One of the hardest things to do in the Automotive Industry is, quite simply, to survive. Present success is no guarantee of future existence (RIP Pontiac), and just because one car maker does well in its own market doesn’t mean it will succeed in others. This is true for every car maker in a free market economy, and no amount of free trade, treaties or other political maneuvering can compensate for just having the right product at the right time and price. Of course, it helps if you have a lot of financial muscle, as the long slow “death by mismanagement” of GM proved.
But, what if you don’t have that kind of capital, or market share? How hard must it be for the “little guy”? Well, plenty hard is the answer. It’s not necessary to look at the formation, sustainment, failure and eventual Renault-partnered death of American Motors (AMC) to see what happens when you are not able to run with the “big boys”. However, being small sometimes is an advantage, as long as you can find your niche. Now, in the case of AMC, they seem to have misinterpreted this to mean making oddly polarizing vehicles with questionable styling and a marked lack of performance and short-term resale value. History has shown that Pacers, Gremlins and Eagles, while maybe conceptually ahead of their time, were not the “niche” that AMC should have been looking to occupy.
However, there was another “marginal” contender on the North American scene in the ‘70s. That was the relatively unknown (here) company of Subaru. They’d always marketed their cars in a very low-key way, and weren’t really expecting to compete with Honda and Toyota for dominance of the American auto market. This changed slightly, though, when it came to dealing with light trucks. Sure, Toyota and Datsun had them, and they seemed to sell well. Subaru decided to get in on the action, but didn’t have a product. Undaunted, they created what is really one of the most interesting vehicles of its day, the BRAT.
The BRAT, while looking like a pickup, is actually a car-truck, or ute, as the Australians call it. It was based on their Leone wagon, and as such had a more refined and less truck-like look to it. The “niche” part of the equation came from Subaru’s ingenious way of skirting the heavy tariffs that were imposed on all foreign pickups (aka the “Chicken Tax”): they simply said the vehicle was a car! To complete this exercise in the stretching-thin of all credulity, Subaru even installed rear-facing seats in the bed, and carpeted the area. Somehow, this managed to fool the taxmen, and the BRAT was put on sale in 1978! In a niche that is surely deeper than it is wide, the BRAT was the only small 4WD pickup that could be had with extra seats in the bed, and it was a fairly refined vehicle due to its car ancestry. While never huge sellers, BRATs were popular because they were different, quirky and “neat”. This is how you do niche, as opposed to a Pacer, which was just fat and awkward.
Brats have always enjoyed a cult following, and in the early days of the vehicle, AMT/Matchbox put out a kit of this interesting little hybrid. What’s more amazing than that is that it has been reissued! In 2019, Round 2 gave us back the BRAT, with a new decal sheet and new box art. I don’t think any work had been done on the kit, though; it was the same plastic as in 1978, which is both unfortunate and kind of cool. I had managed to grab onto an original just before the reissue was announced. Thankfully, I didn’t pay the usual exorbitant fee that such relatively rare and un-reissued kits command! I’d have been cheesed if I had, but it’s a BRAT, so I could have justified it to myself somehow.
After a lot of work, the BRAT is now done! How’d it end up? Well, let’s dive in and find out!
Climbing the Mountain:
If you want to see what it took to get here, check out the articles below; they’ll get you up to speed pretty fast:
Brat Update 2: Engine and Chassis
Brat Update 3: Interior and the “Decal-stravaganza”
Now that’s covered, we can head into the final stretch!
Decals and Details:
As you know, the decals on the BRAT were not very easy to deal with. However, I figured that now that I had the decals designed, it would be a relatively simple job to just print them off and stick them on. Well, that was kind of the idea. Something went wrong, though, and my first decal (for the driver’s side) curled up on itself in my bowl of warm decal water! If you’ve ever made you own decals with the Testors decal paper, you know that one of the big problems is that the decals are THIN. Also, since these had to be carefully trimmed right down to the colour (they were printed on the white paper), there was no extra backing paper to grab onto or to use to shimmy the decal back onto something while it was still wet.
The issue was that the backing paper fell away far faster on the Testors home-jobs than on conventional decals. Even with the decal bonder on there, the ink is only so good, and eventually a curled decal will also shed chucks of itself. That meant I was down a decal, and would have to reprint the sheet. What a waste of paper and ink! However, I figured I could still salvage one side, and one layer of the other. Knowing that I had to pull the deal fast, before the paper seemed to be loose, worked. It was still a fight to get the relatively long, thin and fragile decals into place, but I got the first layers on both sides done.
