Brat Update 2: Topless on Bottom     

When last we left off, I said that the next update would the engine and chassis. Never one to be a liar, this update covers those two items. As you’ve seen, the BRAT is something of a challenge to build correctly. Sure, there was a lot of body work to do, but how did the Engine and chassis fare? Well, to be honest, they’re a whole lot better. Not perfect, but not gross.

Put Up Them Dukes:

No, I’m not talking about Bo, Luke and the rest of the Hazzard gang… I am talking, however, about a boxer. If you’re familiar with Subarus, you know that the folks at Soobie have a real penchant for horizontally-opposed four cylinder engines. These “Boxer” engines are generally quite tough and take up only a bit of space compared to the large V8s found in American trucks. I’ve never built a boxer-type before, and I was certainly surprised at how it looked going together.

For one thing, the “block” is not present as it is on most other car engines. You get a flat pancake with a transmission stuck to it. To my eyes, it looks really weird. Adding to this is the fact that the front transaxles are also part of this two-part assembly. That means some care in sanding is required, lest you break them off. If you look at the instructions, it looks deceptively simple; you glue the engine halves together, add the accessory belt, intake manifold, valve covers and the starter and voila, you’re done.

This is the completed engine from the front. If it looks a bit odd, it’s partially because it’s a boxer, and partially because AMT bailed on finishing it.

Of course, it’s never that easy. For one thing, as, I mentioned, sanding the engine takes a bit of time and patience. The next issue is the accessory belt. It is, of course, wrong. It’s not totally wrong, but there’s something missing. It’s not trivial either. It’s the oil filter. Now, that isn’t immediately apparent, but I found out about it while researching the motor to find out the right colours to paint it. The engine is the 1.6L 4WD engine with manual shift. That engine is fairly well documented online, and I found a few excellent photos. One showed the front three quarters of the engine, and showed that the oil filter is down low, parallel to the cylinders, at the bottom of the accessory belt.

It’s a weird place, but it’s a weird engine, so I was cool with it. What made it really odd is that it seemed like there was a surface just below the belt for mounting the filter, but none was given. It’s not that I lost it; it isn’t even shown in the instructions. As it turns out, this would become a frustrating trend on this engine. So, like always, I decided to help out AMT and make my own. I took a piece of styrene rod, cut it the right length and filed the appropriate chisel into it, so it would fit on the part under the belt. It actually turned out very well. I don’t know why it wasn’t part of the kit, either. Sigh… so many mysteries.

If you want it done right… Here you can see the white styrene rod I used for the oil filter. At least there was a place to put it.

The next problem I ran into was what colour to paint the engine. It’s mostly metallic, and since the car was going to be silver, I chose Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Aluminum. I did the starter in black and the accessory belt in black too. The pictures I was using for reference showed the air cleaner, valve covers (My God… they’re so small!) and one of the pulleys to be in a light blue. No clue as to why. I did have a suitable light blue in the inventory (I think it was an ex-underside colour), although it was a mix and I don’t know what it was made from. Likely blue and white, some grey, you know; the usual.

I did the distributor in MMA Aluminum and the alternator in MMA Steel. The oil filter was done in Ford/GM Engine Block Blue. This seemed to match some sources. I did the intake manifold in steel and gave the Steel carb a wash of Interference Gold, made from Future and a Jacquard pigment of interference gold. I then washed all the engine parts with a light, diluted wash of Citadel Nuln Oil. I wanted to bring out the textures, but not make it look dirty. The boots on the axles were done in Aircraft Interior Black (AIB) and the axes in Steel, with a heavy wash of Nuln Oil and Devlan Mud. Oddly, the oil pan is gloss black, and I used MMA Gloss Black, coated by hand with Alclad II AquaGloss to get it shiny enough.

The gloss-black oil pan and blue filter show up well here. the U-shaped cuts are for the exhaust pipes. Notice there’s no locating pins on the oil pan? That’ll suck later…

When it came time to assemble the engine, I ran into another oddity. If you look at the top deck of the block, then you can see a long rounded rectangle. This is very much a larger version of the locating rails used on the cylinder head area to secure the valve covers. It is, in fact, typical of engines I’ve build on a number of kits, to have locating rails like this. It also made sense to be one, because when I dry fit the carb, intake pipes to the engine, it was clear that something was missing. This is not trivial; everything on top of the engine is missing!

It’s clear from here that something’s missing. What is that pipe supposed to be going over? The world may never know…

Once again, I checked and rechecked the instructions. Nope. Nothing! They show the locating rail, but nothing goes on it. I don’t know what SHOULD be there, but I know it isn’t nothing! Engine pics show a bunch of shapes and wires there. This is a serious issue. It’s also one I’d love for the reissue to solve, but I doubt it does. I was going to tear apart an old V8 and just cobble something up, but then I realized that would be more wrong than nothing. So, I left it. Now the intake pipes are just making an unnecessary detour into the sky and back. This is likely the least impressed I’ve been with the kit yet, and that’ saying something.

Here’s the raw engine. You can see the locating rail very clearly on the top (left) half. Talk about half-baked…

Willing Suspension of only Slight Disbelief:

Say what you will about the rest of the kit (and I have, and I’m sure I will say more), but the chassis looks more than halfway decent. There are locating notches, and the detail is nice. The texturing is also nice, and the suspension components seem to have some good detail going on with them. Even more surprising, there are separate front disk brakes! Even though you likely won’t see them much through the wheels once assembled, knowing they’re there is neat!

