Sometimes, you have no choice but to work with what you’re given. When it became apparent in the mid-‘70s that small trucks were going to be a thing, a lot of makers jumped on the bandwagon. Most companies, by 1980, had some kind of small truck to offer. In a lot of cases, it was actually a foreign vehicle with some changes to look like it came from the Big 3. Trucks like the Dodge D50, Chevy Luv and Ford Courier were of that ilk. Of course, there were legitimately foreign trucks marketed as such, like the Datsun 620 and Toyota’s pickup (I can’t find the name for that thing…).
Subaru, which was always something of a niche seller (at that point), wanted in on the action too. However, it didn’t already offer a light pickup in Japan. So, it had to figure out a way to make one at minimal cost, using what it had at hand. Interestingly, it decided to follow a similar route to the American El Camino and various Australian Utes: take a car or station wagon and turn it into a pickup! To this end, the Subaru engineers took the Leone wagon, trimmed a bit, added some stuff, and ripped out most of the interior. The result was one of the more interesting mini-trucks of the day – the Subaru BRAT!
There was a lot of marketing that went into the BRAT, and they do have a bit of a cult following now. Of course, there are almost none of them left. Hard driving and ‘70s Japanese metallurgy have combined to ensure there are very few of these attractive little haulers left on the road. Thankfully, if you want one, you can always try to find the old AMT/Matchbox BRAT model! This has proven to be considerably more difficult for me than I thought it would be. I had a chance at one years and years ago, but turned it down. I only recently had a chance to get one at the 2018 London Model Show. I was very excited, and since it did win the poll, I decided I’d start in on it as soon as I could.
NOTE: It now looks like everyone out there who lusts for BRATs like I do can breathe easier! Round 2 is apparently going to reissue this kit in mid-2019! That’s great news for all fans of obscure and interesting vehicles like this. Please understand that everything I’m writing in this article is about the ORIGINAL kit. I don’t know what, if anything, Round 2 is going to do, or has done, to the moulds, decals, etc. However, if you’re excited to find out what the BRAT is likely going to be like, then read on for a preview, of sorts. Be aware, though; it’s an old kit, and it shows it!
If you want to see the raw kit, check out the Out of Box Review.
Gotta Keep ‘Em Seperated:
One of the weird things I first noticed about the BRAT was that the interior “bucket” and rear bed floor/walls were all one piece. I put bucket in quotes because it’s not quite a bucket, but a long strip of floor and walls with one closed end. The closed part is at the front, where the dashboard goes. This is similar in a way to the Pinto Cruising Wagon’s interior, but at least that had a back wall. Of course, the BRAT doesn’t have a back wall because it has an opening tailgate, which seems neat, but really just makes the whole assembly process harder, as you’ll see.
The real difference on the BRAT’s part, though, is that the front half is the interior of the vehicle, while the back half is really an exterior component! Thus, half of it is carpeted, the other half is moulded as if it were the steel bed of the truck. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, until you notice that there’s no back wall on the cab, and that the fit of the bed and interior aren’t the greatest. Granted, a lack of precision fit is no surprise on both an old kit and an AMT kit, so I wasn’t shocked on that front. However, it does cause a problem.
I personally like to work on the interior of a model as a separate piece or subassembly, while the body and engine bay are handled likewise. On a pickup, the bed is either separate (normal) or attached with the detail already moulded in (less normal). I’ve not seen a pickup before that had the bed lining attached to the interior bucket! This was going to present a problem, particularly since the body and interior bucket are a tiny bit warped, but each in the opposite direction to each other! Sigh…
The cure was simple. I had to cut the interior bucket off of the bed lining. Then I could approach them separately. I started by deciding to include the back wall of the cab as part of the body, not the interior. This is the only logical choice, since the back wall must seamlessly put into place, and the only way to do what is to attach it pre-painting. So, I cut the bucket off just forward of the “step” where the back wall fits in. I then glued in the back wall and the bed lining together, fitting the assembly into the body once it was almost dry. I did this in case I had to fiddle with the wall’s vertical alignment a bit to get a better fit. I did have to, so this was a wise decision!
