NPF: BEAT ON THE BRAT

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 4th, 2014 by Ed

When I need to make a joke about white trash – and believe me, the last 12 years spent in Indiana, Georgia, and central Illinois have made this necessary on more than one occasion – my go-to cultural reference point is the Chevrolet El Camino. If I'm feeling punchy I can sub in the Ford equivalent (the Ranchero) or, to test the depth of automotive knowledge of the intended audience, the El Camino's identical clone the GMC Caballero. I'm sure these were fine vehicles in their day and in some parts of the world the "ute" body style is quite popular (I'm looking at you, Australia). There is just something about the unholy wedding of a pointlessly large 1970s American sedan with the bed of a pickup truck, however, that screams "Both humans and animals have been conceived in the bed of this vehicle." If you see any of these vehicles on the road today, you can rest assured that the family of six shoehorned into its single bench seat is on the way to pick up some scratch-off tickets.

Is that mean? Yes. That is very mean. But for whatever reason, the Coupe Truck idea did not attract a very high class clientele in the American market.

Despite the jokes that they invite, there is something lovably silly about these vehicles. They look so ridiculous and mis-proportioned that it becomes endearing. Not so, however, with Japan's response to the late 70s/early 80s car-truck conglomeration craze: the Subaru BRAT. That's supposed to stand for "Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter", which lets you know right off the bat that nothing good is going to come of this. Basically Subaru designers hacksawed the rear end off a Leone sedan and made…this:

brat2

The best part, however, is that Subaru engineers and bean-counters collaborated to circumvent a 25% U.S. import tariff on trucks (the known in the auto industry as the "Chicken Tax"). They did this by classifying the BRAT as a passenger car, which they achieved by…bolting two seats into the exposed bed of the truck. Look at these and try to envision any scenario in which the "backseat" passengers would survive an accident. Or normal driving over 30 miles per hour.

brat

Note the plastic sled-type handles affixed to the seats. So your odds of remaining in the vehicle at speed were a function of grip strength. Awesome.

Fortunately Subaru forewent plans to weld the seats to the bed in favor of bolting them in place, so with ordinary tools a buyer could (and almost all immediately did) remove the seats. But in promotional photos, Subaru was legally obligated to play along with the conceit that this was a four-passenger car; hilarity ensued.

brat3

Yeah, good luck with that guys.

Like all horrible things from the 70s and 80s the BRAT is celebrated for its awkwardness by today's irony hungry hipsters. Jonny Lieberman at Motor Trend is polarizing – some people find his videos unwatchably annoying, while others appreciate his silly enthusiasm – but I would recommend giving his five-minute jaunt in the BRAT a viewing if you're bored. It's fun, it takes the car at face value, and if nothing else we learn that because the gearshift attaches to the transaxle through a crude hole cut directly into the floor of the cabin, illegal drugs can be slipped out of the vehicle during a traffic stop.

Subaru produced a more modern but equally ridiculous version called the Baja from 2002-2006 before finally admitting that the American market simply isn't, uh, ready for this type of car. However, given our fondness for all things retro it wouldn't be surprising to see some manufacturer resurrect this idea again in the future.