So, Go-Devil has nothing to do with Subaru but is interesting in its own right. As a product, it’s fun to ride, fold, and is a great conversation piece. It’s also a link to a time in Japanese automotive history when innovators just threw things against the wall and saw what stuck.