This left the interior as a three-sided bucket. I test fitted it with the front windshield in place, and found that the fit was much better than when everything was one piece. Looking into the interior told me why; the gap where I’d cut the two sections apart was significant. Given that they used to be joined, it’s no wonder why things didn’t fit during my early tests! To fair in the new back wall, I applied some Testors Model Master Flat White to the joint. This is my go-to for small cracks and stuff; it’s non-shrinking, sandable and easy to get!
Despite the gap (that will be hard to see once it’s all put together), I was very pleased with the results. I imagine the reissue of this kit will require similar surgery, so be ready for it. It’s a risky gamble, but I’ve been building long enough to be confident that if I mess it up, I can find a way to fix it. That’s the key to really getting the most out of a kit; be confident and go for it! Of course, this wasn’t the end of the major surgery…
I mentioned earlier that the tailgate was openable on this kit. Like most “action features” this makes life complicated and is likely to not work well. So, I decided to just forgo it. I’m not one who likes open tailgates anyway, and I didn’t like the way the tailgate sat when I dry fitted it. “Fitted” is not appropriate here, since nothing really “fit” like it ought to. By gluing the tailgate in place (after gluing it together) I was able to shape it to match the vehicle’s contours. Not surprisingly, it didn’t do that originally. Once I’d sanded the corners and face of the tailgate a bit, I found that it integrated well.
I rescribed the lines where it would open, since they were basically gaps anyway, and made sure everything matched up. The truck looks much better with the tailgate on. The next issue was the rear rollpan. This fits right below the tailgate, and is a bit bent on my kit. Well, not bent, but curved the wrong way. I tried to straighten it, but wasn’t totally successful. Still, some props must be given to AMT; they do understand the importance of “location” to model building. MPCs, as you know from ANY of my MPC builds, do not really use locating tabs for, well, anything! The AMT folks, at least for the BRAT, do.
The rear rollpan fit on okay, and I sanded it into place. To give it more strength (it was attached with very little save the location tabs), I applied styrene melted with ProWeld/Plat-i-Weld as a gap filler on the outside and as a reinforcement weld on the inside. The advantage of this is that it welds the filler right into the body, and it still sands like plastic. (No duh! It IS plastic…) The reinforcing blobs welded into the corners, giving me a lot more confidence that the rollpan will stay in place.
Unfortunately, with the back wall in and the rear rollpan on, getting the chassis in place wasn’t working; the body needed to be pried open for this. The BRAT’s body is very curvy, or “fuselage-shaped” as my brother calls it. This means the lower parts of the body sides wrap in and around the chassis quite a bit. To give myself more room and to allow me to slide the rear body in easier, I trimmed down the “wings” on the chassis aft of the rear wheel arches. You can’t see this and it makes life much, much better!
While the rear rolllpan wasn’t exactly a candidate for “Best Fitting AMT Part of the Year”, the front rollpan is altogether something else. It has what seem to be the same contours, but… not really! Part of the issue is that while there are two very small locating tabs on the back of the rollpan, they only sort of locate the thing; there’s nothing to hold it and prevent it from rocking back and forth. I thus cut some sheet styrene (from a printer cartridge box, no less) and glued it inside the lower part of the nose. I then, bent it into the approximately right orientation, trimmed it a bit, and used it to brace the nose rollpan.
I was then able to sand the contours to match. The unfortunate part was that I couldn’t glue on the rollpan at this point. There’s no way to get the chassis in if you do. That means I’m going to have to rely on it fitting at the end during final assembly. Joy. I can’t even tell if I can put the chassis in with the motor mounted, because of the odd way the engine goes in! It’s going to be an adventure! While the sanding of the nose sounds easy enough, it took hours upon hours to get everything into position and solid to get the sanding done. If you’re building one, allot a lot (Ssee what I did there?) of time for this.