As expected, a second layer was needed, especially to make the “BRAT” Writing look white. I was helped immeasurably by the silver paint scheme I chose in this case. Hey, what do you know…? I DID catch a break! With both ‘base layers” down, I applied a thin coat of Future by hand, and then baked the kit at 45°C for a day. I used Future, even though I glossed the kit Alclad Aqua Gloss because I’ve found Future reacts with decals. It gets into them, softens them and then when it dries, it tightens them up a bit and makes them quite tough. It’s a lot like doping tissue paper on balsa models, actually!
I did the second layer on the passenger’s side without incident, and Futured it in place too. I had to get a new sheet of decal paper and I ran just the driver’s side decals. To my surprise, they came out much redder this time! It seems that the new decal paper is a bit different from the old one; it’s a bit more opaque – literally whiter – and creates a brighter decal. This is why the left and right side decals look a tiny bit different, even in the photos. Despite this, I got the decals on and sealed with Future, and the result was pretty good. I then put on a couple more heavy coats of Aqua Gloss and baked the kit at 42° for a couple of days, just to be sure. After all, the next step was sanding, and I didn’t want to go through the decals!!
With the decals on, and the Aqua Gloss good and hard, I polished the kit with a 6000 grit polishing cloth from Detail Master. This was part of a set, and is one of the best investments I’ve ever made for modelling. They last forever, and because they’re a fabric-like material, they don’t have the same risk for gouging the kit as do plastic “sandpapers”. Once this was done, I used Tamiya Fine and Finish compounds, applied in one direction only. The final step was some Novus 1, applied first in one direction, and then buffed in the same direction. A second application swirled the Novus 1 to break up the linearity of any remaining marks.
This is the same technique I used in my Video, and just like there, it worked great. I was amazed at how shiny the sliver paint looked, and I was very pleased with the result. Thankfully, I didn’t go down to the decals, and now they look nicely faired into the paint. In real life, you likely could feel and see the step, but I didn’t want that in 1/25!
With the polishing done, I was able to do some fine detail work, like the black window and turn signal trim, the mirrors and, of course, the seats! What’s a BRAT without the extra bed-seating! They were painted Testors Model Master Acrylic Aircraft Interior Black. I then gave them a “high-satin” finish, so they would better resemble the cheap plastic of the real things! Speaking of black things, I also unmasked the bed and was amazed to see that I had almost no touch up work awaiting me. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than the ‘64 Chevy Truck I built in terms of bleed-under.
Chrome It Up:
While it’s not a ‘70s Caddy pimp-mobile, the BRAT does have some chrome on it. The bumpers and some of the grille area, the centres of the wheels and the little vents on the sail panels are all chrome. The bumpers and grille were airbrushed with 99% Isopropyl Alcohol-thinned Molotow chrome. This was applied quite thickly over Rustoleum grey primer. That’s the best part of the Molotow stuff; it doesn’t need a finicky black primer. Of course, since it’s a ‘70s car in North America, there’s some black rubber that goes on the bumpers. In this case, the wrap-around ends get the treatment.
The grille was a lot more complex. Most of it, despite the fact it came moulded in chrome is black in real life! The only chrome is a bit around the outside, and the Subaru emblem and centre-grille ornament. Contrary to what one might think, even the headlight bezels are actually black, along with the grille! With the chrome dry and Aqua Glossed, I painted the necessary parts black. To give them a rubbery look, I used some of my “Hand Vinyl”, like I used on the seats and dashboard.
To get the headlights, I used a thin coat of MMA Flat white. This was so light it left the texture on the lights exposed, which is what I wanted. This allows the chrome to “show through” a bit, and still look like an old headlight. I did the tail lights with Bare Metal Foil (BMF). I then used Tamiya clear paints for the various sections, and MMA Flat White for the backup light. There are a few other chrome accents that I used the Molotow to detail. The “Subaru” ornament on the tail gate and the sail panel vents were done with Molotow refill paint applied with a filed-down toothpick. This worked well, actually! I filled in the blue in the Subaru ornament; it was very hard, because there was a lot of paint and the mould hadn’t been super-crisp to start. I used a Sakura calligraphy pen (same as I use to panel line my MS kits) to “fair in” the vents. A quick bit of Aqua Gloss over the chrome left it quite shiny, but now protected enough to be handled.
