The Subaru BRAT was manufactured by Subaru from 1977 to 1993. It was a compact coupe utility pickup designed to rival the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino. It enjoyed brief popularity as the market for mini-pickup trucks began to take hold in the late 1970s and early '80s. Although discontinued as a U.S. import in 1987, it remained a steady seller as the Brumby in Australia and the Shifter in Europe.
The BRAT, which stands for "Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter," is a Subaru Leone converted to a pickup. The Leone debuted in 1971 as a front-wheel coupe, with the four-wheel drive estate car introduced a year later. Its design was influenced by Subaru's partnership with Nissan, which began in 1968, and is reflected in several Subaru offerings with a long hood and short rear-end. Subaru broke new ground by offering a four-wheel drive car, and considered a passenger car-based pickup a natural progression.
The 1985 BRAT sits on a short 96.7-inch wheelbase and measures 174.2 inches in length, 64.4 inches wide and 56.3 inches tall. Its ground clearance is a generous 8.3 inches and the fuel tank carries 14.5 gallons. It came in 11 factory colours ranging from black and Twilight Blue to Mica Red and Spice Brown.
Under the Hood
Early BRATs were powered by a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine with the 1981 and later models powered by a 73-horsepower 1.8-litre engine. In 1983-84, an optional 1.8-litre turbocharged version was offered that generated 94 horsepower. Transmissions were the 4-speed manual and a 3-speed automatic, which was equipped with a push button to switch to 4-wheel drive.
The BRAT came in the DL and GL trim levels. The DL featured a single set of headlamps, while the higher level GL sported quad headlamps. Otherwise, the two models were identical. The most prominent feature of the 1978-1985 models were the pair of hard plastic jumpseats in the rear that were discontinued due to safety concerns. The spare tire was located in the engine compartment.
President Ronald Reagan owned a 1978 BRAT to traverse his 688-acre ranch near Santa Barbara. The BRAT was sold in 1998 and the ranch was donated to the Young America's Foundation. The vehicle ended up on eBay in 2004, but was purchased by the Young America's Foundation in 2005 and is now part of the Foundation's Reagan exhibit.
In 2002, Subaru brought back the BRAT by developing the Baja based on the Outback model. Yet the "Son of BRAT" was only produced from 2003 to 2006. What seemed like a good idea at the time was torpedoed with pedestrian styling that was too much passenger car and very little of the expected rugged pickup. Further, the cargo box featured a midgate that allowed the front box wall and rear cabin seat to fold down to allow extra bed space. But the cab window remained fixed, limiting what could be placed in the longer bed.
From 1977 to 1987, Subaru sold 92,445 BRATS in North America, while only 30,000 of BRAT's offspring, the Baja, were sold. The vehicle was never sold in Japan.