Propane Powered 1986 Subaru BRAT

As I’m sitting in a leather wingback chair by the fireplace in the Shakespearean wing of the Barn Finds library with my dog at my side, I’m reminded of the Bard’s famous words: “To convert or not convert, that is the question.” You’ll understand what I mean by that once you see this 1986 Subaru BRAT that has been converted to run on propane. It can be found here on craigslist in Isanti, Minnesota with an asking price of $1,299.

We’ve seen quite a few Subaru BRATs here and most of us know that BRAT stands for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter. We also know that they have a 4WD system and most of us also know that you never see a working BRAT for sale for under $1,300. Ever. You can see some rust lurking around the edges of this one in the photo above but it looks pretty good overall. They say that it was originally a California car and that has clearly spared it from being absolutely ravaged by rust from driving on Minnesota’s salty, winter roads for 33 years.

This may be the reason why this BRAT is priced at a fraction of Hagerty’s value: it has been converted to run on propane. If a person looks up the benefits of converting to propane it looks like a great thing, but they’ll most likely run across just as many websites saying that it’s a bad idea. It’s like politics today, one side is right and the other side is wrong and you’ll never convince them. Then you notice the “big oil” ads on anti-propane sites and you understand why they’re against it. And, then you look again and see the propane industry ads on the other site and you shut down the computer and vow to never trust anything you read online again. And, five minutes later you’re arguing with some random user-name person with a fake profile photo about politics and the environment and saying what an idiot they are and all is right with the world again. Sigh…

The seller has owned this BRAT for the last decade and they used it as a daily driver for a lot of that time. That’s a testament as to how well it’s worked for them but they recently retired and it doesn’t get used that much anymore. You can see the 4-speed shifter in front of the 4WD shifter. It needs a bath inside, there’s no question about it. They also have a custom white topper for the back and a set of wheels with good German-made snow tires on them.

The engine should be Subaru’s EA-81, a 1.8L boxer-four with 73 hp and 94 lb-ft of torque. The seller says that it runs great but it needs an exhaust system, which scares me a bit given Minnesota’s salty winter roads and what rust may be lurking underneath. But, if you can live with driving to a propane filling station, it’s hard to beat a fully-functioning Subaru BRAT for $1,300. Would any of you drive a car that had been converted to run on propane?


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  1. Bob McK Member

    All of the propane stations that I knew of are gone. Unless you have your own compressor, good luck fueling it up. Back in the day a compressor cost around $8K. Not sure what one would cost today.

    Like 2
    • Robert L Roberge

      Huh? I am boondocking in rural Nevada and have found 3 propane dealers not including Amerigas.

      Like 6
    • DayDreamBeliever Member

      Robert is right, propane stations are plentiful.
      Many (or should I say most) RV’s have good-sized propane tanks to run heaters, refrigeration, and often generators as well. Finding a station to fill at is not a problem at all.

  2. 433jeff

    With the rear sliding window and a cap this is the worlds greatest dog rig as your dog can pokr his head thru the slider yet remain in the back, many years and Many snowstorms in a ru. Luckily ive never been hit in a brat. Im sure the propane is a clean burner and a great idea, But ive seen to many houses turn to matchsticks to want to lug a propane tank around, Great rigs

    Like 3
  3. nlpnt

    It’s probably a lot easier to deconvert than to repair a rusty one. Would make refueling a lot easier if you’re not Hank Hill.

    Like 10
  4. dave brennan

    Don’t know where u guys live, but here in my part of n.y., there are at least 4 filling stations within 1.5 mi of my house! Still don’t want it.

    Like 4
  5. Howard A Member

    Subaru was sure on the right track with these, again, the aftermarket cap makes it much more useful. Propane is ok for forklifts or taxi cabs, but not the best for a road vehicle, especially an off road vehicle. Not many propane stations back in the hills. I think it could be converted back, that tank takes up a lot of space. Again too, parts could be a problem, plenty of internet stuff, but it will cost you, but what doesn’t? Cool little trucks.

    Like 4
  6. Ken Cwrney

    Hi Dave! I’m with you on the idea of leaving it as is. Here in Winter Haven, it’s
    easy to get propane here. There’s a filling
    station about 3 miles from my place in
    Auburndale, Fl. In fact, I almost bought
    their retired company car 25 years ago for
    $650 with everything still in place! It was
    a ’76 Lincoln Town Coupe, which was owned by a friend of mine back then. He
    bought it from SureGas in ’91 after they
    converted some Crown Vics to run as
    hybrid units. These ran on propane or
    regular gasoline. Only reason I didn’t
    was the fact my late wife had this thing
    about owning big cars and since she was
    the only driver, she won by default. This
    little truck would be of great use here after a hurricane. While the other folks are waiting in line 3 or 4 hours to buy $10
    to $12 a gallon gas, all you’d need to do
    is either visit SureGas to fill up, or have them bring it to you in one of their trucks
    as many homes here in Polk County still
    use propane for cooking and heating.
    Too bad the shipping costs are too high,
    this one would be comin’ home with me!