Trim and Lights: What is this, Christmas?
The real BRAT has chrome trim around the entire bed, and up onto the roof. This is only lightly hinted at around the bed on this kit. The roof trim is a bit more obvious, but very soft as well. I can’t have that, so I had to go and re-etch all the trim. This was very hard; there’s no real location for it on the bodysides, so with some Dymo Tape, a wing and a prayer, I gave it a go. The bed sides met up well enough with the tailgate (now that they were faired in), but the issue was up the curving B-Pillar.
I’m sure there’s some kind of fancy way to do this, but I just brute forced it a tiny bit at a time with my knife. I “sketched” a rough path with a fine scriber, and then used my No.11 blade with the broken tip. This is still my favourite scribing too, especially for creating a new, deep line After a few missteps and some filling of mistakes with Testors Model Master Flat White (see a pattern here?), I had what actually looks to be a pretty good chrome lip around the bed. Sure, it’s a bit wider than the roof rail, but hey, you can’t expect everything, right?
It’s a good thing I didn’t expect fit, because then I wasn’t disappointed when I test fitted the tail lights. Oh. My. God. They may actually represent the most egregious failure of any model I’ve yet seen, perhaps of any model ever made. (I doubt this… I’m sure there are Frogs and old Airfixes worse…). The issue is that they are just too big. They stick out the side, and the back, and the’re basically supposed to be flush with the vehicle’s contours. As Megadeth would say: “Not even close… to overdose!” To make matters worse, there’s nothing to hold them in place – they are supposed to somehow just fit to the body(?) I guess…
So, the first thing was to cut and grind the tail lights down to roughly the right shape. This meant removing the “blade” on the back – I think it was supposed to locate to the tailgate, but it’s not a sure thing. It does get in the way, though. I then had to grind down the inside of the light so it wouldn’t stick so comically “into the wind”. Then the whole assembly had to be “thinned front-to-back. All this while performing constant iffy test fits. Once I was done, I had to sand off all the nice texture on the lights, because there was too much damage to it already. Just remember, too, this is an original kit, so be ready for this on the reissue, too. It might even be worse there!
Once I had it close, I decided that Crayola Model Magic would be perfect for supporting the lights. I tore some off the bunch I keep (sealed in an airtight Tupperware and wrapped in its original bag) for just such a purpose, and using a file’s handle, pushed some into the fender well. I then pressed the tail light into place and applied counterpressure to get the Model Magic to but right against the light. The Model Magic took on the contours of the light, and made a surface for it to mount to. I repeated the process on the other side. To do both lights took several hours at least. Oh, what we do for love, and Chicken Tax seats!
When it’s fresh, Model Magic will sometimes adhere to a model. However, it’s best to glue it in place. The good thing is that you can, in fact, glue Model Magic with ProWeld, or Plastiweld, if not other cements. (I only use those two.) However you should NEVER DO THIS!!! “Why?” you ask? Here’s why: Model Magic is very porous; it absorbs glue. It then holds it to the plastic, like a sponge. I did this once on my ’87 Turbo Thunderbird, when I used Model Magic for a tail light support. After a few days, the trunk was warped right where the Model Magic was. The stuff had basically become one big chemically hot glue sponge and warped the plastic. (It’s a shame, the kit is well done otherwise.) To avoid this, I used CA. the CA not only holds the Model Magic foam in place, it permeates it, making it hard, which is excellent for a mounting surface!
Sadly, the trials and tribulations continued at the front end. The grille/headlight piece actually has good positive location on it; there are curved surfaces in from the edges that match right up to the body contours. I’d say “Congrats, AMT, on getting it right!” but we all know that’s not liable to happen. Again, the folks who made the lights for this thing must have been left out of the planning meetings, because the lights are WAAAY to wide. They stick out past the fenders tremendously. We’re talking about a millimetre or so. Sounds okay, you say, but that’s an inch on a real car, so no, that’s not okay.
