Junkyard Find: 1986 Subaru BRAT, Sawzall Style

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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!

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • 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.

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  • Dale I like it. Not sure when we will be in the market for a 2nd EV, but this looks like a nice hatchback.