AMT/Matchbox 1/25 1978 Subaru BRAT (OOB)

Until the middle 1970s, pickup trucks were always seen as big, heavy, working-class vehicles. Despite increasing levels of style, sophistication and comfort, Pickups were usually large and had a good-sized load hauling capability. Like a Clydesdale at a county fair, you could dress them up, but you could still tell they were built for work and they were proud of it. However, there’d been a shift starting towards even “city slickers” becoming interested in driving trucks. The concept of the “Sport Utility Vehicle” had begun to stick its nose into the light, with vehicles like the Ford Bronco and International Scout, and the number of trucks seen in the suburbs was slowly, but inevitably on the rise.

Then, the bottom of the North American motoring world fell out. With the gas crisis in 1973, the lure of big, thirsty vehicles being used in the city’s tight roadways and stop-and-go traffic lost a bit of its shine, and people who wanted a truck for city work began to shy away from the offerings of the Big Three. However, as with small cars, the Japanese were there to pounce on the opportunity with a legion of small trucks. These much more compact trucks were generally compact in size, with small, efficient 4-cylinder engines and good levels of build quality and standard features.

Datsun (Nissan) and Toyota, especially, had good luck in this market. However, one of Japan’s lesser-known marques got left out in the cold. Subaru, long a self-deprecating purveyor “ugly but effective” all-wheel drive commuter cars did not have a truck to sell. They also didn’t really care; it wasn’t something they made in Japan, so they didn’t export it here. That’s all there was. But… there was more! The folks at Subaru’s US division saw an excellent opportunity and lobbied “home base” for a contender. What they got, well… that was something rather unique.

Since Subaru didn’t have a truck body, they did exactly what Chevy and Ford did a decade and a half earlier – they made a pickup out of a car. Subaru’s compact “truck” is definitely a “kissing cousin” with the much more famous El Camino and Ranchero nameplates. In a way, this made a lot of sense for Subaru; they didn’t have to develop a whole new architecture, and their Leone wagon/sedan/coupe (Subaru GL in North America) was already well-proven. All they did was take the wagon and chop the roof, hollow out the back, and voila, the BRAT was born!

However, the BRAT was not just another light truck. In fact, it was something the likes of which really hasn’t been seen since. So, what is it? Well, the answer is in the name itself. BRAT stands for: Bi-drive Recreational All-Terrain Transporter. “Wait… what?“ you ask. And you ask a good question. That’s a lot of works just to describe a 4WD light truck. But there was a method to the madness, and that method was, quite honestly, tax evasion. At the time, there was very heavy (apparently 25%) duty on imported light trucks. This was colloquially known as the “Chicken Tax”.  That’s quite a levy, and Subaru wanted to avoid it, obviously.  The only way to do that, though, was to make their light truck a passenger car.

Now, if you’re like me (and the rest of the world) then just renaming it seems like a pretty cheap dodge, and it was. That alone wouldn’t have done the job. So, what Subaru did was pure genius; they put seats in the pickup bed!!  Yes, you read it right; seats, in the bed. They had seat belts (often) and twin hand grips (“holy shit handles” as some have called them, excuse my French) and there was a rubberized carpet in the bed. Thus, Subaru could claim that the BRAT was, in fact, a small sport ute, and not a pickup truck at all. Amazingly, the horrifyingly low safety standards of the time meant that thus ruse was successful, and thus America was introduced to the first (and to my knowledge only) light truck that had rear-facing fresh-air seating in 1978. Note: the seats could be very easily removed (Again… safety NOT first) by taking out only a few bolts, making this feature even more of a shoulder-shrugging middle finger to the tax collectors than it seems at first!

To say the BRAT was a huge success would be incorrect. However, it did well enough, and it was offered up until 1987. Like most other Subarus, it was (and still is) something of a niche vehicle for a niche market, but it did well enough to survive almost a decade, and that’s pretty impressive for a vehicle that’s so weird and in competition with so many others, including light trucks from the Big 3 like the Ranger and S-10.