I thus undertook to grind down the lights to get them flush with the body sides. It was at this point that I realized I was about to grind off the chrome trim at the side of the turn signals. However, something seemed off. I checked the many pictures of BRATS I’d downloaded for the project, and found that AMT had the lights ALL WRONG. The original kit part has the turn signals “facing front” only, whereas they are wraparound affairs on the real vehicle. Ironically, they were depicted correctly on the box. Clearly AMT doesn’t check its product against its illustrations.
This was good news, though, since I no longer had to worry about the corner “frame”. Of course, it did mean I had to re-etch brand new turn signals that were wrap arounds. I also had to divide the white and orange halves. I then had to fill the gaps between the not-quite-properly contoured part and the body side. I did this with layers of melted styrene built up like filler.
Rolling With It:
You’re likely getting the feeling by now that there’s something not-quite right about this kit. That’s not entirely true, but there’s also a lot of old AMT in this kit, and you can’t do anything but beat that out of it. Another perfect example of this is the rollbar. It should come as no surprise that the rollbar doesn’t fit very well and that the support members DO NOT fit correctly to the fenders. But more on that in a bit.
Before going on, it’s worth noting that, yes, there were two kinds of rollbars that were offered as official BRAT accessories, and this model has the taller one. The BRAT catalogue that I found online shows that either kind was an option, and the shape of this one is actually correct for the “tall” one. The rollbars aren’t only differentiated by their heights, but by their support members. The short one has straight support bars that stay within the lines of the vehicle, and are hard to see from outside. The tall one has kinked support members, as given in this kit. However, NEITHER one has lights on it. The only pictures of a BRAT with any rollbar “in the wild” (i.e. in service, not in a brochure) that I’ve seen show one that had the tall bar lights have the lights as round, chromed units. That’s not to say that you can’t get lights for the bar, but that it’s not part of the option.
I had actually decided to do my BRAT in silver, with the blue interior, by the time I found the pictures of the real BRAT with the rollbar. Amazingly, it is in the Silver/Blue scheme! Thus, I decided it would be cool to cut the lights off, to not only pay homage to the real vehicle I was basing the kit on, but to be more realistic and “stock” (even though it’s a dealer option, I consider it stock…).
The rollbar is supposed to have posts on it to fit it into the holes in the pickup bed. However, I must have gotten over-zealous with the cutters, because there weren’t any posts when I started to sand my piece. Shoot. That means I needThe rollbar is supposed to have posts on it to fit it into the holes in the pickup bed. However, I must have gotten over-zealous with the cutters, because there weren’t any posts when I started to work on my piece. Shoot. That means I needed a way to locate the bar to the truck. I positioned the main “front” bar in the bed, over the holes, and then drilled with a pin vise up through into the rollbar. I then inserted some wire to act as a locating pin.
I also found that the support member didn’t meet the flat spots on the rear fenderwell bulges at all correctly. They were tilted at an angle! So, I built up the bottom of each support strut with melted styrene, and then carefully sanded each one to the proper height. I then used some acetone-diluted putty to make it all look like one piece.
What with all the work I had to do, getting the BRAT ready for paint was quite an… adventure. Like so many AMT kits, it seems, there was a lot of elbow grease needed on this one. If you’re a BRAT lover, then this won’t matter. I’ve wanted this kit for years, and am still amazed it’s being re-released. (Wish they’d do the California Sunshine Datsun, too…) However, I am very glad to have an original, since it makes up for a mistake I made years ago. I am not a BRAT fanboy, but I do think they’re cool and unique, so I don’t mind putting in all this work. However, if you’re just looking for a quick slap-up of a kinda different truck, you’re not going to be happy.
I doubt these issues have been solved in the reissue, so go into this model with your eyes open. Just remember, Subaru did a hack-job to create it, so you have to do an un-hackjob to recreate it!
Next: the engine and chassis.