    Like 3
  7. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Barn Finds team, I looked at this BRAT yesterday afternoon – the seller is very nice and quite talented. He drove it 40 miles each way to commute to his job and he has a huge propane tank at home so that’s where he filled it. He got around 25-28 mpg which is less than a gas-powered BRAT would get, but at the time that he converted it, gas was $4+ a gallon and propane wasn’t even $2 so that’s why he did it. Also, he converted vehicles to propane for a living, if I understood him correctly, back in the 1970s after the gas crunch and people were looking for alternative ways to power their vehicles.

    It’s an outstanding job, in my opinion, just as far as what a nice job he did. All of the gas parts are there if anyone wanted to convert it back, they would just need a carburetor because it has a propane-specific carb on it now. And, to reconnect the fuel pump and things like that.

    The seats are a little rough and there’s a crack on top of the dash, but it’s nice inside otherwise. There’s a bit of rust starting around the rear wheels and the tailgate is fairly dinged up, but seriously, a working 4WD 4-speed BRAT with 8 nice wheels and tires – including 4 new snow tires mounted on the original spoked wheels – for $1,300?!

    Like 14
    • Dave

      It took Subaru a long time to figure out how to make their cars resistant to tinworm invasions. The 80s weren’t in that timeframe. This would be nice as a summer ride but after Labor Day it’s getting put up with the motorcycle for the winter.

      Like 3
    • Doug

      Scotty- I owned a well maintained ’86 Brat, and in daily driver use I never saw better than about 23mpg, and normal was about 19-20. I’m sure that the lack of power ( 78 hp ) and the fact that the terrain around Reno, NV is pretty hilly had a large influence on that – also, driving at less than 70 mph on the freeway was likely to get you run over. When I bought a used Forester with 84K on it, my average gas mileage went up to 24, driving the same routes at the same speeds. The Forester would easily pull grades in 5th that the Brat couldn’t pull in 4th.
      I drove the Brat for a bit over 10 years as adaily driver, and i loved the rear slider and being able to prop the T-tops open for airflow – even in 90+ degree weather, I seldom used the A/C !

      Like 3
  8. Car Nut Tacoma

    Sweet looking car! I remember the Subaru Brat. I thought it was way better than most truck based 4wds out there. You could still shift into and out of 4wd, but you didn’t have the bouncy ride of a truck. I remember being disappointed when it was discontinued when it was. Not everyone needs or wants a truck based truck. Since when does a utility truck have to have solid rear axle to be useful?

    Like 4
  9. xrotaryguy

    Love the Brat! One of my favorite Japanese cars when I was a kid.

    That said, this thing needs to be cheap enough to convert it back… Or use it for parts.

    Propane is awesome if you have a fleet. Got problems with people stealing gasoline? Solved! Employee driving to his girl friends house and then topping up the tank himself? Not anymore!

    Otherwise, propane is not really better than gasoline in any way these days. And way less convenient.

    Like 3
    • Car Nut Tacoma

      Besides that, there’s not much room in the bed to begin with. The addition of a propane tank reduces space even more. The Brat was my favourite Subaru offered. If only I was old enough at the time to drive.

      Like 1
  10. Stevieg

    For the price, this is worth getting even if you convert it back to gasoline. I want it! If it is still around this weekend, I might make the voyage to Minnesota.
    I am actually going up to Hayward Wisconsin to see family on new years eve. Maybe it can wait until then.
    Either way, this little Subaru has my tail waggin’ lol. I hope my fat a$$ fits in it lol.

    Like 5
  11. KB@Roadsend

    I wish propane had been so plentiful back in the 80s when I was driving trucks on propane Now here in Texas and Oklahoma its all over thanks to RVs and so many propane grills Luvs truck stops and Tractor supply ,even Walmarts is selling it by the bottle ,beats the heck out of trying to carry it in a bucket when you run out .A feller with a house tank could keep that little tractor tank going with a wet line for quite a while But seeing how you only get about 80%of the power out of propane you would have to hang out the window to get it to pull the hat off yer head Last truck I had on propane was a fuel injected Ford in the late 90s It was down right amazing how good it was with a factory chip for propane It gave up better millage and power on propane than when switched to gasoline I havent wandered around the web seeking out pros and cons One of the pros would be pulled the valve covers at 100 K miles clean as brand new But one of the cons is propane eats up valve guide seals But take it from my experience …you dont want to get an engine flooded on propane I did on an older one blew every gasket right out and 40 years later I have still never found that oil filler cap

    Like 1

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