When the BRAT was introduced, it was to some fanfare, and in many ways it really personifies the “Angry ‘70s”. After all the “peace and love” of the ‘60s Flower Power movement, the disillusionment of the end of the Vietnam war and the various economic struggles and the chaos of the ’73 Gas Crisis, the ‘70s had a very different vibe to them. I’ve always found there’s a lot of simmering anger to products (movies, stories, TV and even cars) from this era, and in a way, the BRAT is a bit of a middle finger to “the man”. Not only is it a tax evasion exercise on wheels, but it’s beyond-unquestionably-unsafe exterior seating really shouts a strong “bite me” to the conventional wisdom and increasing government interference of the times. When you add a form of “sunset stripe” and lame white-painted wheels, the BRAT is quite honestly one of the best “angry ‘70s” vehicles you can get.

Since it was a popular-enough vehicle, it’s no surprise that there was a kit of the BRAT. What surprises me, though, is that it ISN’T an MPC! This seems right up their alley. However, it turns out it was the good folks at AMT that brought us Subaru’s little light-truck oddity. Of course, it’s really an AMT-Matchbox kit, due the relationship those two were sharing at the time, but there’s more AMT and Matchbox in this model and I leave it to you to decide if that’s good, bad or just the way it is.

The Box:

One look at the box immediately gives the impression that there’s more AMT than Matchbox in the kit. Sadly, there’s no raucously awesome Mbox-style box art of a BRAT careening over backroads, or spilling it’s rear-facing occupants haphazardly over the sands of a southern California beach. Instead, what you get is a basic white box with a typical AMT header block declaring that this is a “subaru (sic) BRAT”. The Red AMT logo is in the top left corner, but no Matchbox logo is seen on the front.

Here’s the Box on the AMT BRAT. Not showy, but still very eye-catching. There’s some “70s Anger” in there, for sure…

Front and centre is a nice, if not sedate, illustration of a supposedly “custom” brat seen from the unusual angle of the rear three-quarters. This gives a good view of the general lines of the truck, as well as prominently showing off the custom roll bar and ever-so-iconic “lawn chairs” in the bed. You also get to see the very period white steel wheels and the de rigeur sunset stripe that a lot of BRATs had on them back in the day. While the box art isn’t thrilling, it is eye-catching because of its angle, and it does make the BRAT look a lot tougher than it really should be able to be made to look.

The end caps use the same illustration, but the size panels use two different views. On the one side there is a write up about the kit features, and there’s a front three-quarters view of an all-black “custom version. From this picture, we can see that the BRAT being modelled is one of the upscale versions; we know this because it has four headlights, and the lower-end ones only had two. There’s a list of kit features, which, amazingly for an AMT doesn’t include a CB! (That was a big AMT thing back in around the 1977 era.) Given that this kit was copyrighted in 1979 that kind of surprised me, to be honest.

This side shows the front end with custom brushguard and tells you all about what’s stock and custom. Kinda.

From the description we learn that the kit has everything we need to build a stock version or a custom version. Now this is where it gets a bit weird. In the description of the custom version the box copy implies that the bucket seats, rollbar with foglights, brush guard and the styled wheels are all custom options. However, that’s not so. The bucket seats, decal, white steel wheels and even a form of brushguard were all standard equipment you could get on a BRAT. So, when they say “don’t believe everything you read”, they’re not lying!

The “Stock Version” is shown on the other side of the box, and the rollbar and brushguard are both conspicuously absent from this profile view. Unfortunately, the illustration on the size is not like those on MPC boxes; it is not a ‘full size’ illustration. In fact, it is a bit oversized, and thus gives a perhaps unintentional feeling that the kit will be bigger than it actually is. This side also has a description of the BRAT, which makes it out to be quite a tough and sporty little truck/car/vehicle/passenger-tossing-thing. This is an interesting piece of copy work, because it also mentions the1.6L boxer-four engine’s whopping 65hp and completely eschews any mention of torque.  This is also the only place on the box where the “Matchbox” logo can be seen.