The tailgate and door handles, window frames and bed frame (that I painfully created in Update 1) were all done with BMF. Despite the unrivalled awesomeness of Molotow chrome paint, there is still a place for BMF, as certain things are just more easily handled using this old, and valuable, standby. Long runs like trim lines and frames are perfect, and I was happy to see that my skills in using this product hadn’t gotten too rusty. After all, a lot of my builds don’t have much if any chrome on them!
Tires and the Little Things:
With the body done, I could finish the engine bay. This model doesn’t have the busiest underhood area I’ve seen (that title still goes to the Daytona), it has some detail. There’s a bottle (likely washer fluid) behind the driver’s side fender well, a few wires and the master cylinder. Oddly, there is a pair of round shapes that bolt to the driver’s side fender well; I think they’re the horns! I can’t be sure, but it seems that they can’t be but much else. There’s a battery of course, but it’s pretty simple. I painted it black and used a white gel pen to just dob on the little circles and the two terminals. The most unique underhood element, though, is the jack, located across the engine bay from the battery at the front corner.
Yes, you read it right, that’s the jack for changing tires. Like the bottle, it is a “melt” moulding, meaning it melds into the fender, so you don’t really know where it starts and stops. Still, it’s clear enough from photos of the real BRAT that this is what the shape is trying to be. The jack seems to have had blue scissors and a metallic actuator, so I used MMA steel on the end and gave them it a light wash of Citadel Nuln Oil. There’s something that appears to be a flap wrapping over it; I can’t help but think it’s supposed to be a fabric or plastic cover, but I can’t find proof of that anywhere, so I just left it painted silver. Sadly, this kit was not moulded to allow for the carriage of the spare tire under the hood. There should be a curve in the firewall for the spare to fit into. There isn’t. There’s also no spare. This seems trivial, but it’s a signature feature of the BRAT, and I’m disappointed it wasn’t duplicated. That’s weaksauce, AMT. I’d say “do better”, but, well, you died, as you deserved, for your cheap corner cutting. RIP and FML, I guess.
The most detailed part of the engine bay is the fan and radiator combination. This is cast as a single piece, which is both unusual and epically cheap on the part of AMT. Thus, to get it looking right requires a lot of work and fine painting skill. The part was very flash-y, so careful trimming was required on all the fan blades and the inside of the shroud. Then, I painted the rad in flat black (AIB, of course) and the surrounding frame in MMA gloss black. The shroud was done in Steel, the fan in Aluminum and the motor in Jet Exhaust, all MMAs. The support rods for the fan were also gloss black. Now, looking at the picture it may not seem like the most precise job. However, that’s the confidence-killing power of macro photography; I’ll be a bit boastful and say it looks much better in real life, and that any slips are impossible to see for most people!
The tires on this kit are really nice as are the wheels. Sadly, there’s no spare, so you only get 4 of both tires and wheels. The tires are a particularly “grabby” looking set of rubber, which of course need a good tread-sanding to look right. They also have raised letters on them, and I couldn’t help but paint them white. It goes nicely with the de rigeur white rims that were such a “truck thing” back in the BRAT’s time! The wheels are nicely cast, and once painted MMA white and glossed, they really look the part. I used Molotow chrome on the four lugs and the centre cap, and it really brings the wheels to life. The wheels fit quite well in the tires, although they’re a tiny bit thick (or the tires are thin), so they stick out just a hair. Still, it’s not noticeable. For a final touch, I used some of the old, clear Ice liquid wax as a tire shine to give the sidewalls some sheen. This stuff was awesome; it’s a shame Turtle Wax changed their formulation to make it brown.
Puttin’ It All Together:
As with most car kits, and definitely almost all non-snap North American car kits, the BRAT’s final assembly was a mix of hurry, wait and panic. The first step was to use Tacky Glue to get the windows in place. I used the dehydrator at 45°C to dry the glue more quickly, and that was a help. The interior fit in quite well, which surprised me. More Tacky Glue there. So far, so good. The chassis… well, it wasn’t bad. Better than some MPCs I’ve built, I can say. There was a bit of a struggle to get the engine into the bay without knocking it out while sliding the cassis through the very “fuselaged” (rounded-in-at-the-bottom) body. It did make it, though! Leaving the rad out until this point was a big help, I can tell you.
