LMP360: How to build the ultimate Subaru for only $2000

By J.A. Ackley
May 13, 2023 | $2000 Challenge, Subaru, 360, LMP360 | Posted in Features | From the May 2023 issue | Never miss an article

Photography by Dave Green unless otherwise credited

Life is full of what ifs. For Daniel Cummings, he wondered, “What if I made something out of a rusted-out shell of a Subaru microcar? And what if I turned it into a low-slung prototype racer?” That line of thinking led him to win the $2000 Challenge last fall and earn national attention with his wild Subaru LMP360.


It Started With a Shell

“I’ve wanted to a build a project for the $2000 Challenge for years,” says Daniel. “I had a couple of stalled projects that never made it.” Case in point: This project dates back more than a decade.

“It was in ’09 when SV reX posted this Subaru 360 shell for a dollar,” Daniel says, referencing a fellow GRM forum member. “At the time, cars with tube frames didn’t meet the requirements. It was up on the forum for a few months, and [Grassroots Motorsports’ staff members] David or Tim on the forums said, ‘If someone brings this car [to the $2000 Challenge], they get a T-shirt. So I had to go get it. I brought it home and I had no idea what I was going to do with it.”

So it sat, eventually winding up hanging from the rafters of a new garage Daniel built. Then, inspiration hit.

“A couple years ago, a rendering of a Volkswagen Beetle as an LMP car showed up on the internet,” says Daniel. “I was like, ‘That is what I want to build for the Challenge.’”

Some dreams, though, don’t come true easily.

Daniel Cummings, wearer of the famed blue blazer that gets handed down among $2000 Challenge champions, started his build with ones and zeroes–plus a paper model, too. The Subaru body was hung on his home-built chassis.

“I started making drawings of the Beetle [as an LMP car],” Daniel says. “I started measuring it. This Beetle would have to be 9 feet wide, because Beetles aren’t little. This wasn’t going to work. The car would be 2800 pounds and would need 300 horsepower.”

Then it struck him what he could do.

“A co-worker of mine was asking about [the Subaru] hanging in my garage,” says Daniel. “Another guy at the table asked, ‘What’s a Subaru 360?’ I told him it’s like a three-quarter-scale Volkswagen Beetle. At that moment, I knew what I had to do.”

A Design Takes Shape

The Subaru 360 took the place of the Beetle in Daniel’s vision. “It works,” Daniel says. “It ends up being a modern-width car. I can use modern Subaru parts. It would weigh 1500 to 1600 pounds–that’s light enough. The 200-ish horsepower will be plenty.”

Photography Credit: Courtesy Daniel Cummings

More inspiration: Daniel loved the Half11 rendering produced by Oil Stain Lab. It takes the front half of an early 1970s Porsche 911 and mates it to the rear half of an open-wheel car of the same era. What if Daniel did something similar with the Subaru?

“Okay, so what if Subaru went to Le Mans and could pull from the future to make a modern LMP car?” Daniel mused. “What if they went to Le Mans instead of rally racing?”

That was the design impetus behind the Subaru LMP360.

Power Up

“I wanted to keep this 100% Subaru,” Daniel says. “The only things that are not from Subaru are custom-fabricated or are MG Midget parts that I had in bins for the junkyard.”

Let’s start with the stock Subaru parts. First, the body.

“It was just a shell,” says Daniel of the Subaru 360 parts. “It’s if you took a Subaru 360, removed everything of value except for the doors and headlight covers, and then set it in a muddy field so the bottom 6 inches of it would rust away–the floor and everything. That’s what I had bought. I probably overpaid for it.”

Then came the engine.

“It’s a complete stock Subaru EJ25 with a single overhead cam,” Daniel says. “It’s a 2.5-liter four-cylinder out of a Subaru Outback. [The car] was super rusty. I ended up paying $200 for it. I recouped about $600 by literally taking the car to the junkyard and selling the cats.”

Thriftiness helps when it comes to the Grassroots Motorsports $2000 Challenge presented by Tire Rack. “The whole point of the Challenge is to find things that aren’t necessarily performance parts,” says Daniel, “pay cheap money for them because the world doesn’t value them, and use them in a performance way.”

The engine may have been a sleeper find. “Depending on year, they had between 163 horsepower to 172,” Daniel explains. “They were never a performance engine, but they’re a stout, torquey, mostly reliable, pretty lightweight, low-center-of-gravity thing. The big advantage to them is they sit in the car [longitudinally], so they’re easy to convert to two-wheel drive.”

