By on January 16, 2013

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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17 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Subaru BRAT, Sawzall Style...”

  • avatar

    Ours is a strange vehicle inspection system. You can hack up a vehicle and turn it into a flexy deathtrap with razor sharp edges and that’s perfectly OK, but if a little yellow light comes on because you’re a few molecules of carbon over the limit the car is too dangerous to be allowed on the road.

    • 0 avatar

      I watch that UK show “Wheeler Dealers” somtimes, and every time they talk about some tiny little crack in a marker light being an MOT failure I think to myself “God it must suck living in such a nanny state like that!” Then I see all the rolling death-traps with no working lights, cracked windshields, bald tires, and belching out blue smoke on the freeway on my way to work and think “God I wish we had MOT inspections in this country!”

      • 0 avatar

        Grocery bags for driver’s side windows is a good one, and don’t forget squeaking/ticking drivetrains. When I’m a pedestrian, I often try to diagnose deferred vehicle maintenance by sound alone. And the sounds have gotten noticeably worse since the downturn in the economy as more maintenance gets deferred (and tires have gotten balder too).

        I believe North Carolina’s inspection system covers a few of these items — wipers, lights, brakes, tires, and probably whether or not tint is legal — but is not nearly as thorough as MOT most likely.

      • 0 avatar

        My favorite is seeing a car with $1500 worth of stereo equipment and another $1500 in wheels and tires, with the warning lights on the dash lit up like Christmas.

      • 0 avatar


        A happy blend of those positions would be the sweet spot. No dash lights, good tires/brakes/struts/safety equipment and let it go at that. Tiny cracks in lights or minor bushing wear? Too much. What does MOT mean anyway?

      • 0 avatar

  • avatar

    We’re the other way in Eastern Canaada. No emissions inspections at all (which is obviously what you have). We have safety inspections that can get rather expensive, but no emissions test at all, other than a visual inspection for a catalytic converter.

    That Subaru would be practically crushed on site haha.

    • 0 avatar

      New Hampshire’s the same way for pre-OBD-II vehicles. Cracked windshields and broken signal lenses can fail you, but you don’t even need a cat, technically. I always keep ’em, though, unless/until they fail, despite the potential amusement created by an environment-destroying Volvo 240.

  • avatar

    I assume these die when the timing belt snaps from failure to routinely replace it , causing bent valves ? .

    Sadly , I see Brats in the So. Cal. Junkyards all the time and most still have the rear seats intact and in VGC .


    • 0 avatar

      These are pushrod engines. In fact they are pretty much volkswagen engines with a water jacket. The engines were pretty reliable if maintained (same as most pushrod engines) and could take a fair amount of abuse. God knows I overheated mine a few times. The problem in these was build quality of things like electrics and interior materials. Not great. I had an 82 brat that was remarkably durable vehicle. Worst problem was the boot on the cv joint were pretty exposed and got tore easily. I got were I could change one in about 45 minutes in my driveway using the on board jack only. The only other chronic problem I had was the bolts that held on the carb kept backing out and causing a vacuum leak. Once I figured out the problem I just started snugging up the bolts every oil change. It was, in reality, a cheap, crappy economy car, but man I loved that thing.

      • 0 avatar

        Here in the Northeast, the only thing that killed that generation was rust. My folks had one of the first ’80 DL hatches off the boat from Japan in Fall ’79 – it flunked inspection for rusty sills and had to be welded before it’s third birthday. Thier second one was an ’82 4dr that was handed down to me when I was 17 in ’86. Oh, how I tried to kill that car. They could not figure out how I got through a set of tires and brake pads in <20K miles… Never missed a beat, though the rear suspension went through the trunk floor from rust when it was 8. The second one was "Rusty Jones'd" and lasted a couple years longer than the first one.

  • avatar

    Actually, All EA engines were non-interference.

  • avatar

    I love the AC sticker. Most manufacturers just leave blank spots in the instrument panel. Subaru gives you a daily reminder of the options you were too cheap to pay for.

    • 0 avatar

      I think some of the real base-model cars had a light on the dash that says “BET YOU WISH SPRANG FOR THE WIPERS RIGHT ABOUT NOW, DON’T YOU!” when you flipped the little lever.

    • 0 avatar

      If you did order the A/C, you learned to switch it off before merging onto the freeway or doing anything else where you needed actual acceleration.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    Irrelevant, but the strap pictured holding the roof down looks like a store-bought “rubber tarp strap”


    Notice how the rubber is thicker at the end for support where the hook hole is.

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