The Subaru BRAT, which is an acronym for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter, was basically a Leone that was converted into a pickup truck and aimed to compete with Chevy El Camino and Ford Ranchero. Its production in Japan started in 1977, as per the President of Subaru of America’s order. It was launched in 1977 for the 1978 model year and became popular in the United States. But that popularity was short lived as the mini pickup truck segment outshone them in the late 1970s.
In 1987, the BRAT was discontinued in the U.S. market, but it still fared well in Australia where it was called Brumby, and in Europe where it was marketed as the Shifter. Throughout its existence, Subaru was able to sell a total of 92,445 BRATs. That’s no easy accomplishment considering the BRAT’s less than a decade stay in the industry.
1978 - 1981: The first BRATs and the Presidential BRAT
The early BRATS, which were sold in North America, were outfitted with rear-facing seats in the cargo bay. It was this unique feature that made this vehicle qualify as a passenger vehicle rather than a pickup, making Subaru save thousands of dollars in importation fees and charges. The all-wheel-drive system was standard on all BRATs, and the vehicles were powered by a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. The first BRATs were available in DL and GL trim levels.
President Ronald Reagan owned a 1978 Subaru BRAT, which he used to go through his 688-area ranch in Santa Barbara. That presidential BRAT was kept for two decades and was sold in 1998. In 2004, it ended up on eBay and was purchased in 2005 by the Young America’s Foundation, displaying on the Reagan exhibit.
1982 - 1987: The updated BRAT
For the 1982 model year, the BRAT got a restyled appearance and the GL variant received a dual-range transfer case. The original round headlights were replaced by rectangular units, which breathed a new life into BRAT’s fascia. Little changed for the 1983 and 1984 model years, except buyers could go for the optional 1.8-liter turbo engine that could generate 93 horsepower. Compared to the pickup trucks marketed by North American manufacturers, the BRAT was relatively smaller due to its short wheelbase.
What marked the 1986-1987 Subaru BRAT was the removal of the two plastic jump seats in the rear, but it maintained the excellent placement of the spare tire, which was located in the engine bay.
2003 - 2006: The resurrected BRAT (Subaru Baja)
In 2002, Subaru resurrected the BRAT in the form of its 2003 Subaru Baja. Dubbed as “Son of BRAT”, the Baja didn’t meet sales expectations, thus its short life. Only 30,000 of Brat’s offspring were sold in North America; it was never offered in the Japanese market. This Subaru BRAT offspring represented the company’s failed attempt to capture the hearts of the younger and more hip buyers.