Then came the other stock components. “The front uprights [and brakes] are from the Subaru Outback,” Daniel continues. “My back uprights [and brakes] are from [the front of] a car I bought off the forum, which was a 1996 Impreza.”

The wheels provided a final splash of Subaru. “They’re off a 2010 Subaru Outback L.L. Bean Edition,” Daniel says. “I looked on Facebook Marketplace and some dude had rims for $40. It was a 12-week-old ad and he was like, ‘You want the wheels? Just take them.’”

Tune to Win

Now came the fun part for Daniel, who says his background in engineering makes him “a sponge” for finding ways to meet desired outcomes. The Subaru LMP360’s aerodynamics are a great example of this. 

“There’s a guy on YouTube named Kyle.Engineers, and he does analyses of Formula 1 cars aerodynamically,” Daniel explains. “I went through the FSAE program at my school, and we did aerodynamics stuff. I also relied a lot on the [GRM] forum. It’s a huge resource, and we’ve got two forum members who work professionally as aerodynamicists.”

With that information, he went to work crafting the body. He got creative when sourcing the materials, but not in an ultra-expensive, space-age way. Think more like what a general contractor would use for a house.

“The front [aero] is out of plywood, and the rear wing is aluminum bent over steel,” Daniel explains. “The underbody is half-inch pink foam insulation with about an inch of cedar picket fencing. There’s a lot of 20-gauge steel to expand [the body] and some fiberglass.”

Before winning the Grassroots Motorsports $2000 Challenge presented by Tire Rack, Daniel took the car to Lincoln, Nebraska, for the Tire Rack SCCA Solo Nationals, where he entered the top-rung A Modified class. Despite running on 200tw Falkens, he didn’t finish last. Photography CreditL J.G. Pasterjak

If you look closer, Daniel’s fabrication bent goes deeper. “D-shaped steering wheels are popular now, but in the ’60s they weren’t a thing,” says Daniel. “You had wood-rimmed metal steering wheels on race cars. What did have D-shaped wheels back then were airplanes. So I looked at ’60s- and ’70s-era airplanes to drive the appearance of the steering wheel.”

Then he used another household material to help increase mechanic grip: string. “I used what’s called a string computer,” Daniel says. “Carroll Smith talked about it in his book ‘Tune to Win.’ The idea is that you replicate the suspension using strings. I took strings with magnets to my garage door and made a one-to-one scale version of the suspension. I measured from that where the upper ball joints and inner pivots would need to be. There’s a perception that you need to have a super-advanced degree to know how to make a suspension work; I used $8 of mason line and some magnets.”

Answering the Challenge

Daniel’s Subaru LMP360 made its $2000 Challenge debut in 2021 and returned the following year. Most of the modifications he made for the second attempt were to improve aerodynamics. In 2022, he won the overall contest.

“It’s kind of weird because I was completely not expecting it,” Daniel admits. “It was not in the realm of possibilities in my brain. I don’t get super competitive about things. I just do things for fun.”

Daniel placed first in the event’s autocross and concours segments and placed second on the drag strip. But he’s most proud of receiving the Challengers’ Choice award from his fellow competitors for two years straight.

The Subaru LMP360 mixes CAD engineering with materials found at the big-box store–like the plywood splitter.

“That’s not to take from winning [overall]–winning is awesome,” Daniel says. “To me, it was more impactful to get that recognition from everyone else there, where they said, ‘This is the car that represents what this is all about.’”

Going into the $2000 Challenge, Daniel wanted the Subaru LMP360 to do more than be competitive.

“I wanted it to inspire people,” says Daniel. “It wasn’t about me showing people what I can do. It was about showing people what they can do if you just try.”

It all goes back to those what ifs. Think about some of your own.

What if you actually tried to make one of those happen?

You might surprise yourself with what you can achieve, and it could result in a big life accomplishment–maybe even a $2000 Challenge win.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
4/3/23 2:07 p.m.

No pressure, but I'm really excited to see this at the UTCC later this year.

nocones GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
4/3/23 3:34 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

And I'm very excited to bring it.  I'm hopeful I can get the full WRX EJ20 swap completed by then.  I have much to learn about the EJ20 to make the swap succesfull and only so much time to learn it.  I need to put up the STI bat signal calling Subaru swap experts to the LMP360 Batcave...


The article turned out great, much thanks for what the GRM team put together here.  It's very exciting to see something I built inside a Magazine I've read for ~25 years.  

preach (dudeist priest)
preach (dudeist priest) GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
5/14/23 4:19 a.m.

Probably my favorite car on the forum. So damn cool.

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