This side tells a bit about the BRAT, as well as showing us the purely stock version. It looks a bit less tough, doesn’t it?

The Kit:

Once the box is opened, you’re treated to a very MPC-like bag o’ parts. Pretty much everything is in one big bag, except the separately-bagged chrome rack, and glass and tires which, in the great tradition, are just loosely thrown into the box. Anyone who’s a fan of old car kits will, like me, shiver at this. Why? Because we all know what happens when you put glass and tires together… that’s right: Tire Melt. For whatever reasons, the tires in old kits seem to LOVE to find and melt themselves into the clear window pieces. MPC tires are particularly well-known for this, but it happens to all of them.

Here’s what’s in the box. The small bag contains the glass; it originally had the chrome in it, but I wanted to keep the windows safe.

The real worry for me was that I could not inspect this kit when I got it. It was, amazingly, still sealed! It was also a bit water-damaged and mouldy looking, two extra strikes against things being hunky-dory inside the box. However, one doesn’t just simply open up a nearly 40-year old kit at a swap meet and check the tires and windows. That’s a sure way to “buy it”; whether that’s the kit or the proverbial farm is up to the seller of said kit. So, I had no choice but to risk it. The fellow who sold me this kit (and a tonne of others) was a good guy, though, and despite its age and the fact it was still wrapped, the BRAT didn’t cost me anywhere near what I’d expected. Now, it wasn’t as cheap as its original K-Mart price tag of $6.99, but when you consider taxes and storage fees, I got away extremely reasonably!

Here’s how I got the BRAT. You can see the box is a bit crushed, and it’s a bit dirty from some mildew, too. Check out the K-Mart tag! Good old days indeed!

Mercifully, the windows and tires had stayed largely separated, and the only real issue was a small bit of melt on the front window. It is really more like a light scraze, and while I could fix it, I’m likely just going to leave well enough alone and let it be. It’s that minor. I was lucky. I wouldn’t expect it all the time, though! Sadly, due to the mildew-y and rather damp life the kit had had, the decals did not fare so well, and a bit of the iconic “BRAT stripe” and one licence plate holder were damaged. Still, not bad for an old girl, and not every BRAT had the stipe anyway.

The kit comes moulded in a very “1980s airplane kit” thick, shiny grey plastic. In fact, this is the part that has the most Matchbox feel to it. It’s a very similar plastic to that on my Hunter and other Mbox kits I have, including the G-91 and Lightning T.55.  the chrome rack is fairly small for a car kit, and does not contain as many inappropriately chromed parts as most other American car models. In fact, bumpers, mirrors and lights are the extent of the chromed pieces. Neither the wheels, nor any engine accessories, are chrome plated. To this I say “Thank you AMT!” because it’ll save me time stripping these things down.

Here’s the chrome rack. There’s not much on there that shouldn’t be chromed, which is something I’m not used to seeing!

Looking at the parts, I was amazed they are as well-detailed as they are. For reasons I can’t explain, and that don’t seem to be fair, I always consider AMT kits to be vastly inferior to both MPC and Revell kits, and barely on a par with Monogram’s offerings. I don’t know why I feel this way, but it could be because I have a few MPCs that appear basic, and have those damnable two-piece tires. Grrr…. However, the BRAT seems intent on dispelling my largely unfounded anti-AMT bigotry.

The parts in the kit are, by and large, well-moulded. There’s a bit of flash, sure, but we are talking about a late ‘70s American car kit. The fact we’re not chiselling parts out of racks of flash like a styrene version of paleontology is, itself, something miraculous. The seats (With backs – take notes Japan!!!) look particularly good, and while shallow, the door panel detail also looks nice. There’s some suspension detail and the engine, while not overloaded with accessories, does look like it will build into at least a serviceable replica of the BRAT’s boxer. The drive train, suspension and exhaust systems are all separate pieces, and this will help to bring some life to the underside of the kit.

