Irrational Love – Subaru BRAT

Why do we all love the Subaru BRAT so much? It’s because of the seats, right? Or was there more to it?

On the surface, the two generations of BRAT were rather unremarkable. Short for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter, the Subaru BRAT was just another compact pickup truck to hail from Japan in the late 1970s, in direct response to the growing market.

Yes, it had standard all-wheel drive unlike a lot of its competitors, which would later in its life even include a two-speed transfer case. But power came from an underwhelming 1.6-liter flat-four engine that would later be replaced by a larger, yet still inadequate 1.8-liter unit. The only transmission initially available was a ho-hum four-speed manual.

It wasn’t exactly stout and neither towing nor hauling were strong suits. It could travel off the beaten path well enough, but in stock form, it wasn’t exactly an off-road monster.

What Gives?

So why do we like love it? How has this tiny pick-up truck become the stuff of modern folklore? A bit of a deeper dive shows quirks aplenty, with the truck seemingly sticking out its middle finger towards convention. It is the automotive equivalent to counterculture.

For starters, the BRAT could be had with a T-top roof; that’s just awesome. Then there was that coupe-like sloping rear pillar. Unlike a lot of its competitors, the BRAT was not built on a truck platform. It was wholly derived from a car and features an all-in-one-piece cab and bed. This predates the Honda Ridgeline by decades.

There’s something about this styling that I find so cool as well. The original BRAT looks so ‘70’s Japanese bad-ass while the second generation has this generic 1980’s cool vibe to it. Oh, and there is a secret hidden step to gain access to the pick-up bed.

Later in the BRAT’s life, to help improve performance, instead of finding a larger engine to add a little oomph, the company turbocharged the existing engine. And for an extra oddity, a three-speed automatic could be had with this engine complete with push-button four-wheel drive.

But Back to Those Seats

But by far the most unique feature for all Subaru BRATs sold in North America up until 1986 were those rear jump seats. To circumvent a 25% tariff imposed on imported light trucks, Subaru installed carpeting in the pick-up bed and a pair of rear-facing jump seats – complete with seatbelts and grab handles.

Voila, it’s now a car!

The gull and genius to pull off such a maneuver is both astonishing and absolutely amazing. It not only creatively solved an issue; it also created an icon that to this day has a cult following. I am firmly a Kool-Aid drinking member of that cult and need to own a BRAT one day.

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