Weekly Craigslist Hidden Treasure: 1978 Subaru Brat

Car Culture

This one even has a custom wooden bed.

The reason why Subaru decided to build the Brat, short for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter, was because of America. More specifically, the then-president of Subaru of America asked his Japanese superiors in the mid-1970s for a small truck that could rival those coming from Nissan, Toyota, and Mazda. Believe it or not, these small, Japanese-built trucks were in high demand at the time because they were relatively inexpensive, economical, and well-built. Like today, not every truck buyer required a big rig. In fact, former US President Ronald Regan famously owned a Brat at his California ranch.

But unlike those other small Japanese trucks, the Brat had a secret weapon of sorts: full-time all-wheel drive instead of standard rear-wheel-drive. The Subaru Brat launched for the 1978 model year, which just so happens to be the year when this week’s Craigslist hidden treasure was built.

Production lasted until 1994, so the Brat definitely had a good run, quirks and all. Brats were built in Japan, South Africa and even New Zealand, and shipped to overseas markets including the US, Canada, Europe, UK, and Australia. Actually, imports to the US ended in 1987, but continued elsewhere for another seven years. Some of the Brat’s most unique feature, however, was not its AWD but rather the optional T-top split roof, spare tire mounted under the hood, and a spring-loaded hidden door used as side step into the bed.

And then were those rear-facing jump seats, also located in the cargo area. These welded-in seats were only for North America-bound Brats in order to avoid a tariff called the “Chicken tax.” This allowed Subaru to classify the Brat as a passenger car and thus be charged a 2.5 percent tax instead of a 25 percent tax. A decimal point can make a huge financial difference.

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Some owners opted to remove the seats because they needed the bed space. Originally under the hood was a 1.6-liter horizontally placed four-cylinder, but this upgraded to a 1.8-liter unit in 1981. An optional turbocharged 1.8-liter was offered in 1983 and 1984 with a whopping 94 hp. All Brats came with a four-speed manual as standard while a three-speed slushbox was optional, though the turbo models were equipped only with the automatic.

As for the Subaru Brat we found on Craigslist Los Angeles, the seller is asking $6,500 for what they claim is a vehicle in excellent condition with 98,000 miles, which is excellent considering its age. Equipped with the 1.6 four and manual combo, it also features a custom wooden bed, which still has the original carpeting (yet another quirky Brat feature).

There’s still a fair number of Brats out there in varying levels of condition, but this first model year example is really a solid find. From what we can tell, there doesn’t appear to be any body rust and the paint looks good, though we can’t confirm whether it’s original or not. The interior also appears to be in tip-top shape, though there could be some dash cracks hidden under the cover. Even the original vinyl trim on the doors looks perfect. There’s also an aftermarket stereo and speakers and pressure gauge. But for $6,500, this is definitely one of the coolest and quirkiest little 4x4 trucks out there.

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