Curbside Capsule: Subaru Brumby – Wild Horses Could Drag You

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(first posted 9/17/2015)   When a small, inexpensive car-based ute is introduced to Australia, it tends to enjoy a pretty loyal following. However, it happens so infrequently one does wonder if the success of the Proton Jumbuck and the Subaru Brumby was just a coincidence, or if there is indeed an enduring desire of many Aussie consumers towards this niche product.

Brumby was the Australian market name for what North Americans knew as the BRAT, a brumby being an Australian term for a wild horse. It enjoyed a much longer life here, being discontinued in 1994, seven years after its axing in America. Stricter Australian Design Rules had killed the aging ute and it would have been prohibitively expensive to re-engineer the Brumby, especially considering the Brumby’s price-sensitive appeal.

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A low price was one major drawcard for Brumby buyers, but it was also the overall ability of the trucklet that earned it so many loyal fans. The Brumby was popular in rural areas, particularly with farmers: the little Subie made a handy farm tool with its modest ground clearance and on-demand four-wheel-drive, activated via a lever on the transmission tunnel.

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Performance and load-carrying ability wasn’t earth shattering: the Brumby had a 880 lb payload, and its 1.8 carburetted flat four pumped out just 81 hp and 97 ft-lbs. Fuel economy also wasn’t spectacular, but the Brumby still earned quite a following. Many of these little utes provided hundreds of thousands of reliable miles over many, many years. The only bugbear that is mentioned by Brumby owners is the need to replace the CV joints every so often.

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Australia never received the Brumby’s spiritual successor, the Baja. The kind of people that bought the Brumby probably wouldn’t have been impressed with the plusher, more expensive and larger Baja anyway.

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Was the Brumby’s niche success only a result of it being a niche product from a niche brand? Could a car like this succeed in today’s Australia from a brand like Toyota or Ford or even from a higher-volume, more mainstream Subaru? Considering small trucks like the Toyota Hilux and Holden Colorado have gotten much more refined and sales of the Holden Ute and Ford Falcon ute have been on the decline for years, perhaps not. And in North America, a product like this was destined to be a very small player, even if a President did drive one.