Curbside Classic: 1982 Subaru BRAT – The Young Man’s Choice Of Pickup In Those Terrible Times

There was a time when a young man’s automotive yearnings wasn’t for big double-cab 4×4 pickups. Like in 1981-1982, when inflation-adjusted gas prices were right at $4/gallon. And the economy was in the tank. And the stock market was at its post-war low. And nobody was building anything, because 30 year mortgage rates were over 16%.

But if you just had to have a pickup that could seat four, Subaru had just the thing for you. Just don’t call it a “pickup”.

Based on the Leone that first appeared in 1971, the BRAT (which ostensibly stands for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter) made its presence first known for the MY 1978. That was a better year economics-wise, but it was the tail end of the seventies, so perhaps that explains its existence. Are those helmets on the rear passengers? Great; that’ll help in case of a roll-over.

Or more practically-speaking, it was based on necessity, the mother of invention. Subaru wanted in the booming mini-pickup market, but it didn’t have a truck chassis, so it created this little unibody trucklet. And since it couldn’t have its bed added in the US in order to circumvent the 25% “chicken tax” on trucks, Subaru…put two seats in the bed, so that now it was a…passenger car.

Yes, Subaru did the exact opposite of what so many manufacturers have done over the decades to escape or reduce the impact of CAFE regulations, when they turned obvious passenger cars into light trucks. The seventies were a trip, in case you missed them.

Unlike the other Japanese mini-pickup manufacturers that had to go to considerable effort to tool up 4WD versions of their trucklets, Subaru was already there. Subaru pioneered the whole passenger car 4WD thing back in 1975, with their ground-busting 4WD wagon. So making the jump to an AWD mini-pickup wasn’t exactly all that big of a leap. Putting in those rear seats was; crazy, actually.

All the good ads were for the gen1 version it seems. And no helmets here; the sand is soft, you know.

A good number of BRATs have had a seatectomy, in order to maximize cargo room. But where’s the fun in that? Especially in 2021. And it’s certainly no coincidence that I found this one just a few blocks from the UO campus. It’s probably cooler than a Ford Raptor; especially on a Saturday night, cruising for front yard beer-pong contests.

And a CB radio even! Is that the latest social media phenomenon? The Clubhouse of its time? Talking is so much easier than writing.

Power, such as it was, stemmed from the 72 hp pushrod 1.8 L boxer four hung out in front of the front axle center line, in the usual Subaru way. These were rugged little lumps, long before the nasty head gasket gremlins appeared.

This appears to be a step to facilitate entry to the rear cabin, but missing its plastic insert/trim. The gen1 didn’t have that, so presumably Subaru was responding to complaints about difficulty in climbing in? How could that be; we were all so young and limber back then.

Here’s what every young man fancied in 1982, regardless of whether it was on a Firebird or Brat. It’s got to have T-tops, or it’s just not hot.

But are these genuine T-tops, or just two small lift-up panels? Do real T-tops have that solid door section between them and the window opening? Sorry; I’m not an expert on the subject.

The Ford Raptor is the hot vehicle on campus, based on the rapid increase of them in the new car category there. And in a few more years, it will probably be the Hummer EV truck and the Tesla Cybertruck. But in 1982, this was it. And it still is, in its own little way.


CC 1978 Subaru Brat: Subie Doo  PN