Jump Seats! 1978 Subaru BRAT 4×4

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You little brat! It’s refreshing to see a small car, truck, carck, whatever you’d call a Subaru BRAT, these days. There are so many monster pickups out there, even though they’re the new “normal”-sized pickup. At one time, we didn’t all need to ride around in 5,000-pound SUVs and pickups as our daily drivers. Give me an 1,800-pound 1978 Subaru BRAT 4×4 any day over almost anything new – safety and technology be damned. I mean, darned.

The “little” part is true in the first-generation Subaru Brat’s case, this thing is a mere 13 feet long and five feet wide. The first-gen BRAT (Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter) was made for the 1978 through 1980 model years and it was almost a foot-and-a-half shorter than the second-generation BRAT, so even in the 1970s and 80s, little Subaru followed the trend of making vehicles bigger and heavier with each generation. The second-generation BRATs were also 500 pounds heavier. I don’t understand why we need such huge commuter vehicles.

This Subaru has a lot of rust here and there on the body, although it’s much less than some of them have. The tailgate alone would be quite a project, but it appears to be a pretty complete vehicle, right down to the ever-popular chicken-tax-cheating rear jump seats. It’s great to see those, although most owners ended up taking them out because they wasted so much space and it wasn’t exactly the safest spot to sit, even with seat belts and a roll bar, which this car doesn’t have. I believe this car is Cashmere Beige, one of nine colors available in 1978.

The seller has included many photos in several sizes and orientations, but if you look hard enough and zoom in, you can see that this car is very restorable. As a first-year BRAT, it’s worthy of a full restoration, in my opinion. Vinyl seats are easy to fix but the dash has the usual cracks and the steering wheel has a “necker knob” on it. Interesting. There’s a lot of heavy surface rust underneath and elsewhere, along with rust holes, so plan on lots of welding, grinding, and other bodywork.

Another interesting feature is the winch on the front bumper. It may be more of a badge of courage, as with all of the jacked-up 4×4 pickups that never leave paved roads, but it’s all about what a person likes. It gives this BRAT an extra interesting feature to talk about at Cars & Coffee events.

That’s a lot of surface rust, but it’s restorable, and this car has rare “factory” air conditioning. Or, maybe it was a U.S.-based dealer installation, but there’s a tag on the glove box door that reads, “Air Conditioned by Subaru.” The engine is Subaru’s EA-71, a 1.6-liter OHV boxer-four with 67 horsepower and 81 lb-ft of torque. It sends power through a four-speed manual to a single-range transfer case (dual-range after 1980) and all four wheels when the driver needs more traction. I can’t imagine being in 4WD mode and having the AC on, but it’s a very cool option to have (literally) and adds to the value. This one needs some brake work, but it runs and drives, and the seller has it listed here on eBay in Freeport, Florida, where the current reserve-not-met bid price is $1,055. Have any of you owned a first-generation Subaru BRAT?

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  1. 8banger 8bangerMember

    No, but my buddy and I rode in the back of his dad’s an eon ago. They had little concern for us kids bouncing out and cracking our coconuts – it just made us tougher.

    Like 13
  2. Nostromo

    So, some escaped the crusher. This is one vehicle that I never liked and the passage of time has done nothing to change that. To reiterate, I didn’t like them back then and I do not like them now.

    My wife and I were behind a Brat in May of ’79 when a thunderstorm unleashed slashing torrents of rain with hardly any warning. Two teens were buckled into the back of the Brat and were water-boarded until the driver made the overpass on Rt. 213 outside of Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

    Like 5
    • John b

      Probably coming from Playwicki park

      Like 2
      • Nostromo

        John b, yes, that is plausible. I don’t believe there was as much unauthorized trail riding through Playwicki back then. For that sort of thing one would likely have gone behind the Langhorne Country Club between the two sets of tracks. There were plenty of trails in that relative wilderness adjacent to the Neshaminy Creek.

        The last time I was back there was in early-July 2015. I went up the hill by one of the railroad bridges to find that one set of tracks had been removed. I am still surprised by that and instinctively I kept shooting a glance over my shoulder to look for trains. That was a learned behavior of over twenty years from my youth.

        I walked east along the railroad bed to the point where I used to access the creek when I’d park by the country club. It was overgrown and I could have used a machete just then. I found a particular fishing spot I’d last seen in 1980 or so. I remembered it right away. One of my favorite fishing holes that held trout in the spring after we’d stocked it and very big smallmouth bass had changed drastically from decades of flooding. Caught/saw some very big trout and bass there.

