When I think of Subarus, I think of the venerable Impreza WRX STI. Well, kinda. Mostly, I think about the GC. Even a 20-year Mitsubishi fan boy like me knows the 22B STI was the pinnacle of Subaru style. 

I remember when Vivid Racing was little more than a couple buddies with a small, single-bay unit in a quiet, effectively invisible, office park. They had a dyno day and we all caravanned up to DynoComp to watch a then brand-new WRX STI crack 300awhp. (It didn’t.) 

Not long after, I discovered regional, club-level stage rally and started volunteering almost monthly. The amount of Subarus I saw ripping up and down dirt roads all over Arizona, California, and Nevada was insane. (Would have been nice to see more—read: any—of the Mitsubishis at least finish.) 

But long before any of that, before I knew about the plucky little Justy, the noble GL, or ever saw that one La Bamba music video, there was one Subaru I knew and loved. The BRAT. 

Subaru’s “Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporters” were so much cooler than their dowdy, domestic counterparts, the Chevy El Camino and Ford Ranchero. Small, nimble, and designed for off-tarmac utility, the wee Brumby looked cool from every angle. 

Not to mention they all had those awesome jump seats in the rear, complete with handles that would have looked right at home on either side of an ejector seat. I never did get to ride in one of them. 

Jason’s 1982 Subaru BRAT on the trail with MtnRoos. | img: @iluvdrt_oz

It’s an amazing machine!

[tgp] Introductions: My understanding is you’ve spent the last seven years building what I can only say is the most amazing Subaru BRAT I’ve ever seen. Is that correct? Anything else you’d like to mention? 

[Jason] That’s correct. I picked it up from the original owner seven years ago when it was bone stock around Lake Tahoe, California. Drove it all the way back to San Diego on one tank of gas which is about 400 miles. I don’t get that gas mileage anymore, lol.

On Subaru BRATs

[tgp] The most important automotive opinions are those of real, actual owners.  How did you end up with a BRAT? And, as a BRAT owner, could you share a little unvarnished truth with the rest of us? What do you love about them? What do you not love about them? 

[Jason] I grew up driving old Subarus and always wanted a Brat. My friend Brian was looking at some classifieds and sent me the link. I bought it sight unseen and another friend and I drove up to get it that weekend. 

A bit of unvarnished truth is that they are not for everyone. Parts are becoming harder to get, and they require constant maintenance, which is why I’ve spent so much time restomodding mine with modern components. 

What I love about it is its uniqueness and small size. It allows me to go a lot of places bigger trucks simply can’t fit into. What I hate is the constant worry about something breaking I won’t be able to find or replace.

[tgp] “Modern” Subaru’s tout their “symmetrical AWD” systems which give them better traction than most AWD vehicles. Did the BRAT get this technology in any respect? How does the little Suba-ute fare in the wild? Maybe you can speak to a couple mods that stand out as being particularly beneficial?

[Jason] The Brat is symmetrical, but a true four wheel drive with a low range. Normally, it’s front wheel drive with shift-on-the-fly 4×4. 

Out in the wild, with the modifications I’ve done, it’s really capable. I have a custom made long travel suspension, a rear differential Aussie Locker TORQ Locker, and some gnarly tires, among other things that really help move it along. I’ve also swapped in an EJ22 Subaru Legacy engine and 5-speed dual range transmission from an 86 Subaru GL wagon. 

One thing I love is my Nardi steering wheel and Subaru JDM Spec C STi roof vent my friend Brian got me since I don’t have AC. The roof vent pushes a lot of air into the cab. 

[tgp] What happened to the jump seats in the back? They’re one of those things most non-owners remember. And since parts are getting harder to find, I’m curious if you still have them or sold them on to another owner in need.

[Jason] I took the jump seats out because they took up too much bed space and were impractical for the build I’ve been making. I still have them though. I won’t part with them. I’d like to make a different base and use them in my garage like bar stools

The Subaru BRAT Community

[tgp] How’s the BRAT community doing these days? Where do y’all hangout, share tech, and whatnot? (And can you speak to how many BRATs are likely left and/or how they’re received by the rest of the Subaru crowd?) 

[Jason] Brat community is pretty good. Everyone is very willing to help all over the world. Parts are so rare that it’s not uncommon to need a tail light from Australia or door latch from Israel. 

Brats were sold in Oz until 1992 as the Brumby. They stopped selling them in the US in 1987. Google says out of the 800,000 made worldwide only 923 are still registered. The Subaru crowd loves the Brat. I’ve won a lot of car shows with this truck, so everyone must like them.

This Gearhead Life

[tgp] When you think about automotive culture in general, what stands out as being the biggest issue we should be working on together? What’s your biggest concern and what should we be doing about it?

[Jason] I think in general the car culture is pretty good. The real culture, not the one where people get rims and a wrap and say their vehicle is a build; people who turn their own wrenches, fabricate their own parts, and live and breathe the garage life. 

Working on cars is something anyone can do. I always encourage it. Yeah, you’ll mess it up initially, but eventually you’ll get it. I genuinely love car people. They are great people. My biggest concern is people not educating themselves on what they’re doing. Particularly in the off-road and overlanding community since it has grown exponentially over the past 20 years. Pick up your trash, pick up others trash, stay on the trails, and preserve our lands.

Shout Outs

[tgp] Who’s made the biggest difference in your life with cars? How so?

[Jason] Shout-out goes to my friends Brian P. for finding me this truck, my friends at Subiworks in Murrieta, California, for helping me with the build and being great friends, the community of MtnRoo, an off-road Subaru group, and The Classic Subaru Network (4×140 or GTFO) FB group for all their advice and help finding parts. 

Eat your heart out, Impreza owners. | img: @ilundrt_oz

Live the Garage Life

I like what Jason says about living the garage life. It’s a spirit of building and personal improvement. When we roll up our sleeves, grab the wrench, and put our minds to it, we make things happen. I mean, to each his own, though. If you want to consider wheels and a wrap a “build”, by all means. Knock yourself out. 

As the machines we love get older and parts get harder to find, “built not bought” is going to take on a whole new meaning for a lot of us. When that time comes, the more educated we are, the more connected we are with our communities, the more prepared we’ll be to solve tomorrow’s problems. 

Seeing Jason’s old Bi-directional Recreational All-terrain Transport with a modern roof top tent, out exploring trails in the desert and mountains feels like the perfect balance between old and new. 

When I think about Subarus, I still mostly think about GC Imprezas, but this BRAT is changing things. 

Thanks to Jason for making the time for an interview. 

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