Junkyard Find: 1986 Subaru BRAT, Sawzall Style

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1986 subaru brat sawzall style

You could buy the Subaru BRAT in the United States until the 1987 model year (though removing the Chicken Tax-loophole jump seats— which made the BRAT a passenger car, legally speaking— meant that it got a lot more expensive in 1985). Thing is, Coloradans love BRATs, which means you can’t even find a total basket-case example for cheap here. What to do? Why, take a beater 4WD Leone aka GL hatchback and apply ingenuity!

Other than the mini-pickup-bed in the back, there really isn’t much difference between the mid-80s Subaru Leone hatchback and the BRAT of the same era.

Oh, sure, nitpickers might point out that the BRAT had a rear window and associated body structure, but the problem of roof flutter at high speeds can be solved with a couple of S-hooks and an old bicycle inner tube. Bungee cords are too expensive!

There’s this weird hallucination among Subaru lovers that 80s Leones were million-mile survivors that needed zero maintenance, when in fact most of the examples of these things I see in the junkyard have less than 200,000 miles on their clocks. 80s Subarus fell somewhere between 80s Nissans (pretty good) and 80s Mitsubishis (don’t ask) on the Japanese-car reliability spectrum.

One of the dangers of the Sawzall convertible can be seen in this photograph. Safety tip: always duct-tape some pipe insulation over the sharp metal pillar edges after you make a “roadster” out of your car. Your passengers will be glad you did!

Given that it spent the final months of its life with wind-in-your-hair (and face, and everywhere else) modifications, passengers in the Sawzall Subaru probably didn’t look at this placard and curse the original buyer for cheaping out on the dealer-installed AC.

We’ll grant you that this car was about half as good as a real BRAT. But it only cost a fourth as much! WINNING!

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2 of 17 comments
  • Davew833 Davew833 on Jan 16, 2013

    Makes me sad to see one of these neat little hatchbacks cut up like this. Since 1986 I've had three of these (among various other Subarus). Each one I bought always seemed to cost about $700, including the last one which was a fairly rare last-year-for-the-model 1989 GL 4WD hatchback. I wish I still had that one. The rust and the poor quality interior materials seemed to be the biggest issues with any of them- the EA81 engines were nearly indestructible save for the troublesome carbs.

  • Drvanwyk Drvanwyk on Aug 23, 2014

    Irrelevant, but the strap pictured holding the roof down looks like a store-bought "rubber tarp strap" example: https://www.etrailer.com/Merchant2/graphics/00000001/pics/E/M/EM06701_2_1000.jpg Notice how the rubber is thicker at the end for support where the hook hole is.

  • Lou_BC "Owners of affected Wrangles" Does a missing "r" cancel an extra stud?
  • Slavuta One can put a secret breaker that will disable the starter or spark plug supply. Even disabling headlights or all lights will bring more trouble to thieves than they wish for. With no brake lights, someone will hit from behind, they will leave fingerprints inside. Or if they steal at night, they will have to drive with no lights. Any of these things definitely will bring attention.I remember people removing rotor from under distributor cup.
  • Slavuta Government Motors + Government big tech + government + Federal police = fascist surveillance state. USSR surveillance pales...
  • Johnster Another quibble, this time about the contextualization of the Thunderbird and Cougar, and their relationship to the prestigious Continental Mark. (I know. It's confusing.) The Thunderbird/Mark IV platform introduced for the 1971 model year was apparently derived from the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform (also introduced for the 1971 model year), but should probably be considered different from it.As we all know, the Cougar shared its platform with the Ford Mustang up through the 1973 model year, moving to the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform for the 1974 model year. This platform was also shared with the failed Ford Gran Torino Elite, (introduced in February of 1974, the "Gran Torino" part of the name was dropped for the 1975 and 1976 model years).The Thunderbird/Mark series duo's separation occurred with the 1977 model year when the Thunderbird was downsized to share a platform with the LTD II/Cougar. The 1977 model year saw Mercury drop the "Montego" name and adopt the "Cougar" name for all of their mid-sized cars, including plain 2-doors, 4-doors and and 4-door station wagons. Meanwhile, the Cougar PLC was sold as the "Cougar XR-7." The Cougar wagon was dropped for the 1978 model year (arguably replaced by the new Zephyr wagon) while the (plain) 2-door and 4-door models remained in production for the 1978 and 1979 model years. It was a major prestige blow for the Thunderbird. Underneath, the Thunderbird and Cougar XR-7 for 1977 were warmed-over versions of the failed Ford Elite (1974-1976), while the Mark V was a warmed-over version of the previous Mark IV.
  • Stuart de Baker This is depressing, and I don't own one of these.