I primered the chassis with Paint-It brand primer from Wal-Mart. That was their old house brand. It was great paint, super cheap and a can lasted a long time. They’ve since helped me “Save money, live better” by only carrying Rustoleum paints at double or more the price. Uh huh. Irony: defined. Now, granted, the Rustoleum is better, but not twice as good, and their primer is quite a bit darker grey. Over the primer I painted some water-thinned Testors MMA Grey Primer. This stuff is indeed primer, and it’s the right colour (more or less) for car primer, so I love to use it on chassis.

I painted the subframes black and the fuel tank in MMA steel. I found a few underside shots of one BRAT, but the problem is that it was clearly undercoated a long time ago, and thus no clear look at anything was really available. So, I went with the metal tank for some visual interest. If I’m wrong, well, tough. I gave the tank a moderate wash of both Devlan Mud and Nuln Oil to give it some patina and “add character”. It worked nicely! I wanted to simulate some overspray, and I find it’s more effective to do it by hand than with an airbrush. (I know, that’s counter intuitive… remember “irony” from a few lines above?) I used short-cropped brush to dab on some “overspray” on the main part of the chassis.  I then coated all the components, and the chassis pan, with Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Satin Urethane Varnish to give it a light sheen.

This is the chassis with the engine in and all the suspension on. However, there’s no exhaust on here yet. It’s actually pretty colourful, for a chassis!

The various suspension components I did in black, as I also did the subframes at the front and the weird I-beam thing at the rear. I did some of the more delicate arms in Steel and the springs in steel with jet exhaust main legs. These were heavily washed to bring out the coil shape and make them look slightly less like they’re lumpy plastic. I picked the exhaust components out in a variety of shades, with jet exhaust for the immediate exit from the engine, then steel with aluminum cat and muffler. The tip was drilled out (since a solid exhaust is hyper-lame, and painted in Testors oil Silver.  The assembly was given light washes in Devlan Mud and Nuln Oil to give it a lightly used look. Only the tip was left clean. (Gotta keep your tip clean, folks!)

Of course, since this kit is odd, it came as no surprise that the method of installing the engine was weird too. Normally, you just plop the engine into a cradle and away you go. Nope. Here, the cradle really has to be glued to the engine first: then the whole thing fits in. This is because of the built-in transaxles; threading them through the hole in the chassis is tough. However, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get the engine to stick to the cradle long enough to mount the whole thing. So, I had to wheedle things a bit. To hold the engine in, I used Tacky Glue, because I didn’t want to melt the oil pan paint. I dried the assembly in my dehydrator for about an hour, and when I was done, things were in there pretty solidly.

The rear diff fit in nicely, and the weird contours in the gas tank were very precise. No, the boots on the axles don’t touch the black arms like they should.

I then glued in the driveshaft/rear diff and found it mounted up to the other parts of the suspension quite well. The only real issue was that the boots didn’t actually contact the insides of the axles, which is a bit of a flaw. However, I don’t think it’s easy to see, so I left it alone. The tie-rod and other steering gear went on next. The springs are designed to glue into the tie rod and the fender well in the engine bay. However, that means joining the two pieces to ensure alignment. So, I did, and it’s a good thing; the spring towers lean in a considerable amount! I didn’t do the brakes yet; it‘ll be interesting to see how well they fit into the scheme of things.

Sadly, at this point I noticed that the engine hadn’t dried quite straight, and thus it’s a bit off in the engine bay. There’s a shock: lack of proper contact and no positive location? Thanks, AMT. I assume the reissue could be even worse, so watch out for it! The exhaust went on last, and actually goes over the suspension; that’s very weird when you’re used to it snaking down trough behind the A-Arms! To my surprise, the exhaust fit in very well. It was a bit warped, but I held it in place and let the glue dry for a bit before moving down the line from the engine to the “kink” by the muffler/resonator, and then out to the final mounting pipe.

You can’t tell from here, but the block’s not quite straight in there. That’s what you get without good positive location. Nice “springs to nowhere”, eh? Yes, I knocked the air cleaner off. Four times. Grr…


So, there you have it! That’s the bottom half of the BRAT done!

I have to say, I am beyond unimpressed with AMT’s lack of detail on the engine. Forgetting the oil filter is bad, but the whole “top end of the engine” thing is a bit inexcusable. Even worse, it’s like they really MEANT to do it all along. The feeling I get from this is similar to when you see a feature on an old G1 Transformer toy, but it doesn’t quite make sense. You knew, deep down, that in Japan something was different; something did SOMETHING that your toy didn’t. It gives a peculiar sense of loss and frustration, whether it’s the metal plates on Primes’ trailer sides or the locating rail on the BRAT’s engine. You know there should be more, but nothing’s obvious.

The rest of it, though, isn’t too terrible. The chassis is nice, and you can close the hood if the engine isn’t your deal. There is a skid plate you should install, too, to protect the underside of the drivetrain. However, the one that I had photos of didn’t have this, and I’m worried about it fitting with the changed contours of the front roll pan. Thus, I left it off, just like in real life!

Given the trouble that the body gave me, I was overall pleased with this, the lower end of the car. If the interior, wheels and extra bits go as well, then I should be in good shape! Keep your fingers crossed!



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