Here are the “lawnchairs” and the associated grab handles. Safety is for losers, clearly…

The “lawnchairs” and their associated hand grips are well-moulded as well, despite being a bit rough around the edges, and there’s no excuse for not putting them into the truck. The engine bay does feature some moulded-in features, and these are all of the unfortunate “Monogram-style” of “melted” details that just drip away into the mouldings. I really hate that, and “bottle melt” is one thing I’d have preferred to avoid. Still, it’s got more stuff in it that some early-to-mid ‘70s MPC kits (like the Pony Express Pinto) so that’s something.

Hmm… I really hate melty details. Sadly, while adequately detailed, the BRAT’s engine compartment has more in common with a Monogram than it does with an MPC.

The interior bucket looks pretty nice. There is carpeting texture, good door panels and a rubber floor mat for the driver. There’s also a positive location for the end of the steering column, something that’s often missing. The interior detail on the pickup bed also looks good, with very fine raised lines and a few heavy cross members. Looking at BRATS on the internet, though, you can tell that this bed texture is not that of the pressed steel floor. Why? Well, it seems that AMT moulded in the rubberized “carpet” that was found in the bucket, but is so rarely seen today! For this, AMT deserves huge props. Nice work.

This is the interior and pickup bed bucket. This is nicely detailed, but will cause some problems later.

Not such nice work, though, is how the interior bucket and the inside of the bed are attached. Making this worse is the fact that the rear wall of the cab is a separate piece! This means that the interior has to be finished before you can paint the bed. Also, the bed is a less than perfect fit inside the bod, so there are gaps to fill. This means the bed lining has to be installed in the truck before painting, and thus the interior has to be done before you can begin to build the other parts of the truck’s body. WTF?

Clearly, this is a big issue, and it’s going to take some engineering to put it right. I wish AMT had thought about that first; no other small pickup kit I have is like this. Of course, no other small pickup is actually made from a station wagon body either, so I guess it’s understandable. Unfortunate, yes, but not insurmountable. Still… it’s something to consider if you’re looking to buy and build this model.

The tires are quite nice, although they will need a sanding on the tread to remove the usual bit of flash. Despite their age, they are still compliant, and they have nicely raised letters on them. Gotta love that about the old kits, before excessive greed and corporate lawyers got involved, and you could count on lettered tires!

The tires are very nice, and the lettering should be easy enough to pick out with white, adding some “muscle” to the finished product.

The only major issue with this kit, other than that ridiculous interior bucket/back wall thing is that it’s missing a piece. Rather, someone’s taken a bite out of it. Along the lower passenger-side rocker panel, there’s some missing material where it seems that the body kit was too-savagely cut (more like ripped) off the sprue it surely was injected on. It’s not totally visible, but it will require some back-panelling and puttying to make right again.

Instructions and Decals:

The instructions are typical AMT, with a dash of Matchbox thrown in for good measure. Interestingly, there is a parts breakdown on the first page. Normally, I find this is handier on the back of a box (thank you Round 2) than on the instructions, but what can you do? That wasn’t the style at the time. The sheet is very small, which makes it nice for use in tight quarters, should you have a small modelling area. The steps are all well-laid out and quite clear. In Step 3, it looks at first as if the front wheels will be able to steer, but closer inspection shows that, disappointingly, this isn’t’ the case.

Here are the bulk of the instructions. Nothing too daunting, or so it seems. That back wall and window drawing in 11 isn’t too helpful though.