        Like 0
  3. Gary

    a buddy had one, we were screwing around, h e hit a curb and it flopped on its side. We pushed it back over on its wheels, fired it up and kept driving, tough little thing.

    Like 11
  4. Ed Schnurr

    I believe these were sold at a time when other manufacturers, like Toyota, were bringing in small utility vehicles into the USA without pickup beds to avoid taxes on a truck. We saw those a lot in Southern California in the day, and beds were fitted after the ‘vehicle’ was registered.
    Well I remember that the Subaru Brat was fitted with the 2 pickup bed seats so it could be registered as a 4 passenger vehicle and not a truck.
    Anyone that has better info please comment. Just working off my old memories.

    Like 10
    • Gord

      same chicken tax tariff still in effect today
      many of the small ford van transit connects come with seats and windows… taken out once come here and panels put in… bizarre… and of course built into the price!

      Like 2
  5. Bobby

    I got one. Same year. Single headlight which means single range t case. Just cleaned up a neighbors property and got a similar year wagon with a dual range. Gonna swap it in and rally. I love these things!

    Like 8
  6. Danno

    I’ve always liked these quirky little monsters. I’d drive one, if I wasn’t expecting to do any real truck-like work.

    Unless the CAFE formula changes, we’ll never see a truck (“truck”) this small again. The fuel-economy:wheelbase ratio is just too high.

    Like 1
  7. Steve R

    My dad bought a used 1979 Brat for me and my sister to drive. He needed something that could carry an occasional small load that wouldn’t fit in the trunk or back seat of a car that got good mileage and not enough power to get either of us into trouble. It had a shell with a higher roof in the front to clear the heads if any possible passengers. It was fine for it’s intended purpose. It’s quirky and will draw a crowd at a coffee and cars, someone will want it, that’s enough for some people.

    Steve R

    Like 5
  8. GerryMember

    If you check out the “Brumby” (Australian market name for the Brat) build done recently on MCM on you tube you’ll see that you can swap in some later drivetrains to modernize the platform and end up with a nice little runabout pickup for trips to the garden center etc…

    Like 2
  9. That AMC guy

    I used to own a 1978 Subaru, but it was a sedan. The air conditioning was dealer-installed at that time. It uses the factory ventilation outlets in the dash but the evaporator takes up most of the glove compartment plus space underneath it.

    Notice the lower part of the door cards and seat bottoms are black. They were like that regardless of the interior color. Carpet is black as well.

    My ”78 Subaru came with breaker point ignition and no catalytic converter from the factory. They had an emission control system at the time called “SEEC-T” which worked pretty much like an air pump but used exhaust impulses instead of a belt-driven pump.

    Like 4
  10. Aussie Dave Aussie DaveMember

    Ahh, the Brumby, was it was called here, but we never got the jump seats.

    I’ve owned two L wagons (the wagon version of the Brumby, Brat), absolutely love them.
    Best vehicle for the beach, and I’ve owned what some call real 4WD’s, but the suburu goes further on sand dunes.

    SWMBO, constantly says no to getting one, because it’s a 2 seater, I counter argue, our Mitsubishi Triton, is also only a 2 seater.(But it’s only 2WD).

    Like 6
  11. Car Nut Tacoma

    Awesome looking Brat. I remember vehicles like this. Assuming parts are still available, this would make an awesome resto project.

    Like 1
  12. Troy

    Being a Florida rig I kinda expected more rust , put a lift on it bigger tires on it and get it muddy

    Like 1
    • Bob

      Looks plenty rusty to me. I had a 74 Subaru and that thing began rotting out before 50K miles. There was a nice looking Brat for sale near me about 6 months ago. Sold fast. Still popular cars.

      Like 1
  13. chrlsful

    thnx for noting the 1st/2nd gen difference. Altho these R tops on my list (w/60s ranchero, chrysler rampage/scamp, some sukis, etc) I was unaware of the size difference.
    If the “chicken tax” were earmarked for development of our own like product I’d been behind it. Puris should be…

    Like 1
  14. Scotty GilbertsonAuthor

    Auction update: this one ended at $4,600 and didn’t meet the seller’s reserve, so no sale.

    Like 1
  15. Melton Mooney

    I was selling a Datsun 200sx in the early 80s and a Japanese university student came to look at it. He showed up in a Subaru. I asked him why he wanted my car when he already had a similar economy car. He said:

    Su-ba-loo no good.

    I’ll never forget that.

    Like 1

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