The name BRAT is an abbreviation used for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter. It is a pickup variant of the Subaru Leone and was launched in 1977 as 1978 model. In some markets, BRAT was marketed as Brumby, MV or Shifter. It was derived straight from the Subaru’s all-wheel drive station wagon version. Prior to the launch of BRAT, Subaru also unveiled their concept coupe utilities including the Chevrolet El Camino and Ford Ranchero.
As for US version, it came with carpeting as well as welded-in rear facing jumpseats in the cargo area, thus offering an evasion from a tariff commonly called the Chicken tax. While BRAT could also be qualified as a truck, the availability of plastic seats in the cargo area enable BRAT to categorized as a passenger vehicle as well. The reason behind why Subaru wanted to classify it as passenger car was the amount of tax imposed by US government on imported cars which was 2.5% for passenger vehicles in contrast to 25% charged on light trucks.
After its launch in 1977, the 1981 model year was revised followed by discontinuation of cargo seats in 1985. The increasing popularity of small trucks offered in US market by different automakers including Toyota, Nissan and Mazda, forced Subaru to come up with their BRAT. The BRAT remained in production until 1993, though the imports of BRAT to North American markets were halted in 1987. However, it continued to be shipped in Europe, Australia and New Zealand up till February 1994. Interestingly, the BRAT was not offered in the Japanese market and only assembled and produced for overseas markets. It was marketed as Brumby in Australia, while in United Kingdom, it was known as Shifter.
As for drivetrain, the BRAT came as all-wheel drive and equipped with Subaru EA engine. In its early years, the BRAT came with a 1.6-L EA71 engine. However, from 1981 onwards, the engine was replaced by a larger 1.8-L EA81. The option of 94 hp (70 kW) turbocharged engine was available for the models produced between 1983 and 1984. All BRATs came standard with manual transmission, though automatic transmission was offered in turbocharged versions. The models produced before 1981 were all equipped with a single-range transfer case, whereas the later models including GL came with a dual range transfer case. The turbocharged models on the other hand featured automatic transmission combined with a single range push-button 4-wheel drive.
Subaru made an attempt to use this approach again in 2003. However, this time Subaru went for 4-door vehicle built on the second generation model of Subaru Outback. The vehicle was known as the Subaru Baja.