I glued the chassis to the interior using Tacky Glue (my brother will be happy) and baked the whole thing again. Once it was all dry, it was time for things like the grille, tail lights, bumpers and rad. The bumper supports were too long on both pieces, so I trimmed them down. I went a bit too far on the rear bumper, but it still held. The front I got just right, and it nestled under the grille nicely. Of course, the grille fit perfectly since I’d already bashed away on it much earlier to make sure it fit! Popping the wheels on was easy for the rears, but I was worried about clearance for the front disks. I’m still surprised they bothered with making separate brakes with calipers moulded on for this kit, and I thought I’d now be running into fit issues. I didn’t. WHAT? Yep… it all just fit. Not by much, but it fit, and that’s good enough. The tires don’t really rotate on the shaft, but it’s not a toy, so who cares? The rad fit in beautifully, too.
Then it was time for the BRAT’s signature “chicken seats” and roll bar. The roll bar fit in nicely, again due to all the earlier work I’d done earlier. I’d had to drill in wire for locating pins since I’d accidentally snipped them off, and I’d built up the back end where the bar meets the fenders so that it would actually sit level. These mods paid off as it was a simple “pop” and the bar was in place. However, the installation of seats… the whole raison d’etre of the BRAT… that was another story. Somehow, AMT screwed things up, and the seat support bar, with the oh-so-angry-70’s bicycle grips, didn’t fit worth a toot. The handles are supposed to be inside the roll bar. They’re not. They’re wedged up behind it. There’s no way to fix this, since the seats just fit between the handle bars. The end result was a lot of forcing, fidgeting and cursing. Eventually, I got it all to fit, but it was harrowing and if you know what you’re looking at, it just looks wrong.
Well, there it is, folks! That’s the BRAT completed. I’m not going to lie – this one was a tonne of work. It’s an old, unforgiving kit that needs a lot of significant effort to make it look right. The fit of most parts is actually very good, and most of the detail is also nice. However, it’s not really a suitable kit for a beginner, unless they’re not concerned with accuracy, in which case it’s still a bit of a challenge.
The odd construction that has the interior joined to the bed will make it very hard to build this easily, which is why I separated them. The terrible tail lights and grille corners, the not-quite-right roll bar and the soft trim lines around the bed are all major failings of this kit. And I do mean major. The lack of the “kibble” on top of the engine block doesn’t help either, and the incorrect firewall and lack of spare tire is pretty bad. None of these were changed on the reissue, either, as far as I can tell, so even if you get a new one, you’re still going to have to contend with these issues. Couple this with backless seats and an ill-fitting roll bar and bumpers that don’t quite fit, and you’ve got a kit that’s really only suitable for someone with a lot of experience. Don’t even start on the original kit decals…
That having been said, though, the BRAT is, at heart, a good kit. The proportions are very good, and it looks like a BRAT when it’s done. It captures that lithe aesthetic of so many early import trucks, and the detail in the interior and even in the bed is very good. With the appropriate wheels and aggressive tires, the completed kit looks suitably attitude-laden.
Despite the work it took, I’m glad I build the BRAT. It has been on my “grail” list a long time, and it is nice to have it done. It looks fabulous on display, and it’s amazing how SMALL it is. I keep forgetting that Subarus aren’t really very large. I’m also glad I put in the time to put on the correct style of decal. That was a real fight that proved to be worth every disappointment and curse word uttered. I can be fairly sure that no one else is going to have a BRAT with these decals fitting as well as mine do!
If you like the BRAT, or weird vehicles in general, then this or the reissue will satisfy your need for vehicular oddballity. If you love BRATs (because, yeah, who doesn’t) and are willing to buckle down, you can make this kit look very nice. If you’re thinking that this will go together like a Japanese kit because it’s a Japanese subject, don’t. You’re wrong, and you’ll hate yourself for thinking it. This is a pure old-school American kit, with all the good and bad that entails.
I enjoyed this kit like I enjoy a dental cleaning. It can be painful, but it’s a good pain, and you know you’re going to be better off when you’re done. If you can get behind that, then I suggest you go and get a reissue (or an original, they should be cheap now) while you can!