The Subaru BRAT would never get the green light today
We live in a pretty amazing age when it comes to automotive safety, technology, and efficiency. Cars are more accommodating than ever, and are squeezing more power out of less fuel than ever thought possible. But what we lack at times is the creativity to make more truly fun cars—or at least the chutzpah to actually build them. It’s why a truck like the Subaru BRAT would never get the green light today!
Well, it’s not just the beancounters that could kill a car like the BRAT. With the evolution of safety regulations–a good thing no doubt–a car like the BRAT just couldn’t exist today. But there was a time when these ridiculous T-top pickup-truck-type things roamed the streets. That time was the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Australia has a love affair with ‘utes, car-based pickup trucks, where the bed is connected to the cab, and there is a funky blend of utility and comfort. Japanese automaker Subaru had such a ‘ute, called the Bumby down under, and 284 in the UK. It also went by Shifter, MV, Targa, or MPV, if you bought it in another market. In 1977, the president of Subaru of North America asked the higher-ups to bring something to the US to compete with small pickups that were offered by Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota. But Subaru encountered the same problem that these competitors had faced; the dreaded Chicken Tax.
You can read all about how the Chicken Tax is utterly preposterous here. To this day, it continues to hurt the small truck market, in favor of American full-size trucks, but in 1977, Subaru got a clever idea. They tossed a pair of bucket seats and a carpet in the back, and called it a passenger car. Instead of a 25 percent tariff to import it, it was only 2.5 percent. The BRAT has a whole host of surprises. Because it was the late ‘70s/early 80’s, it had T-tops, and the spare tire was located under the hood, but in such a way that nestled right above the air intake. Many BRATs had little spring loaded side steps, and the rear jump seats had what effectively looked like ski pole handles.
It should not come as a shock that a car with open-air, rearward-facing jump-seats would not fly in 2015. The BRAT had something of a spiritual successor in the 4-door Subaru Baja, but it was never as stupendously wild as the BRAT. If you find you need such a vehicle, however, they can still be found on eBay and Craigslist.