There are a few spots though, that I found a bit confusing. For one thing, it’s not clear which way the back wall goes in. There’s a recess for the window, which is flanged, but it’s not shown in the simplified assembly drawings. They do show the window going in from the inside of the cab, so you can make an assumption, but this is muddied by the fact that real BRATS have a thick, visible black seal around the window when seen from the outside. Thankfully, there’s a tiny bit of detail on the back wall, and I believe it faces out, which agrees with the line diagram’s way of installing the window. Also, the tailgate installation is not overly clear; the instructions kind of suggest the gate is hinged to the tail lights. What? That’ll take some sorting…

This is the parts layout and the final steps in the instructions. You can see what I mean about the tailgate in Step 16.The decals are simple, consisting of a couple of licence plates and of course, the BRAT’s signature “sunset stripe” decals. There are also a couple of weird cartoon “devil cherubs”. These guys look like something the folks at Harvey would have come up with, very similar to the “Demon” of Dodge fame. This odd character looks like a cross between Hot Stuff the Little Devil and Richie Rich. The decal sheet says “Optional Placement”, but doesn’t but no further instructions are given. In fact, no decalling instructions are given, it being figured you can get your guidance from the box. I can only assume that this odd “Brat” character was something Subaru tried to be “cool” like having a Road Runner on old Road Runners and the like. This is pure supposition, though; it could also be something AMT made up. Either way, it’s weird and kind of useless, and I likely won’t use them.

Sadly, the decals paid the price of poor storage. No, I’m not sure what that “BRAT” cartoon character is all about.

Of course, my decals are pretty much toast, so I likely can’t use them anyway. There are a myriad of different kinds, shapes and sizes of “BRAT Stripe” it seems, and not all Brats had them. So even if the decals are indeed toast, it’s not that big a deal. That’s a good thing to keep in mind when you’re searching for one of these yourself!

Conclusions:

 I’ve wanted a BRAT kit for a very long time. Just as I was getting into car building, I saw one at (ironically) London’s model show. I was super excited because even then I knew BRATs were very much an iconic, yet everyday, kind of vehicle. That meant I really wanted it. I asked the price, and reeled when I was told $40. I mean, at that time, I was getting car kits at shows for $10. I wasn’t even sure I liked cars enough to spend that much! This was about 2010, just so you know.

I talked it over with my brother, and he suggested I should get it anyway. When I went back, a lady had the BRAT in her hand. I asked her if she’d bought the BRAT kit, or was just looking at it, and she enthusiastically said she’d just bought it, and “Wasn’t it awesome?”. Well, yes, it was, but missing out on it was NOT. Since then, I’ve looked and looked and never seen another at a show. Until 2018. Now I have corrected my mistake, and it didn’t even cost me half of what it would have before!

Unless, like me, you lust after everyday loser cars, or have a history with BRATs yourself, you might not be tempted to pick this kit up. That’s a shame. This kit looks like it will be an interesting build; I’ve never done a car-truck before. It looks challenging, and it’s going to need some engineering for sure to handle the whole interior/truck bed thing. That being said, though, it’s a pretty good kit as far as detailing goes, and while it’s not overflowing with engine details, even an open hood should look good on this puppy.

I wouldn’t suggest it for everyone; it’d be a shame to glue bomb one of these (unless Round 2 reissues it… cough, cough…) and inexperienced hands will have trouble with some of the more difficult issues (like chassis to engine bay alignment). Still for someone with a passion for the subject and some patience and willingness to work, the BRAT should prove to be an at least buildable challenge.

One thing that you should know, though, is that the BRAT is SMALL. Having handled the MPC reissue Datsun 620 it didn’t shock me as much as it could have, but it’s still staggering to me how small these trucks are, especially when you compare them to a North American truck, like my 1964 Fleetside.  In my stash I have a ’99 Silverado, also in 1/25, and I thought it would be instructional to compare a fairly modern full-sized pickup to a 40 year-old compact. WOW. Check it out below. Clearly, the North American truck didn’t feel that threatened by either of the gas crises or the Japanese.

WOW. That’s the difference between full-sized and compact! The BRAT is positively TINY in comparison to that ’99 Silverado.

Personally, I’m stoked. This thing won my “Loser Haul” poll as the kit most people wanted to see reviewed first, and it did so by a handy margin. I love it so much, that I’m also going to be starting the build of it soon; it’s the next car that will be on my bench. I’ve wanted one for ages, and it’s a great chance to finally have on in my hands. If you have a similar opportunity, I suggest you take it!

 

 

 

 

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