Curbside Classic Capsule: Subaru BRAT (gen 1)

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Where did all the BRATs go? Did they finally grow up to be polite Outbacks?

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It’s been a while since I’ve come across one, but here is one I found this August. Looking at this picture makes me pine for the long summer days and balmy evenings, but enough of that. In three weeks, the days will start getting longer; something to live for.

Back to the BRAT. Yes, they’re getting quite scarce, both the gen1 and gen2 versions. But if there’s one to be found, Oregon is as likely as anywhere, as it’s been Subaru country here for decades. And the Outback is the best selling passenger car in the state.

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Sadly, this one is missing its rear-facing seats in the bed.

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Why the seats out in the open? Simple: to get around the infamous chicken tax. Since the BRAT couldn’t exactly have its integral bed added in the US to get around the 25% tax, Subaru bolted in a couple of lawn chairs. Presto! The BRAT was no truck; it was an SUV! Are those helmets on the models in the back? Right…as if.

The BRAT (which ostensibly stands for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter) made its presence first known for the MY 1978. And, yes, its arrival was duly noted; how could it not?

 

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Actually, itโ€™s creation wasnโ€™t nearly as wacky as it might seem now. In fact, it was a rather clever move, and one that would pioneer a whole category: the ElCamino/Ranchero mini-me, but with a twist. By 1980, VW released its Rabbit-based pickup, and in 1982, Chrysler got into the crowded pool with the Dodge Rampage. Arriving in the depths of the second energy crises, these little utes seemed like a rather brilliant idea. That is, until gas prices started falling like a stone. By 1982, the VWโ€™s tooling was shipped to Yugoslavia, and a year later or so, the Rampage just went off in a huff.

Under the hood thrums a 1.6L version of the ur-Subaru boxer: with overhead valves and no head gasket issues. These old Subaru engines developed quite rep for themselves, in a good way. A 1.8L version soon followed.

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The little stick shift to activate the four wheel drive can be seen poking out from under the radio. This was of course the key difference between the BRAT and the other little utes like the VW and Rampage. The BRAT was surprisingly capable off-road.

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And there’s the inevitable Forester photo-bombing. The Subaru story is a remarkable one, and the BRAT is one of the more surprising chapters along the way.